MORE COMICS RETURN

Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, each of whom is a member of the Writers Guild of America, have agreed to return to the air on January 7th -- presumably winging their material without their staff of writers. In a statement that was presumably written down by someone, the two remarked that they would have preferred to return with their writers. "If we cannot, we would like to express our ambivalence, but without our writers we are unable to express something as nuanced as ambivalence." Their announcement leaves David Letterman and Craig Ferguson as the only late-night hosts without an official return date. Letterman's production company, Worldwide Pants, which produces The Late Show and The Late, Late Show on CBS has been attempting to work out a separate deal with the WGA, which many had expected would be announced this week. Meanwhile, in an interview with the Kansas City Star, Ferguson suggested that he doesn't know anything about the negotiations, saying only, "The day Dave goes back is the day I go back." And if the show goes back without writers? "I'll have to speak without thinking, which actually, I have two failed marriages, so I think everybody knows I can do."

WOLPER PLEADS FOR WGA TO ALLOW AWARDS SHOWS

In a letter to the editor of Daily Variety producer David Wolper compared the decision to "punish" the Golden Globes and Oscars telecasts to President Carter's 1980 threat to boycott the Moscow Olympics if the Soviet Union didn't withdraw its troops from Afghanistan. The inevitable decision by the Soviets to remain resulted, said Wolper, in over 460 American athletes who had trained "for their moment in the sun" missing their chance. In the current situation, Wolper asks, "Who is hurt? Do you really think the studios will change one single negotiating point because of the Golden Globes or the Oscars? Who it really hurts are all the people, including writers, who ... may lose their only moment to shine. ... Like the Olympic athletes, they may never get another chance. ... The Olympics and the Oscars, the same story, the wrong people get punished." Wolper, who produced the opening and closing ceremonies of the 1984 Olympics, urges the WGA to "rethink" its position. The guild has not yet responded.

WGA GRANTS WAIVER TO INDIE AWARDS SHOW

The Writers Guild of America has granted a second waiver, this time to allow writers to work for the Independent Spirit Awards, which honors independent filmmakers. (They had already granted a similar waiver to the Screen Actors Guild.) The ceremonies will air live on the Independent Film Channel (IFC) on Feb. 23, the day before the scheduled Oscar telecast, with an edited repeat airing the same night on Bravo. The WGA said it had granted the waiver because the producers had requested it before the strike began. It added, "The best way to get the awards season back on track is for the AMPTP to return to the bargaining table to negotiate a fair deal with the Writers Guild to get this town back to work."

WILL NETWORKS GO ABROAD FOR WRITING TALENT?

The possibility that programming for the television networks could be outsourced to overseas producers arose Thursday when NBC Entertainment Co-chairman Ben Silverman noted that the network already has two scripted shows in production right now that are not affected by the strike -- Robinson Crusoe and Fear Itself.Crusoe is produced by British-based Universal Media Services and Power and is reportedly the first scripted show in 45 years to be produced overseas for an American network. Fear Itself is being produced by the Canadian-based studio Lionsgate in Edmonton, Alberta. "We have writers working on those shows right now," Silverman told the Wall Street Journal.

CBS SNUBBED BY ACTORS UNION

CBS, the most-watched television network of 2007, received not a single nomination in any category for the Screen Actors Guild Awards ceremony on January 27. ABC, on the other hand, received 11 nominations, three of which went to its comedy series Ugly Betty. HBO received nine nominations, three of them for The Sopranos. NBC nabbed seven nominations, three for 30 Rock.

COLBERT VOTED A.P.'S CELEBRITY OF THE YEAR

Stephen Colbert has beaten out J.K. Rowling and Al Gore to become the Associated Press's 2007 Celebrity of the Year. The two others placed second and third respectively. Despite being sidelined for the final two months of the year, TV producers and newspaper editors who participated in the vote agreed that he had the greatest impact on pop culture this year. They cited not only his The Colbert Report on Comedy Central, which, they said, exceeded the influence of most real pundits, but also -- among other things -- his presidential run in South Carolina and his best-selling book, I Am America (And So Can You!).

APPRENTICE ON MERCURY

NBC has once again changed the start date for Donald Trump's Celebrity Apprentice. It had originally scheduled the series to debut on Thursday, January 3 at 9:00 p.m. After learning that ABC planned to air its last new episode of Grey's Anatomy in that time period, NBC then moved it up a week to January 10. But when ABC realized that Grey's might be interrupted by news from the Iowa caucus, it decided to air a repeat of the show on that night and run the original episode a week later. Upon hearing that NBC then switched the Celebrity Apprentice start back to January 3. Reporting on the checker-board moves, Broadcasting & Cable commented today (Friday): "With all due to respect to Comedy Central, 'Indecision 2008' may now refer to when exactly NBC is going to debut its 'celebrity' version of The Apprentice.

Brian B.