NBC, Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers intend to pay staff members of the network’s “Tonight” and “Late Night” shows three weeks’ pay while the programs are sidelined due to the strike screenwriters, according to two people familiar with the matter.
NBC plans to pay staff members two weeks’ salary while each late-night host will pay a third week out of their own pocket, according to these people. Health care for show employees will be paid until September. Staff members were briefed Wednesday morning during production calls, those people say, with Fallon and Meyers personally attending to discuss the matter with his staff. Hosts usually do not attend these first meetings.
NBC declined to make executives available for comment.
The moves suggest the network and hosts would like to get back in the air sooner rather than later. During the writers’ strike that took place in 2007 and 2008, late-night programs across the country shut down for two months until David Letterman’s Worldwide Pants production company secured its own deal with the Writers. Guild of America—unlike other hosts, Letterman owned its program and companion, “Late Late Show”—and other hosts and programs followed suit. In some cases, shows returned to the air without writers, and hosts like Jay Leno had to piece together monologues.
The writers play a vital role in television’s late-night schedule, daily bashing multiple jokes, one-liners and skits that play on current events and trending popular culture. The contract between the Writers’ Guild of American and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents approximately 350 television and film production companies, ended May 1.
Late-night programs in the television landscape face greater challenges than 15 years ago. The shows are grappling with the defection of viewers from linear programming to streaming, with ad sales and ratings in gradual decline. Going off the air for several months could only exacerbate this dynamic, and keeping staff paid for the first few weeks of the shutdown could help programs restart more easily if the WGA and AMPTP get along, or if the frames of the watch a new rise.
As the summer months approach, the momentum behind the resumption of airwaves may wane. Kimmel was due to take the summer off, as he has for two years. Networks, realizing that viewership levels are lower in June, July and August, may feel less pressure to pay for the production of new originals.
Both Fallon and Meyers have expressed support for their writing staff in recent days. Steve Higgins, the “Tonight” announcer who is also senior producer of “Saturday Night Live.” was spotted walking a WGA picket line in New York on Tuesday.
Other early-hours programs also went dark, including CBS’s “Late Show With Stephen Colbert,” ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show.” HBO’s “Real Time With Bill Maher” and “Last Week Tonight” also stopped producing original programming. “Saturday Night Live” has canceled what would have been an original Pete Davidson-hosted program slated for this weekend and is expected to air on repeat for the foreseeable future.