Writers Unamused by Daly's Joke Hotline

(By Mitch Haaseth -- Associated Press)
By Lisa de Moraes
Friday, November 30, 2007

Things have not been going well for Carson Daly -- NBC's canary in the coal mine -- since he returned to work in the thick of the writers' strike.

The host of the half-hour "Last Call" program went back to work this week on new episodes, which will begin airing Monday.

"If I didn't go back to work, roughly 75 staff and crew would have lost their jobs," Daly said defensively in a statement after getting a thrashing at the hands of the news media, bloggers and the Writers Guild of America.

"As a non-WGA member I feel I have supported my four Guild writers and their strike by suspending production for a month. While I continue to support their cause, I can't, in all good conscience, stand by and let that happen to the vast majority of my loyal staff and crew."

Daly's show has writers? Who knew?

Anyway, the WGA this week spanked Daly for returning to work, noting, like they meant it to sting, that Daly is not a writer and not a guild member -- unlike late-night hosts Jay Leno, David Letterman, Conan O'Brien, Craig Ferguson, Jimmy Kimmel, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, "who have all resisted network pressure and honored our writers' picket lines."

"We're especially appalled at Mr. Daly's call for non-Guild writers to provide him with jokes," the WGA said.

The guild was referencing an e-mail Daly sent to family and BFFs this week, asking that they leave him phone messages with jokes he can play back on the show -- the Scab Joke Hotline, as the media and bloggers have taken to calling it.

"It could be as simple as . . . BEEP 'Hey Cars, it's DAD, sorry bout the strike, gotta be tough on ya, try this one on the show . . . 2 priests and a rabbi walk into a bar . . . yada yada . . . Anyway, my back's feeling better, those pills mom got me seem to be working . . . finally, bye."

In the e-mail, Daly told the recipients (including his doctor) he was only e-mailing a few people because "I'm lazy," and he urged them to pass it along to "others that WE know" so they, too, could participate -- sort of a Scab Chain Letter.

You know what's coming next -- one of the recipients sent the e-mail to TheSmokingGun.com, causing egg to erupt on Daly's face.

If NBC hoped Daly's return would demonstrate the air was safe on the other side of the picket line, it does not seem to have achieved that result.

Instead, Conan O'Brien has decided to pay below-the-line staffers on his NBC late-night show out of his own pocket after the network stops doing so at the end of this week.

Leno has no plans to follow Daly's or O'Brien's lead, though his press rep says he has been doling out holiday bonuses to staffers.

Unlike Letterman's Worldwide Pants, which owns his and Ferguson's CBS late-night programs, O'Brien's production company does not own his show. NBC owns its various late-night talk shows.

Meanwhile, the writers' guild this week returned to the table with studio reps for the first time since the strike started on Nov. 5. So far those talks have been either civilized or contentious, productive or non-, depending on your source -- actually, sometimes the same source, but at different times of day. Yesterday evening, after the studios made what they said was a more lucrative offer and the guild said was a "massive rollback," the Associated Press reported, the writers asked for a few days to think about it and will continue to picket at least until talks resume Tuesday.

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