LATE-NIGHT SHOWS RETURN, BUT WILL STARS?

Bookers for late-night talk shows have been struggling to find A-list personalities willing to cross picket lines to appear on the shows when they return on January 2, the New York Times reported today (Thursday). An unnamed publicist told the newspaper that her agency is taking a wait-and-see approach in order to judge reaction to actors who do cross picket lines. Asked whether the shows had been able to book any guests, producers at each of the late-night shows declined to comment, the Times said. However, Donald Trump, who is booked on Late Night With David Letterman on January 2, personally phoned media outlets Wednesday to inform them that he will appear on the program to promote his The Celebrity Apprentice, which is due to debut on January 10. There was still no word on when Comedy Central's The Daily Show With Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report might return. "It's a little bit of a different challenge for them," a source told today's (Thursday) New York Post. "Even without writers, the other shows can fall back on booking additional guests or adding musical performers" to replace monologues and sketches that require writing talent. Both Comedy Central shows are formulated around topical satire.

WGA SETS MEETING WITH LETTERMAN REPS

The Writers Guild of America is scheduled to meet with representatives of David Letterman's Worldwide Pants company on Friday in hopes of reaching an agreement that would enable Letterman to return to the air with his writing staff on January 2. The agreement would also affect Craig Ferguson's late-night show, which is also produced by Letterman's company. Unlike the Tonight show, which is produced by NBC, the two Letterman shows are independently produced. The problem that the negotiators face, however, is that CBS distributes the Letterman shows, and the sticking points in the current dispute involve distribution, not production, issues -- primarily how much writers should be paid in residuals when programs are distributed on the Internet. Presumably a most-favored-nation clause could be written into the deal stipulating that the writers would receive the same amount that other writers do when the networks and the WGA finally reach an agreement.

STRIKE SPURS CBS TO REVAMP PEOPLE'S CHOICE AWARDS

CBS said Wednesday that the 34th annual People's Choice Awards, scheduled for to be broadcast from the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles on Jan. 8, will be revamped due to the writers' strike. After numerous reports appeared on various websites saying that the show had been canceled, the network issued a statement saying, "The show will go on. ... The People's Choice tradition on CBS will continue and we plan to introduce some new ideas in the process." Several TV journalists speculated that the show would be taped without a red carpet, without writers, without stars, and without a studio audience (and presumably not much of one at home, either).

CHASE WINS SOPRANOS LAWSUIT

A federal jury on Wednesday rejected former prosecutor Robert Baer's claim that he helped David Chase develop The Sopranos. While the jury agreed that Baer had indeed discussed mob activities in New Jersey with Chase and had introduced him to several people who provided useful information for the show, it found that Baer had not proved that he had a reasonable expectation to be compensated for those services. After the ruling, Chase told reporters that he had always regarded the lawsuit as a nuisance "This has been like having a fly buzzing in your bathroom for seven years and now it has been swatted," Chase said. Baer, however, continued to maintain, "I helped him to create it. I was feeding him information, bringing him to people."

STONE PHILLIPS RETURNING TO DATELINE -- ONE TIME ONLY?

Stone Phillips, who was fired as co-host of Dateline NBC last May as part of an overall cutback at NBC News, will return to the program on Dec. 28 for a report on how easily documents allowing people to travel to the U.S. can be obtained. Phillips reportedly had been working on the investigation at the time he was fired.

TV PERSONALITY JACK LINKLETTER DEAD AT 70

Jack Linkletter, a frequent host of game and variety shows in the '60s and '70s, died Tuesday of lymphoma at age 70. He was the son of Art Linkletter, 95, who hosted several popular afternoon shows in the early days of television and is probably best known for his Kids Say the Darndest Things series. "He always did ad-lib shows, just like me," the senior Linkletter told today's (Thursday) Los Angeles Times. "Sons of famous people have a tough time, because they're expected to be as good as their dad right away." However, Jack Linkletter wound up hosting seven different TV series as well as such special events as the Miss Universe pageant and the World's Fair.

Brian B.