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Talkshow hosts O'Brien and Leno back on air despite strike

LOS ANGELES - US late night chatshow hosts Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien are to resume making programmes in the New Year, eroding their solidarity with the Writers Guild of America's screenwriters strike, which began on November 5.

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Leno and O'Brien, who front two of America's most popular chat shows with 'Tonight with Jay Leno' and 'Late Night with Conan O'Brien' on NBC, will return to production and broadcast duties on January 2 according to their employers, despite the likelihood that their writing staff will still be on strike.

The strike began last month when The Writers Guild of America, which represents 12,000 TV and cinema scriptwriters, chose to take industrial action after being unable to secure a greater share of profits, from the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, for shows that are repurposed as DVDs, mobile downloads and internet streams.

The strike has disrupted filming on a number of popular programmes, including 'Heroes', 'Desperate Housewives', 'Ugly Betty' and 'CSI'. The strike could affect UK schedules of imported US shows a year from now.

In a statement, NBC said Leno and O'Brien, who have had re-runs of their shows screened since the strike began to replace new programmes, would continue to support the striking writers but that returning to work would keep hundreds of non-writing staff in employment next year.

It is understood Leno and O'Brien, who are members of the WGA, have been paying writing staff since the strikes began but have chosen to return to work to support non-writing staff because no further talks between the WGA and AMPTP have been planned.

Meanwhile, the WGA has said it will not allow producers of the Golden Globe Awards to use its member writers for its ceremony on January 13, and has rejected plans from the Oscar organisers to use clips from previous shows for its awards on February 24.

Rick Ludwin, executive vice-president for NBC's late night and primetime series, said: "Both Jay and Conan have supported their writers during the first two months of this WGA strike and will continue to support them. However, there are hundreds of people who will be able to return to work as a result of Jay and Conan's decision."

O'Brien said: "It is only after a great deal of thought that I have decided to go back on the air on January 2. I will make clear, on the programme, my support for the writers.

"Of course, my show will not be as good. In fact, in moments it may well be terrible. My sincerest hope is that all of my writers are back soon, working under a contract that provides them with everything they deserve."

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