Strike Price

Next week, Jay Leno, David Letterman, Conan O'Brien, Jon Stewart and a host of others will resume their programs without support from their striking writers. We guess this means we'll finally learn the answer to how many comedians it takes to screw in a Dick Cheney joke.

The deal the late-night comics struck with the unionized writers sounds like a bizarre Letterman routine. The hosts agreed to abide by rules that prohibit them from writing anything. If they physically write something, that makes them scabs. But it's OK if they just show up and ad lib their way into the New Year. We can't wait.

But what if it turns out that Jay Leno and Jon Stewart performing without a net are actually funnier than their writers after eight hours of toil? This would tend to undermine the leverage that the guild thought it was gaining with the walkout.

Restive union members are keeping their skills exercised. East Coast Guild President Michael Winship said the union is ready to negotiate even as the other side takes off on "holiday jaunts to Vail or Aspen or wherever it is moguls mogul." There was no laugh-track to cue reporters, always a tough audience, that a punchline had been delivered. Meanwhile, classic collections of the old Johnny Carson and Jack Paar shows are just a mouseclick away.


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