Writers strike throws curveball
Kevin Winter/getty images
STRUCK DUMB: REAL TIME: Donuts suddenly forgotten, Jay Leno suddenly became the most hated man in Hollywood late last week when 120 of the staff on his Tonight Show were laid off by NBC for the duration of the Hollywood writers’ strike, or until the silent stand-off between the various late night talk hosts ends with Leno, Letterman and their cohort returning to host monologue-free shows.
Staffers on other talkers have been laid off as well, but both David Letterman and Conan O’Brien have been paying their non-writing staff since both shows went dark, and O’Brien is paying the 80 production staff laid off by NBC last Friday with his own money, according to a story by L.A. Weekly’s Nikki Finke. O’Brien, who has already been appointed Leno’s successor by the network, has accrued considerable goodwill from the gesture, and on his final posting to the show’s blog, staffer Aaron Bleyaert was conspicuously upbeat.
“It was all pretty surreal, to be honest,” wrote Bleyaert. “But I have to say that it was all handled really well; the HR folks knew what they were talking about, and it all went very smoothly ... So instead of it being a crazy and stressful day, the whole thing actually seemed really comfortable.”
Like Leno, O’Brien doesn’t own his show (Letterman does, through his Worldwide Pants production company), and Leno tried to make a show of generosity by arranging that employees would get their Christmas bonuses early. It backfired, however, when it was reported that the bonuses generally amounted to a hundred dollars for each year employed on the show, and TMZ.com dutifully ran a photo of a hundred dollar cheque with Leno’s signature.
“Do we have a job when the strike ends? That's what everyone keeps asking," one former staffer told Variety. "They've guaranteed no one a job. They just keep saying, 'The letter explains it.’”
Leno looked even worse when stories broke that even Jimmy Kimmel had been paying his non-writing staff, and by Sunday Variety had amended its earlier story to announce that Leno would be paying his non-writing staff until at least the end of this week, with each week’s subsequent salary being considered on “the optimistic approach that a strike will be settled soon,” according to the story.
“Insiders say Leno was caught off-guard Friday by the tone of several upset staffers, who expressed dismay (via blind quotes in several online and print publications) that they weren't being taken care of by the host.” It remains a mystery to this writer why Leno has been essentially blackmailed by his employees, when the real culprits are the producers and writers who’ve cost them their jobs by being unable to reach an agreement. There is, of course, a good reason why they call it “La La Land,” even amongst themselves.