Late-night hosts give their staffs a hand

'DAILY SHOW': Jon Stewart has arranged with Comedy Central to continue paying his show's nonwriting staff members during the writers strike, as has Stephen Colbert and his "Colbert Report."
‘DAILY SHOW’: Jon Stewart has arranged with Comedy Central to continue paying his show’s nonwriting staff members during the writers strike, as has Stephen Colbert and his “Colbert Report.”
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Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- Count Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert among the late-night hosts looking out for their sidelined crews during the writers strike.

The hosts of “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” have quietly worked with Comedy Central to ensure that the network has continued to pay the shows’ 200 nonwriting staff members during the work stoppage, according to people familiar with the situation.

Comedy Central “agreed it was the right thing to do,” said a source aware of the arrangements. So far, the network has agreed to compensate the employees through this week.

Similar efforts have been made by nearly every other late-night host, whose programs were the first forced by the strike to halt production. The one exception has been NBC’s Carson Daly, who returned to the air Monday, saying he had to protect the jobs of his 75-person crew.

Every other late-night host has arranged for his show’s nonwriting staff to continue getting paid during the labor stoppage, either by the network or by personally cutting them paychecks. Most, like Stewart and Colbert, have eschewed any publicity about it.

“We’re thrilled, because we’re just as concerned about these people caught in the middle as they are,” said Chris Albers, a monologue writer for “Late Night With Conan O’Brien,” as he picketed in front of Rockefeller Center on Wednesday. “The idea that our bosses are doing what they can to help these people is wonderful.”

The financial arrangements made by comedians like O’Brien and David Letterman, who have not made appearances on the picket line, are viewed by the striking writers as strong gestures of solidarity .

“They’re in an awkward position, because they have to play both sides of the fence with the companies and the writers, so it’s harder for them to come out here and be the public face,” Albers said. “But they’re actually doing everything they can to help behind the scenes.”

It remains to be seen how long the payments will last if the walkout drags on; most staffs are being paid on a week-to-week basis. And some pain is already being felt: The staff of “Saturday Night Live,” which does not have a well-paid host to cover salaries, was let go by NBC on Nov. 16.

But for now, efforts by comedians like Jimmy Kimmel -- who is paying the vast majority of salaries of “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” staff members out of his own pocket after ABC suspended them Monday -- has contributed to a sense of unity in the late-night genre.

By keeping their staffs financially afloat, the hosts also ensure that they’ll have crews available to ramp up quickly once the strike comes to an end. Network executives say privately that they’re aiming for the programs to return to the air as early as the night the labor stoppage is resolved. To that end, some programs like “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” that book guests far in advance are canceling appearances on a day-to-day basis, while smaller shows are lining tentative guests in case the walkout ends abruptly.

At NBC, personal payouts by Leno and O’Brien helped their staff members ward off unemployment after they were laid off by the network last week.

Leno cut checks to cover the salaries of about 100 “Tonight Show” staffers this week, according to Dick Guttman, the comedian’s representative. The NBC host also distributed about half a million dollars’ worth of Christmas bonuses early.

O’Brien is paying the 60 staffers on his show out of his own pocket as well. Both NBC hosts will decide week to week whether to extend the compensation, according to their representatives.

For his part, Letterman arranged for his production company, Worldwide Pants, to continue paying both the 100 employees who work on the “Late Show” and another 100 employed by its “Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson.”

Since the strike began, lower-salaried employees have been getting their full paychecks and senior staff members have received part of their salaries. A spokesman said the payments would continue until at least the end of the year.

Times staff writer Lynn Smith contributed to this report.