Is Ellen DeGeneres breaking strike rules?
That's the assertion of the Writers Guild of America, East, which has criticized the comedian for returning to her show while her writers are on the picket lines. DeGeneres -- a member of WGA West as well as the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists -- sat one day out last week until she was told by her production company that she had to go back to work or risk breaching her contract.
Since then, "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" has continued production while the guild has accused her of undermining her staff. The comedian has repeatedly voiced support for her writers and described feeling "caught in the middle."
DeGeneres refrained from doing a monologue on her first day back in honor of her writers. But since then, she has reinstated the show's opening segment, triggering a charge from WGA East that she was performing "struck work," a violation of guild rules.
Representatives for DeGeneres vigorously dispute that allegation, saying in a statement she ad-libbed her monologues.
"Ellen continues to comply with the strike rules and the terms of the WGA MBA, while at the same time honor her contractual obligation as a host through AFTRA and honor her contractual obligations to deliver original episodes to 220 stations," the representatives said. "In addition, the show is keeping 135 staff and crew members employed."
So is she riffing or writing? In a segment on Thursday's show, DeGeneres described getting nervous every time a police car pulls up behind her, "even though I'm doing nothing wrong except possibly listening to Milli Vanilli."
As long as DeGeneres didn't write that ahead of time, it appears she's in the clear.
"Our view is she could not perform writing services," said Tony Segall, general counsel for WGA West. Performing her duties as a host, however, "doesn't violate anything," he said.
The current batch of late-night hosts -- Jay Leno, David Letterman, Conan O'Brien, Jimmy Kimmel, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert -- are all WGA members, according to the Writers Guild. So if any of them decided to go back on the air before the strike is resolved -- a possibility that reportedly has been floated in behind-the-scenes talks -- they would not be able to write any material. (They could, however, skip, dance, sing or, like DeGeneres, ad-lib their monologues.)
-- Matea Gold