It pays to work for O'Brien

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Conan O'Brien is ensuring the jobs of his talk show staffers by paying them out of his own pocket.

The host of NBC's "Late Night With Conan O'Brien" is paying the salaries of about 75 people — his nonwriting production staff — employed on his talk show, a network spokesperson confirmed Thursday. The gesture is meant to save the jobs of his staff during the writers strike.

Their full salaries — along with those of staffers on NBC's "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" and "Last Call With Carson Daly" — had already been guaranteed by the network through month's end. Daly went back to work this week after production had been suspended in support of the striking writers (HR 11/27). All late-night shows are in repeats, but new episodes of "Last Call" are expected to air next work.

The news that O'Brien is paying his staff's salaries follows news this month that employees of "Late Show With David Letterman" and "The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson" had been notified by David Letterman's Worldwide Pants banner, which produces both shows, that they would be paid through year's end, regardless of whether they return.

There's no word on "Leno." If the strike continues, that show's employees could be notified of layoffs starting today.

Daly, meanwhile, issued a statement in response to the reaction he's been getting for returning to work. The WGA West had said earlier in the week that it was "disappointed" in his decision.

"If I didn't go back to work, roughly 75 staff and crew would have lost their jobs," Daly said. "As a non-WGA member, I feel I have supported the Writers Guild of America and the strike by suspending production for a month. While I continue to support the cause, I can't, in all good conscience, stand by and let that happen to my loyal staff and crew. I sincerely hope the strike will be resolved soon."

Elsewhere in late-night news, Howard Stern on Thursday told listeners of his radio show that he had been invited to appear on "Letterman" on Monday. While there's been no word about the show returning, it's understood that guests are regularly being booked as a contingency in the event the strike comes to a close.
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