Thursday, February 26, 2009

Leno’s All Charged Up

The wheels of Writers Guild justice grind slowly, it seems. Flashback to January 2007—almost 14 months ago—when Hollywood was in the middle of a long writers strike, rather than an even longer screen actors stalemate. Comedian Jay Leno, after having been off the air for weeks, came back on, this time minus his writers.

That reappearance gave the WGA strike a highly visible supporter, as Jay’s first returning monologue was a recital in favor of the strike. But it also created a problem, because Leno, himself a WGA member, was penning his own material. The WGA said at the time that that was a violation of guild strike rules. Leno and his network, NBC, denied that the strike rules applied to performers writing their own material. The legal analysis is a bit complicated, but I concluded at the time that Jay was probably in violation.

Eventually the strike ended, and we all moved on to other things, such as SAG strife and bank failures. La affaire Leno disappeared into the maw of the WGA. Meanwhile, ironically, Jay made Hollywood labor news again in December, when it was announced that his show was moving to primetime, displacing five hours of scripted primetime programming per week and causing a commensurate loss of acting jobs that upset SAG.

The Writers Guild, in turns out, hadn’t forgotten Jay, or forgiven him either. Why it took 14 months is unclear, but yesterday, reports the LA Times, Leno was called in front of a WGA trial committee to assess whether he had broken the strike rules. The case is a political hot potato, because it pits the power of a Hollywood guild against the even greater power of one of its prominent members. If found guilty, penalties could include a reprimand, a fine or even expulsion from the union (this last seems unlikely). No word, however, on how long that determination might take, or on what appeal procedures might be available.


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