The first casualties of a possible Hollywood writers strike could be late-night laughs.
“The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” and “The Colbert Report” will almost certainly be forced into reruns by a lack of fresh skits and monologues if writers walk off the job after their current contract expires at midnight Wednesday.
Contract talks between the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers continued Wednesday evening with the help of a federal mediator, but there was no word on any progress. The guild said late Tuesday it would submit a revamped contract proposal, but details were not released.
“If the strike happens, we are very likely looking at repeats for both shows,” said Tony Fox, a spokesman for Comedy Central, which airs the shows starring Stewart and Stephen Colbert that lampoon political doings of the day.
“The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” could follow.
NBC declined to comment on what would be in store for the show. But a person with the network, who was not authorized to comment and spoke on condition of anonymity, said “Tonight” and other NBC late-night shows likely would have to resort to repeats with no writing staff to generate new material.
A key issue in negotiations involves giving writers more money from the sale of DVDs and the distribution of shows via the Internet, cell phones and other digital platforms. Producers have said they won’t agree to anything that would restrict their ability to experiment with new digital delivery options for films and TV shows.
Call for a strikeIt was unclear when writers might walk off the job if a new deal isn’t reached. More than 5,000 guild members recently voted, with 90 percent authorizing negotiators to call the first strike since 1988 if necessary.
The union has set a meeting of its 12,000 members for Thursday night at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
Jonathan Handel, an entertainment lawyer at the Los Angeles law firm of TroyGould, said it was in the union’s interest to delay a walkout, perhaps by five days or more.
“The writers guild has two weapons: One is a strike, the other is the threat of a strike. It has no reason to toss that weapon away without using it for a bit,” said Handel, who served in the 1990s as an associate counsel for the guild.
A strike by writers would not immediately affect film or prime-time TV production. Most studios have stockpiled dozens of movie scripts, and TV shows have enough scripts or completed shows in hand to last until early next year.
After that, networks might turn to reality shows, news programs and reruns to fill the prime-time airwaves. Late-night shows wouldn’t fare as well, since they are more dependent on current events to fuel monologues and other entertainment.
CBS declined comment on the possible fate of “The Late Show with David Letterman.”
A gloomy noteDuring the last strike in 1988, Letterman, then host of NBC’s “Late Night,” and longtime “Tonight Show” host Johnny Carson initially went off the air but later returned as the walkout dragged on for more than five months.
NBC also declined comment on how “Saturday Night Live” might be affected in the weeks ahead but indicated this weekend’s show would air as planned.
One cast member sounded a gloomy note.
“Boom — our show just shuts down,” “SNL” star Amy Poehler told trade paper Daily Variety. “It’s just done. There is no backlog of scripts.”
On the movie front, studios are said to have as many as 50 projects ready to go into production. Several major studio projects reportedly are camera-ready, with scripts that could be filmed without requiring a guild member on hand for rewrites.
Some sectors would benefit from a walkout. Network news divisions could become beehives in a protracted strike, with networks calling on news magazines such as “Dateline NBC” to fill in programming gaps.
Reality TV producers are finding an even warmer welcome at networks, while independent filmmakers foresee the possibility of new distribution doors opening.
Veteran TV executive Charles Hirschhorn, who weathered the 1988 writers strike at fledgling network Fox, said the need for programming spawned such early network reality series as “Cops” and “America’s Most Wanted.”
“The writers strike was the best thing that ever happened to the Fox network. It encouraged people to sample other types of programming,” he said.
Major Hollywood unions have lined up behind the writers.
Teamsters Local 399 said that as a union, it has a legal obligation to honor its contracts with producers. But the local, which represents truck drivers, casting directors and location managers, said the clause does not apply to individuals, who are protected by federal law from employer retribution if they decide to honor picket lines.
Members of the Screen Actors Guild have also voiced strong support for writers, but officials with that union have said its 150,000 members were obligated to report to work.