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Jay Leno

Jay Leno Faces Accusations of Strikebreaking

February 27, 2009 03:01 PM
by Rachel Balik
Fourteen months after Leno allegedly broke union rules by writing his own material during the writers strike, a Writers Guild committee is reviewing the charges.

Leno Appears Before Writers Guild Committee

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Talk show host Jay Leno, a member of the Writers Guild of America, was a vocal advocate of the 2008 writers strike, bringing doughnuts to writers on the picket line and voicing his support on his show. However, he has been forced to appear before a Writers Guild committee to defend his decision to write his own material during the strike. The guild contends that Leno’s decision to keep his show running by doing work normally reserved for writers essentially constituted crossing the picket line. Union rules stipulate that no member may perform “struck work” during a work stoppage. If the committee concludes that he was in violation, Leno could receive a reprimand, a fine or at worst, be expelled from the union.

Leno says he did nothing wrong, and writers were grateful that he so publicly defended the strike and helped get the cause media attention. Leno and his lawyers insist that the rules do not apply to performers who write their own material. Huffington Post blogger and entertainment attorney Jonathan Handel writes that while the legal details are tricky, he believes that Leno was breaking the rules. However, Handel does not understand why the guild waited 14 months to pursue the matter.

Background: The writers strike

The strike began in December 2007; popular dramas went off the air, replaced by reality TV programs. Although the strike only lasted until February 2008, the industry had a difficult time recovering. Cancellations and strike-shortened schedules meant that many TV and film production workers remained unemployed. Furthermore, viewers were less interested in picking back up where their shows had left off, and ratings plummeted.

Opinion & Analysis: Leno vs. Letterman

Both Leno and his rival, David Letterman, were off the air for two months during the strike. They both eventually returned to their respective shows, after Letterman struck a deal with his writers and Leno decided to write his own material. He reportedly works “obsessively” on his monologues. He didn’t get high-caliber guests like Letterman did, and Sam Anderson of New York magazine believes that Leno’s material suffered in quality. However, despite Leno’s largely unfunny jokes, he was able to continue beating Letterman by more than a million viewers a night. Anderson suggests that this was because Leno owns his mediocrity, while Letterman betrays visible distaste for material that he didn’t write.

Related Topic: Jay Leno’s move to primetime

Jay Leno recently gave up his slot as the host of “The Tonight Show”; Conan O’Brien takes over the show on June 1. Meanwhile, Leno will be hosting a new primetime talk show, which will probably be called “The Jay Leno Show". NBC saves money because Leno’s new talk show will be cheaper to produce than a primetime drama; however, O’Brien’s show may suffer if Leno grabs all the best potential guests.
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