Guild pushes unapologetic Leno toward Fi-Core

Jay Leno is keeping the jokes coming even as the striking writers union and his network spar over whether he is violating union rules by writing his own monologues.

The Writers Guild of America scolded the 'Tonight Show' host last week for penning and delivering punch lines in his first new monologue in two months, which aired Wednesday on NBC.

NBC quickly fired back, arguing Leno, a guild member, was right and the guild was wrong.

"The WGA agreement permits Jay Leno to write his own monologue for 'The Tonight Show,'" NBC said in a statement. "The WGA is not permitted to implement rules that conflict with the terms of the collective bargaining agreement between the studios and the WGA."

The agreement between the guild and producers expired Oct. 31, but its terms remain in effect, said Andrea Hartman, executive vice president and deputy general counsel for NBC Universal. She cited federal labor law.

According to the contract, "material written by the person who delivers it on the air" is exempted from the agreement. The exception applies to shows outside prime time, which includes NBC's 'Tonight Show.'

Leno did not mention the dispute on the air during his first week back.

For its part, the union argues that it's on firm ground in the context of either its "strike rules" or the expired contract.

"Our position is that our strike rules don't conflict here and, because [Leno has] always been employed as a writer" on the show, the contract exception doesn't apply to him, guild spokesman Neal Sacharow said.

Sacharow declined comment on whether the guild would move against Leno. But he said any violation of strike rules would be brought before a union compliance committee for evaluation and a recommendation for action.

That could mean a fine or loss of union membership.

Leno is "busying himself with the show," his publicist, Dick Guttman, said when asked if the comedian had any comment.

The guild's upbraiding of Leno came despite his public support for the union, including delivering doughnuts to a picket line. Leno also paid his employees' salaries -- except for the writers -- while he was off the air.

On Wednesday, Leno told viewers he wrote his own jokes and that he didn't turn to "outside guys."

"I'm doing what I did the day I started," he said. "I write jokes and wake my wife up in the middle of the night and say, 'Honey, is this funny?' So if this monologue doesn't work it's my wife's fault."

He maintained: "We are following the guild thing. We can write for ourselves."

Rival David Letterman's Worldwide Pants production company reached an interim deal to bring staff writers back for both his 'Late Show' and 'Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson,' also on CBS.


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