Late night TV to see initial damages

Strike would blackout SNL, Letterman, etc

If there’s a strike, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson could be the first of many casualties.

A walkout in the next few days would almost certainly cancel the Nov. 10 episode of “Saturday Night Live,” slated to be hosted by Johnson. There’s even a shot this weekend’s planned Brian Williams-hosted episode could be impacted. Most of the sketches have been written, but it’s unclear if Williams would cross a picket line.

And then there’s Dave, Jay, Conan, Jimmy, Craig, Jon and Stephen.

How the Monday-Friday latenight skeins carry on the wake of a scribe walkout likely depends largely on each host, but the conventional wisdom is that all the big shows will shut down— at least for a bit.

“Dave (will be) supportive of writers, as he was the last time,” said Robert Morton, the former Letterman producer who was at the helm of NBC’s “Late Night With David Letterman” during the 1988 WGA strike.

Morton, noting that Letterman and his “Late Show” colleagues are also WGA members, said the hosts will be hard-pressed to continue with business as usual.

“I think they have to show support for their writing staffs,” said the producer, who now heads Panamort Prods. (“The Mind of Mencia”). “Even if they want to go back, they have to give their writers due respect.”

Reps for Leno and Letterman weren’t talking, but in 2001, when it seemed the WGA would strike (but didn’t), Leno indicated he’d walk out.

“I’m a union member, and I’ll do whatever my union wants me to do,” the host told Variety, noting that he’d always respected picket lines in the past.

And Monday at an internal NBC all-staff meeting, execs indicated they expected their latenight gabbers would go dark for a few weeks.

After a while, however, producers on the shows will have to start thinking of their non-writing staffs, many of whom make just a few hundred dollars per week. The longer the shows remain dark, the more likely layoffs will be— which is why most insiders predict the latenight skeins will eventually find a way to return to the air.

“You want to be supportive of your guild, but when you have people making $600 a week possibly losing their jobs, you have to think of them, too,” Morton said.

He and most other latenight insiders predict Letterman will take the lead, with other gabbers returning only after Dave steps back into the Ed Sullivan Theater.

In 1988, Letterman stayed out until Johnny Carson resumed “The Tonight Show” after taking two months off. Twenty years later, most believe Letterman’s return will give Leno, Conan and Jimmy Kimmel cover to resume their shows.

(Of course, things are more competitive in latenight now. ABC, for example, might pressure Kimmel to return quickly, in order to take advantage of a less crowded latenight arena if Leno and Letterman are AWOL).

Whenever the hosts return, it’s a bit unclear just what the they will be able to do. They’re clearly allowed to perform under their AFTRA agreements, but they might not be able to write their own monologue jokes.

“It might look a lot like ‘host chat’ on ‘Regis and Kelly,'” one latenight insider said, predicted cue card jokes would be replaced by impromptou ramblings. “The hosts will just come out and talk about what’s going on.”

Those who remain on the shows will all have to struggle to fill airtime normally reserved for jokes and sketches. Morton recalls the last strike, when then-helmer Hal Gurnee came up with “Hal Gurnee’s Network Time Killers” to close up the gaps.