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‘Heeeeere’s Johnny’ : Carson Returns to TV Minus His Striking Gag Writers

Times Staff Writer

Cracking that he returned to the airwaves because he was driving his wife nuts and she wanted him out of the house, Johnny Carson returned to NBC with “The Tonight Show” Wednesday, despite a 10-week-old writers’ strike that has crippled much of Hollywood.

Carson, who vowed to write his own material just so he could get back to work, opened with a monologue that zeroed in on the Reagans’ astrology problems, the predictions of Nostradamus and an update on the problems of Jim and Tammy Bakker.

He quipped and ad-libbed his way through an hour of comedy and interviews without the aid of his usual stable of eight Writers Guild of America gag writers. For just a moment, he became serious when he said that he had a lot of friends out on the picket line.

The only direct shot he took at the standoff between the guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers was a reference to the writers’ “weird picket signs,” which, he said, have nothing at all written on them.

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The strike began March 7, when the guild rejected an offer by producers that would have revised the method for granting residuals for syndicated, hourlong television shows. The guild is also demanding higher residuals for foreign sales and increased control over script changes.

The strike has halted most television production and has cost both the film and TV industry more than $15 million in lost jobs and production time, according to the producers’ negotiators. Although only the 9,000 guild members are on strike, about 1,400 non-writing entertainment industry employees have also been laid off because of a lack of scripts, according to industry reports.

Writers have rejected producers’ requests for waivers or interim contracts but have agreed to formal contract negotiations with independent production companies.

Although guild members were not scheduled to picket NBC during the Wednesday taping of “The Tonight Show,” the union hierarchy was reportedly disappointed in Carson’s decision to write his own show.

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