Carson Daly killed a few moments Monday night sharing snapshots of his "Last Call" staffers during their four-week hiatus.

He noted, gratefully, that the applause sign in the studio still worked after a month without use.

And he explained why NBC's "Last Call" became the first late-night show to return to the air with fresh episodes since the writer's strike began.

"We ran out of repeats," Daly cracked. "A month is a long time."

Then he got serious, addressing negative press coverage (and criticism from the Writers Guild of America) for his coming back to work: "If I had not been back on the air tonight, 75 members of my loyal staff and crew were going to get laid off."

He was faced with "an ultimatum, if you will," from the network that boiled down to: "You either come back or they're laid off. I said, `Let's turn the lights on, I'm gonna come back.' It's that simple."

"Last Call" thus became the first to break ranks among the six broadcast late-night talk shows, which, since Nov. 5, all had aired repeats rather than tape new shows without their striking writers.

"I miss my writers," Daly declared in his opening remarks, which he emphasized were ad-libbed. "None of this is written -- clearly!" And a (presumably) gag shot caught his cue card holder seated off-camera, busying herself by flipping through a magazine.

Daly's return show had as guests Victoria's Secret supermodel Karolina Kurkova and band Plain White T's. The half-hour "Last Call" airs at 1:35 a.m. EST weeknights.

"I don't know what we're gonna do, moving forward the rest of the week," Daly said. "But I'll figure it out."

Production on Daly's Burbank-based talk show, which tapes several days ahead, resumed last Wednesday, with the Writers Guild expressing "profound disappointment."

The only late-night host who's not a member of the Writers Guild, Daly had said in a statement, "I feel I have supported my four Guild writers and their strike by suspending production for a month."

After last week, NBC effectively laid off the nonstriking staffs of the network's two other late-night shows. They, along with "Last Call," are owned by Universal Media Studios, which, like NBC, is a unit of General Electric.

But Conan O'Brien stepped forward to personally cover the salaries of his nonstriking "Late Night" staff at least this week, as did Jay Leno for his "Tonight Show" staff. Both of those shows are continuing to air repeats.

In mid-November, staffers of CBS' "Late Show with David Letterman" and "Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson" were similarly promised payment at least through December by Letterman, whose production company, Worldwide Pants, owns both shows.

And staffers for ABC's "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" so far have continued to be paid by the network, which is owned by the Walt Disney Co.