Letterman And Writers Strike Deal, Giving CBS The Edge
By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 29, 2007; C01
David Letterman will have some help being funny when his talk show returns to the air next week.
Letterman's production company yesterday became the first to cut a deal with the striking Writers Guild of America, enabling "Late Show With David Letterman" and "Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson" to resume production with their writing staffs.
Letterman's Worldwide Pants, which owns both shows, worked out the agreement just days before late-night talk shows will resume after an eight-week hiatus. The disruption was caused by the writers' strike that has stopped production of dramas, sitcoms and talk shows. Almost all of the talk shows have said they will return Wednesday, but without writers. "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report" on Comedy Central will return the following Monday, Jan. 7.
The agreement gives huge leverage to Letterman and CBS, which will now have the only late-night shows with material written by professional writers. That will include topical monologues and other bits, such as Letterman's signature top 10 list. Other talk shows are still scrambling to patch together material without writers. Under union strike rules, the shows' staffs can't write anything that the writers would have written.
In addition, Letterman and Ferguson will be the only shows that can regularly attract big-name celebrities without fear of a picket line. Out of solidarity with striking writers, TV and movie actors have been reluctant to appear on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" and "Last Call With Carson Daly," the two talk shows that have gone back on the air. The writers' guild has objected to both. Neither Letterman nor Ferguson have announced guest lineups for their first shows next week.
By creating a separate agreement with Letterman, the writers' union hopes to put pressure on all of the networks to come to a comprehensive settlement. Without writers or famous guests, the other shows will probably lose viewers to Letterman.
"I am grateful to the WGA for granting us this agreement," Letterman said in a statement issued by his company. "We're happy to be going back to work, and particularly pleased to be doing it with our writers. This is not a solution to the strike, which unfortunately continues to disrupt the lives of thousands. But I hope it will be seen as a step in the right direction."
A deal between the union and Letterman, who is a 30-year member of the writers' union, was possible because his company owns the two talk shows. The other talk shows are owned by the networks and the studio conglomerates against which the writers are striking.
A key issue in the dispute is how writers should be compensated when the networks and movie studios distribute films and TV shows over new media, such as the Internet. The WGA called its deal with Worldwide Pants "a comprehensive agreement that addresses the issues important to writers, particularly new media. . . . Today's agreement dramatically illustrates that the Writers Guild wants to put people back to work, and that when a company comes to the table prepared to negotiate seriously, a fair and reasonable deal can be reached quickly."
While CBS continues to hold the digital rights to Letterman's shows, a union representative, Neal Sacharow, said Worldwide Pants will "take full responsibility" for paying writers when CBS makes money from the shows in new-media formats.
The union said that Worldwide Pants "had accepted the very same proposals that the Guild was prepared to present to the media conglomerates when they walked out of negotiations on Dec. 7," adding, "It's time for NBC Universal to step up to the plate and negotiate a company-wide deal that will put Jay Leno, who has supported our cause from the beginning, back on the air with his writers."