Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien to Return, Sans Writers

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NBC announced a few minutes ago that Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien will return to the air on January 2 — sooner than expected! — without their writers, Carson Daly style. This comes as David Letterman is still trying to secure an "interim agreement" from the WGA that would allow his and Craig Ferguson's late-night shows to begin taping new episodes with their writing staffs. If Letterman is successful, this would set the stage for an historic showdown between a scripted CBS late-night lineup and a writer-less NBC one, a battle that could decide the age-old question, "How important are writers, anyway?"

NBC's after-hours schedule has traditionally beaten CBS' in the ratings, pretty much since Hugh Grant got caught with that hooker. But if Letterman and Ferguson can't beat Leno and O'Brien with a full writing team (even if it is the writing team behind the Late Show Writers on Strike blog), then doesn't this undercut the Writers Guild's position quite a bit? Jay and Conan will have to forgo skits, monologues, and basically anything else that requires any advance planning. Also, speculation is that both shows will have trouble booking guests, since many celebrities will be wary of crossing picket lines to do promotion that would benefit movie studios and TV networks. They may as well change the name of The Tonight Show to Things That Spontaneously Occur to Jay Leno. Prepare for incoming disaster!

TV hosts Leno and O'Brien to return amid strike [Reuters]