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Late-Night Hosts Leno, O'Brien to Cross Picket Lines

Late-night TV hosts Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien plan to cross picket lines to resume taping shows on Jan. 2, nearly two months after the Hollywood writers strike forced them off the air, the NBC network said Monday.

NBC's "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" and "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" both will return to production and broadcasts of new shows without their writing staffs, which likely will still be on strike at that point, NBC said.

The Writers Guild of America
AP
The Writers Guild of America

Both programs, along with several other late-night talk shows on various networks, were thrown into immediate reruns when the Writers Guild of America went on strike against major television and film studios on Nov. 5.

Since then, WGA members Leno and O'Brien have resisted pressure from NBC to resume production without their writers.

But both hosts were reported to be considering returning to work at some point for the sake of their idled production crews if the labor dispute became a protracted one.

"Now that the talks have broken down and there are no further negotiations scheduled, I feel it's my responsibility to get my 100 non-writing staff, which were laid off, back to work," Leno said in a statement. "We fully support our writers and I think they understand my decision."

The main sticking point in the strike has been disagreement over how writers should be paid when their work is distributed over the Internet. The last round of talks ended in acrimony on Dec. 7, all but dashing hopes that Hollywood's worst labor dispute in 20 years would be settled by year's end.

A spokeswoman for NBC, which is a unit of CNBC.com owner General Electric , said in order to resume taping, producers planned to reduce the amount of written material for the shows, such as monologues, and rely more heavily on celebrity guests and musical acts.

Guest lineups for the shows will be announced at a later date, the network said. It was not immediately known whether the shows would have difficulty booking union talent.

The independent production company behind another late-night show, the CBS "Late Show with David Letterman," said during the weekend it hoped to negotiate an "interim agreement" deal with the union to allow that program to resume taping without crossing picket lines.

Writers Guild spokeswoman Sherry Goldman said O'Brien and Leno would be violating strike rules if they wrote monologues or other material normally handled by their writing staffs.

"They don't write their own monologues, they don't write their own comedy," she said. "They can't start now. That is struck work."

Another late-night NBC show, "Last Call with Carson Daly," whose host is not a WGA member, resumed broadcasts of new shows earlier this month.

The walkout has crippled the television industry and is starting to disrupt production of some major films.