NBC ponders latenight substitutes

Network considers options during strike

NBC is mulling the idea of using substitute hosts to replace its latenight stars.

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 (Daily Variety, Nov. 7). 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, NBC is at least considering the option of guest hosts filling in for Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien. While one latenight insider flatly labels such an idea “bullshit”–arguing the Peacock wouldn’t want to pick a fight with Leno or O’Brien— “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.”

Of course, NBC would have to find talent willing to cross picket lines to host the shows. Booking talent on the shows might also be difficult, since some actors might balk at appearing to dis the WGA so blatantly.

A more likely scenario is that one of the latenight hosts–perhaps Letterman, or maybe Jimmy Kimmel— opts to return to his show sans scribes. Some latenight insiders think that could happen as soon as next week, or perhaps immediately following the Thanksgiving holiday.

Such a move also carries some risk, however, as evidenced by the strong reaction Ellen DeGeneres sparked by returning to work.

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