getty filE photo
LATE NITE FOLLIES: YOU GOTTA HAVE FRIENDS: Writerless late night talk show hosts Jimmy Kimmel and Jay Leno will add fuel to those rumours of the difficulty they’re having getting big-name guests to cross picket lines this week when they’ll appear as guests on each other’s shows. What’s next — Kevin Eubanks talking guitar strings and effects pedals on Kimmel, while Cleto Escobedo III chats about reeds and embouchure with Jay? (Escobedo is the bandleader on Kimmel’s show, by the way — yeah, I had to Google it.)
Like a Japanese samurai movie, the late night talk show world under siege by the Writers Guild of America strike has become a place of ritualized gestures and dignity maintained by face-saving shows of loyalty between rogue warriors. Which is, I’m sure all parties will admit, a flattering way of talking about guys who make a very lucrative living telling jokes and asking a revolving cast of egomaniacs to talk about themselves.
The reciprocal guest shots are a show of solidarity between the two men, which was forged during the two months their shows were off the air, and the anxious weeks before the new year when rival David Letterman was negotiating with the WGA for a waiver to return to the air with his writers — a waiver he got, and which forced the whole of the late night gang back on the air. Kimmel has been, so far, the only host to publicly express his dissatisfaction with the conduct of the WGA, which picketed the writerless returning shows, though according to Nikki Finke of the L.A. Weekly — the most reliable inside source on the strike — Leno has been privately chafing against the WGA, which has reversed an earlier position and said it will be looking to discipline Leno, a WGA member like Kimmel, Conan and Letterman, for writing his own monologue.
As a hard-line gesture, it comes a bit late for the WGA, whose granting of Letterman’s waiver has been denounced for fracturing the solidarity of the striking writers. Finke says that the guild had earlier given Leno a pass for putting words into his own mouth when the Tonight Show host threatened to go “fi-core,” or financial core — giving up full WGA membership and the guild’s political representation and withholding a portion of his union dues so he can work during the strike. Clearly, they’ve changed their minds.
The fi-core option — unique to the WGA, and one of the weirder anomalies of this particular labour dispute — could potentially cripple the strike and cause fatal damage to the guild; ostracization from fellow writers and potential jeopardy to residuals and benefits are supposed to make fi-core unthinkable, though it’s clear that Leno, one of the richest late night hosts, can probably weather either option. By appearing on his show, Kimmel is sending signals to the guild and its members that he supports Leno. Let’s hope this doesn’t end like most samurai movies — with a suicide pact amidst hundreds of headless bodies, though you can’t deny that it would be a ratings monster.