Three more late-nighters chat up Jan. 2



UPDATED 5:53 p.m. PT Dec. 18

Jan. 2 appears to be the date for the late-night talk show hosts to return to the air.

On Tuesday, ABC said Jimmy Kimmel will be back that day, the same day NBC's Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien are set to return -- all without writers.

Also on Tuesday, Worldwide Pants, producer and owner of CBS' "Late Show With David Letterman" and "The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson," said those shows also are targeting Jan. 2 for return on the air, with their writers in tow.

David Letterman's Worldwide Pants had signaled its willingness to cut an interim deal with the WGA that would allow the shows' writers to go back to work. But there has been no movement in the past several days, and with no negotiations scheduled, the independent production company again is reaching out to the WGA publicly.

"We are willing to agree to the writers' demands that are within our control, so we have no reason to believe that an interim agreement can't be achieved with the WGA," Worldwide Pants president and CEO Rob Burnett said late Tuesday. "As a result, our only focus is on returning Jan. 2 with writers."

With the holidays fast approaching, a deal for a Jan. 2 return of "Late Show" and "Late Late Show" and their writers is up in the air. Since CBS is said to control the rights to stream the shows online -- a key part of WGA's demands to the major studios -- a pact between Worldwide Pants and the WGA wouldn't touch on the main sticking point in the labor dispute. But the hedge words in the statement notwithstanding, there's reason to believe that a deal can be made, sources said.

Reps from the WGA couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday night, but they have said in the past that they want to deal with companies individually.

Like the other talk-show hosts, Kimmel expressed support for the writers while saying he had to do something for the below-the-line staff.

"Though it makes me sick to do so without my writers, there are more than 100 people whose financial well-being depends on our show," the host of "Jimmy Kimmel Live" said Tuesday. "It is time to go back to work. I support my colleagues and friends in the WGA completely and hope this ends both fairly and soon."

With no writers on board, there surely will be major changes to the format of Kimmel's show, just as there will be with "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" and "Late Night With Conan O'Brien." Extended guests spots are likely.

As a WGA member, Kimmel is prohibited from doing a monologue or performing any writing duties that would normally be done by a WGA scribe.

Kimmel wasn't doing interviews Tuesday about the situation, and ABC declined a request to talk to an executive about the show.

"Until the resolution of the strike, 'JKL' will operate following a modified format in accordance with WGA guidelines," executive producer Jill Leiderman said in a statement. She said that Kimmel will work "understanding the sensitivity of the current climate."

"Jimmy Kimmel Live" has been anything but since the writers strike began Nov. 5, with 18 of 20 of the telecasts repeats. But the show was still able to do what other late-night talk shows were not able to do: show a year-to-year increase in the November sweep.

Despite the strike -- and in part because of "Dancing With the Stars" and other primetime telecasts -- Kimmel had its largest November sweep audience ever and was up slightly year-to-year.

Comedy Central's late-night hosts Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert remain out, and there's no indication that their writing-intensive shows will be returning anytime soon.