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Come back, Joan Rivers and Chevy Chase: All is forgiven!

Guest hosts subbing for Leno and Conan? It could happen, according to a report just posted by Ben “Late Shift” Grossman on Broadcasting and Cable’s website.

Virtually the moment the strike started, most of the major latenight skeins told their non-scribe staffers they’d be laid off in two weeks if the writers didn’t return to work. To avoid such layoffs, there’s been buzz that Dave, Jay and Co. might come back to work sooner than the four months it took for Johnny Carson to return in 1988.

Now, however, it seems as if NBC is at least considering the option of guest hosts filling in. While one latenight insider flatly labels such an idea “bullshit,” “Tonight Show” exec producer Debbie Vickers issued a statement Friday conceding it’s a possibility.

“All sorts of things are being discussed, including guest hosts,” she said. “Our preference is that we return to production of ‘The Tonight Show’ with Jay as host as soon as possible. We want to protect the staff, who have been loyal to this show for decades, in the same way that Johnny Carson reluctantly returned without his writers in 1988.”

Vickers doesn’t mention that Carson stay away for four months and that NBC didn’t dare breach the idea of guest hosts–even though Carson regularly had subs. These days, Leno and Co. have balked at guest hosts, only using them in extreme cases (David Letterman’s heart surgery hiatus, for example).

But latenight producers are very protective of their staffs. And while striking scribes get residuals, the laid off staffers get zilch. That’s why many latenight insiders think Leno, Letterman or O’Brien will ultimately decide to get back to work sooner rather than later.

“Nobody wants to be the first to get back to work, but eventually somebody will,” said one insider.

–Josef Adalian

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