When Hollywood writers went on strike in 2007, the late-night shows were forced to go dark for about two months. During the hiatus, Jay Leno famously delivered doughnuts via motorcycle to the picket lines, and Jimmy Kimmel and other hosts paid staff out of pocket. “The strike basically wiped out all my savings,” the Jimmy Kimmel Live! host told The Hollywood Reporter for a retrospective on the strike’s 10th anniversary. The late-night shows eventually returned to the air; David Letterman even made his own deal with the studios so that his writers could return to work.
Fifteen years later, writers are striking again—and the late-night shows are the first to feel the impact once more. Leno is no longer the host of The Tonight Show, but he’s back delivering doughnuts to picketers. And some hosts are supporting their crew amid the chaos. Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon and Late Night’s Seth Meyers are both reportedly dipping into their pockets to help pay their crews for the missed work. According to sources and Hollywood trade reports, NBC will pay staffers’ salaries for two weeks, with Fallon and Meyers personally stepping in to help extend their pay for a third week. The network is also paying for employees’ health care through September. An NBCUniversal spokeswoman declined to comment.
Sarah Kobos, who describes herself as a senior photo research coordinator for the Tonight Show in her Twitter bio, posted to the social network that Fallon attended a Wednesday morning production meeting to let staff know that he’d helped negotiate for them to receive more pay. The previous day, she had tweeted angrily that staff wouldn’t get paid after this week. “Please support your staff,” she wrote, publicly appealing to the host. “Had fun bowling with ya last week, but a fun party won’t pay my rent.”
Paying writers is a gesture of solidarity from Fallon and Meyers, both of whom are listed as members of the Writers Guild of America East branch. In a clip from his Monday show, Meyers—who picketed in 2007 when he was working on Saturday Night Live—expressed support for the guild, saying, “I feel very strongly that what the writers are asking for is not unreasonable.” While on the red carpet for the Met Gala, Fallon said, “I wouldn’t have a show if it wasn’t for my writers. I support them all the way.” His announcer, former SNL co-head writer Steve Higgins—whose son John Higgins is currently an SNL writer—was spotted on the picket line on Tuesday.
If the current strike plays out like the last one, crew members on the late-night shows could be out of work for a lot longer than three weeks. The 2007 strike lasted for 100 days; in 1988, writers stopped working for 153 days. During the last strike, most of the late-night shows eventually chose to resume production without their writers, welcoming them back only once the work stoppage finally ended. In that Hollywood Reporter interview, Kimmel said he felt he had to go back on the air because he couldn’t afford to support his crew any longer: “I also felt if we stayed off the air, it was going to do permanent damage to our shows.”
Vanity Fair will update this story as additional information emerges about how the other late-night shows are supporting their crew during the hiatus.