So, whaddaya think David Letterman and Paul Shaffer have been doing while this writers strike has been going on–just sitting around growing beards?
Well, yes, actually. Bushy Dave was snapped earlier this week leaving a Christmas dinner he hosted in New York for suspended staffers. Shaffer showed his white whiskers on the picket line last week.
Are the two angling to play the leads in some new Broadway salute to the Keebler Elves? Slumming as Macy store Santas? No and, in fact, they may need to get to a barber soon. A day after I wrote a column for The Canadian Press speculating that Letterman, Leno, Conan and Craig Ferguson could be back on the air in January, separate stories in Variety and The New York Post both suggest that talks to get the late night talk shows back on the air are indeed taking place.
Variety’s Josef Adalian reported Thursday that the return date could be as early as January 7, 2008:

So who will come back first? There’s some talk that the Big Four hosts — David Letterman, Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien and Craig Ferguson — may all return around the same time. While informal discussions between the NBC and CBS camps have continued via backchannels throughout the strike…absolutely nothing like that has been agreed upon.

Latenight insiders, however, believe Leno and O’Brien are most likely to return in early January, no matter what Letterman decides. NBC has to be concerned about the plunging ratings for both shows, which in recent weeks have lost nearly half their audience.

Adalian goes on to suggest that Jimmy Kimmel’s return may be harder to predict. One reason: his show has been doing just fine in reruns, perhaps because Late Show and Tonight Show fans have migrate to ABC and started sampling Kimmel reruns during the strike.

But, wait a minute, won’t the Writers Guild of America (WGA) flip out if Letterman and others return? After all, writers gooned NBC late late nighter Carson Daly just last week, infiltrating his audience and heckling his guests. Ellen Degeneres was roasted earlier for attempting to tape episodes of her daytime talk show.

Still, it might be good for the WGA if Letterman and others took up their cause on a nightly basis. As Don Kaplan at the Post writes:

If the late-night shows go back into production before the strike is settled, at least some members of the Writers Guild will understand – the late-night comedy writers themselves.
“We will never be able to repay [Letterman] for what he did for us,” says “Late Show” writer Bill Sheft, who also serves as the show’s union rep for the Writers Guild. “Dave Letterman on the air without writers and pissed off about it would be as powerful as anything we [union members] can do. He will rail nightly at the greedy pinheads that put him in this position.

Nothing is official so far and, besides Sheft, nobody went on the record for either of these stories. Along with millions of fans, the hundreds of suspended staffers on all these shows must be hoping there is some truth to the rumors–if just to force Dave and Paul to can those brutal beards!


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