A new chapter in Letterman-Leno face-off - Fox29 WFLX TV, West Palm Beach, FL-news & weather

A new chapter in Letterman-Leno face-off

David Letterman, above, and Craig Ferguson will have their writers in place. David Letterman, above, and Craig Ferguson will have their writers in place.
Conan O'Brien, above, Jay Leno and Jimmy Kimmel will be doing their shows without writers. Conan O'Brien, above, Jay Leno and Jimmy Kimmel will be doing their shows without writers.
What's gonna happen Wednesday night?

That's the sort of question seldom raised about late-night talk TV, whose hosts keep the audience content with variations on a durable formula, night after night, gag after gag, guest after guest.

But the late-night landscape is about to change, and no one -- not the hosts, not the viewers -- knows how it will look.

What everybody does know is, on Wednesday, five late-night hosts will return to work. Each host is sure to be stoked after having been sidelined since the writers strike began eight weeks ago.

Welcome back, guys!

But there's a twist. Thanks to an agreement with the Writers Guild of America forged just last week, two of the hosts -- David Letterman and Craig Ferguson -- will be accompanied by their writing teams.

It's a different story for Jay Leno, Conan O'Brien and Jimmy Kimmel. They will be deprived of their writers' services while, on the fly, they retool the talk-show format and, relying on improvisation, do, well, who knows what?

One more thing: The haves and have-nots will be going head-to-head.

This presents a host (or, rather, five hosts) of possibilities.

It's been ages since late night was the focus of intense public inquiry. Back in 1991, Johnny Carson announced his retirement and NBC made a grab for Leno as his successor, jilting (and insulting) heir apparent Letterman. For months, the nation watched and waited to see what Letterman would do, and whether NBC would try to make amends. In January 1993 he signed with CBS, in June he kissed off "Late Night" and NBC, and, in August, premiered with "Late Show," beating Leno in the ratings right out of the gate.

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