Leno's Success Prompts Union Writing Controversy

     If you can’t win, just rewrite the rules. That might be the Writers Guild of America’s new motto.


     After it was reported NBC’s “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” was seen by 7.2 million viewers, a 43-percent bump and his biggest audience in two years, according to Nielsen Media Research – the union reneged on an earlier agreement with Leno, according to the January 4 New York Times.


     Leno told his “Tonight Show” 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 show’s monologues.


     “We’re not using outside guys,” Leno said. “We’re following the guild thing. We can write for ourselves. We just can’t do what CBS – see, Dave [Letterman] was able to get a deal, ‘cause Dave has his own company. I don’t blame him for getting a deal. God bless him.”


     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:


“One of Mr. Leno’s writers who attended the meeting with Mr. Verrone supported Mr. Leno’s version that he had been given some assurance that he could write his monologue.

‘Jay said, ‘Let me get this clear: I’m allowed to write my monologue,’' said the writer, who asked not to be identified because he was a strike supporter and did not want publicly to challenge the guild’s version of events. ‘Verrone said, ‘Well, since you are taking one for the team, we won’t hassle you about that.’’

The writer added, ‘There was no way Jay could have misinterpreted what was being said.’”


     But the day after Leno’s success in the ratings, Verrone denied making the agreement. “I made it absolutely clear that he cannot write for the show,” Verrone said to the Times.


     And according to the Times, it was a case of Verrone needing to “clarify” the rules:


“Neal Sacharow, a spokesman for the Writers Guild of America West, said that after Mr. Verrone clarified the strike rules, it would be ‘a clear violation’ if Mr. Leno wrote and performed a monologue on Thursday night’s show.”


     Leno maintained on his January 3 show the program was “as loose as it’s ever been,” according to a January 4 Associated Press story. But he continued to voice his support for the union, saying he wants “the writers to win this damn thing so they can get back to the same old boring 'Tonight Show.’”


     The news media coverage of this strike has been slanted toward the unions, even though some of the news media’s parent companies were the ones behind the decision to continue taping “The Tonight Show” and other shows in those time slots. News reports have focused on the writers' side, downplaying or ignoring monetary losses to the businesses involved.