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Citing his loyalty to long-time employees who may lose their jobs if the writers strike continues, Johnny Carson announced Tuesday that his "Tonight Show" will return to NBC next Wednesday with new episodes written by Carson himself.

"It appears we have exhausted every possibility of reaching an agreement (with the Writers Guild) even though countless attempts were made," Carson said in a prepared statement. "There are numerous `Tonight Show' staff members, many have been with us for over 20 years, who are in danger of losing their jobs if this strike goes on much longer. I can't let that happen."So Carson is going to write his own monologues and guest introductions so he can bring the show back from the rerun funk it has been in since the strike started in early March.

"I think I speak for the millions of loyal `Tonight Show' viewers who applaud the return of Johnny Carson to the airwaves," said an elated NBC Entertainment president Brandon Tartikoff. "TV and NBC are not the same without him."

Even the writers' union doesn't seem too upset by the move. Said a guild spokesman: "We anticipate resumption of negotiations (with Carson's production company). We're ready and willing to keep negotiating."

Some in the industry are already calling the Carson move a "strikebreaker." Of course, that may just be wishful thinking by the networks, which already stand to lose a good deal of advertising revenue because of a delayed start to the fall television season and the further defection of viewers to cable, videos and other alternative viewing sources.

CBS and NBC both indicate they won't be starting their new fall seasons until about the first of November. ABC hasn't announced its fall start-up date, but the odds of trying to launch a new season before the other two networks are slim. And even that date is in jeopardy if they strike goes on much longer.

In other words, we're looking at the prospect of the longest dry spell in recent television history, with the networks scrambling to find new products to put on the air. (Hot tip of the day: If you ever considered a career in TV script writing, you may never have a better opportunity than this to break into show biz.)