WGA may discipline Jay Leno

Comedian under fire for strike-era monologues

A year has passed, but the WGA West is still reviewing the possibility of disciplinary action against Jay Leno for “Tonight Show” monologues he delivered while the guild was on strike.

It’s understood that the guild has brought disciplinary proceedings against Leno, who is a Writers Guild of America member and writer for his NBC latenighter. The specifics of the proceedings are unclear, but the process should come to a head soon.

According to the strike rules the WGA distributed to members before the strike began on Nov. 5, 2007, the guild’s constitution gives it the authority to hold hearings to review allegations of violations of strike rules and to discipline members. That discipline may include “expulsion or suspension from guild membership, imposition of monetary fines or censure,” according to the WGA’s strike rules. There is also an appeals process.

A WGA West rep declined comment on the Leno matter. It’s unclear if the guild is pursuing strike-related disciplinary proceedings against any other members.

The guild’s flap with Leno started in January 2008, when he and other latenight hosts — including NBC’s Conan O’Brien, ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel and Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert — went back on the air for the first time since the strike began.

Leno’s primary competitor, CBS’ David Letterman, was able to return at the same time with his writing staff in place because Letterman’s Worldwide Pants had inked an interim deal with the WGA. (Letterman was able to do so because he owns “The Late Show” and CBS’ “Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson” outright; NBC Universal owns “The Tonight Show.”)

Leno was a vocal and public supporter of the guild and “The Tonight Show’s” striking writers at the outset of the walkout. Like other latenight hosts, Leno paid his production staffers out of his own pocket during the dark weeks in November and December. But after “The Tonight Show” returned with new episodes on Jan. 2, 2008, the WGA raised a ruckus about Leno “writing” his monologues.

Leno ruffled feathers among staunch strike supporters with the observation on his first show back that the strike was taking too great a toll on the rest of his staff at a time when there was no resolution in sight to the WGA contract battle.

“No new talks were scheduled, so we had to come back because we have essentially 19 people putting 160 people out of work,” Leno said.

Although there was much back and forth between Leno’s camp and the guild about the monologue issue while the strike was on, it’s been widely assumed that the dispute became moot after the strike ended on Feb. 12.

After 17 years at the helm of “Tonight Show,” Leno will segue in the fall to hosting a new yakker for NBC in the Monday-Friday 10 p.m. slot.

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