Leno's Success Prompts Union Writing Controversy
If you canât win, just rewrite the rules. That might be the Writers Guild of Americaâs new motto.
After it was reported NBCâs âThe Tonight Show with Jay Lenoâ was seen by 7.2 million viewers, a 43-percent bump and his biggest audience in two years, according to Nielsen Media Research â the union reneged on an earlier agreement with Leno, according to the January 4 New York Times.
Leno told his âTonight Showâ audience on January 2 he was following the rules set forth by the writers prior to the strike and was writing his own jokes for the showâs monologues.
âWeâre not using outside guys,â Leno said. âWeâre following the guild thing. We can write for ourselves. We just canât do what CBS â see, Dave [Letterman] was able to get a deal, âcause Dave has his own company. I donât blame him for getting a deal. God bless him.â
According to the Times, in the outline of what was permitted during the strike, the writers excluded guild members from writing any material for use by any of the companies affected by the strike, including material written for their own use.
But there was an exception made for Leno by Writers Guild of America West President Patric M. Verrone at a meeting, the January 4 Times reports:
âOne of Mr. Lenoâs writers who attended the meeting with Mr. Verrone supported Mr. Lenoâs version that he had been given some assurance that he could write his monologue.
âJay said, âLet me get this clear: Iâm allowed to write my monologue,â' said the writer, who asked not to be identified because he was a strike supporter and did not want publicly to challenge the guildâs version of events. âVerrone said, âWell, since you are taking one for the team, we wonât hassle you about that.ââ
The writer added, âThere was no way Jay could have misinterpreted what was being said.ââ
But the day after Lenoâs success in the ratings, Verrone denied making the agreement. âI made it absolutely clear that he cannot write for the show,â Verrone said to the Times.
And according to the Times, it was a case of Verrone needing to âclarifyâ the rules:
âNeal Sacharow, a spokesman for the Writers Guild of America West, said that after Mr. Verrone clarified the strike rules, it would be âa clear violationâ if Mr. Leno wrote and performed a monologue on Thursday nightâs show.â
Leno maintained on his January 3 show the program was âas loose as itâs ever been,â according to a January 4 Associated Press story. But he continued to voice his support for the union, saying he wants âthe writers to win this damn thing so they can get back to the same old boring 'Tonight Show.ââ
The news media coverage of this strike has been slanted toward the unions, even though some of the news mediaâs parent companies were the ones behind the decision to continue taping âThe Tonight Showâ and other shows in those time slots. News reports have focused on the writers' side, downplaying or ignoring monetary losses to the businesses involved.