With late-night talk shows hemorrhaging audiences since the beginning of the strike, the big four hosts are becoming impatient and may try to make a comeback by Jan. 7. Nothing’s been officially decided, and nobody will comment. But with the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers so broken up, people familiar with the situation said several hosts are nearing the conclusion that it’s time to return.
Latenight hosts have stayed off the job since the strike began out of deference to their scribes. And while talks were ongoing, they didn’t want to take away any leverage from WGA negotiators by returning. They even went so far as to begin paying their nonscribe staffs out of their own pockets.
So who will come back first? There’s some talk that the Big Four hosts — David Letterman, Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien and Craig Ferguson — may all return around the same time. While informal discussions between the NBC and CBS camps have continued via backchannels throughout the strike (Daily Variety, Nov. 16), absolutely nothing like that has been agreed upon.
Latenight insiders, however, believe Leno and O’Brien are most likely to return in early January, no matter what Letterman decides. NBC has to be concerned about the plunging ratings for both shows, which in recent weeks have lost nearly half their audience.