A Separate Letterman Deal is Bad For the WGA

Categories: WGA Strike

Written By

December 16th, 2007

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12/27 UPDATE: Deal announced between Dave and the WGA.
12/22 UPDATE: No deal announced between Dave and the WGA.
12/21 UPDATE: Dave's production company is meeting with the writers today.

12/19 UPDATE: Dave and Craig seem to be headed back on Jan 2, whether they reach a deal with the WGA or not.

With reports that David Letterman's Worldwide Pants production company will pursue a separate deal with the WGA, I can certainly see how it makes sense for Dave. He's reportedly paying $300,000 / week in salaries to his out of work staff (and some guess the total expense is triple that) and he'd get on the air with his writers before any of his competition.

CBS head Les Moonves is likely happy too. His biggest problem right now (although bigger problems loom) with the writer's strike is the lack of new late night shows for his advertisers. A deal to get Dave back on the air would take care of that with little risk to CBS, because Dave's show is owned by Dave's production company, not CBS.

Any deal with Worldwide Pants reportedly would be a so-called "most favored nation" deal, that is, Dave's writers would get the same deal as the best deal negotiated elsewhere.

That's great for Dave, great for Dave's writers, great for Dave's non-writing staff (assuming that Dave might eventually stop paying them as he has since the beginning of the strike), but very bad for the WGA as a whole.

It's unlikely that's what the WGA intended when they announced they would negotiate with companies separately from the AMPTP.

If the WGA is OK with having some of its writers writing under a "to be determined" contract, which is effectively what it likely will get with Worldwide Pants, then why did they strike in the first place? Since negotiating a "to be determined" deal while everyone kept working is exactly what they were doing in October.

Piecemeal deals like this addressing the most pressing problem areas for the companies weaken the WGA's position tremendously, it's a wonder why they let them happen.

Let's not forget that Johnny Carson struck a deal like this to come back early during the strike in 1988. (UPDATE: Johnny came back without his writers, as Jay and Conan will, not with his writers as Dave is rumored to be trying to do.)

As Dr. Phil might say to the WGA, "So, how'd that work out for ya?".

UPDATE: News that Conan O'Brien and Jay Leno will be back without their writers on January 2. I wonder if they will be lambasted as Carson Daly was?

How many of your favorite show episodes are left before reruns? Our latest (updated today!) Show by Show Strike status is here.

 
  • Joseph Mitzen

    I see it as a positive for the WGA. Letterman with writers will steamroll the other shows sans writers, and people who would avoid crossing the picket line by appearing on the other shows will have Letterman as an outlet instead. This gives his show a major advantage, which will pressure their competition to seek deals as well. The more production companies sign their own “separate peace” the more the AMPTP front breaks down and the remainder will pressure their organization to cave. It seems like a “divide and conquer” strategy to me.

  • Joseph Mitzen

    I see it as a positive for the WGA. Letterman with writers will steamroll the other shows sans writers, and people who would avoid crossing the picket line by appearing on the other shows will have Letterman as an outlet instead. This gives his show a major advantage, which will pressure their competition to seek deals as well. The more production companies sign their own “separate peace” the more the AMPTP front breaks down and the remainder will pressure their organization to cave. It seems like a “divide and conquer” strategy to me.

  • Joseph Mitzen

    I see it as a positive for the WGA. Letterman with writers will steamroll the other shows sans writers, and people who would avoid crossing the picket line by appearing on the other shows will have Letterman as an outlet instead. This gives his show a major advantage, which will pressure their competition to seek deals as well. The more production companies sign their own “separate peace” the more the AMPTP front breaks down and the remainder will pressure their organization to cave. It seems like a “divide and conquer” strategy to me.

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Bill Gorman

    David/Joseph,

    I'd link to any specific detail about the WGA/Letterman deal, but this report is the best I can find and it doesn't really say much.

    I think my original reasons for thinking a separate Letterman deal was bad for the WGA still hold.

    A small company like Worldwide Pants agreeing to something with the WGA really doesn't establish the reasonableness of the WGA demands to the bigger companies. More importantly, it doesn't commit the larger companies to anything.

    Some writers are now working while others are not. Except for the writers returning to work, that's bad.

    Letterman and Ferguson are now advantaged vs. their NBC competition but overall for CBS and NBC-Universal it's not that significant a difference. It will, however, be interesting to see any ratings differences for the CBS vs. the NBC shows. Sadly, we don't get those as a matter of course from Nielsen.

    I think there will be some PR boost from having Letterman talk a bit about the strike, but I think all the hope that the WGA has put in PR “victories”, and they have had plenty, has been misplaced and largely wasted.

    Of the other TV broadcasters, Fox doesn't have any latenight, and ABC has Nightline and that isn't affected.

    I do admit, and I should have stated this at the beginning, all my comments cover only the TV business aspect of the WGA strike, as have all our news items. The movie business, and its problems in the WGA strike, are outside the realm of our knowledge and the scope of our writing.

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Bill Gorman

    David/Joseph,

    I'd link to any specific detail about the WGA/Letterman deal, but this report is the best I can find and it doesn't really say much.

    I think my original reasons for thinking a separate Letterman deal was bad for the WGA still hold.

    A small company like Worldwide Pants agreeing to something with the WGA really doesn't establish the reasonableness of the WGA demands to the bigger companies. More importantly, it doesn't commit the larger companies to anything.

    Some writers are now working while others are not. Except for the writers returning to work, that's bad.

    Letterman and Ferguson are now advantaged vs. their NBC competition but overall for CBS and NBC-Universal it's not that significant a difference. It will, however, be interesting to see any ratings differences for the CBS vs. the NBC shows. Sadly, we don't get those as a matter of course from Nielsen.

    I think there will be some PR boost from having Letterman talk a bit about the strike, but I think all the hope that the WGA has put in PR “victories”, and they have had plenty, has been misplaced and largely wasted.

    Of the other TV broadcasters, Fox doesn't have any latenight, and ABC has Nightline and that isn't affected.

    I do admit, and I should have stated this at the beginning, all my comments cover only the TV business aspect of the WGA strike, as have all our news items. The movie business, and its problems in the WGA strike, are outside the realm of our knowledge and the scope of our writing.

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Bill Gorman

    David/Joseph,

    I’d link to any specific detail about the WGA/Letterman deal, but this report is the best I can find and it doesn’t really say much.

    I think my original reasons for thinking a separate Letterman deal was bad for the WGA still hold.

    A small company like Worldwide Pants agreeing to something with the WGA really doesn’t establish the reasonableness of the WGA demands to the bigger companies. More importantly, it doesn’t commit the larger companies to anything.

    Some writers are now working while others are not. Except for the writers returning to work, that’s bad.

    Letterman and Ferguson are now advantaged vs. their NBC competition but overall for CBS and NBC-Universal it’s not that significant a difference. It will, however, be interesting to see any ratings differences for the CBS vs. the NBC shows. Sadly, we don’t get those as a matter of course from Nielsen.

    I think there will be some PR boost from having Letterman talk a bit about the strike, but I think all the hope that the WGA has put in PR “victories”, and they have had plenty, has been misplaced and largely wasted.

    Of the other TV broadcasters, Fox doesn’t have any latenight, and ABC has Nightline and that isn’t affected.

    I do admit, and I should have stated this at the beginning, all my comments cover only the TV business aspect of the WGA strike, as have all our news items. The movie business, and its problems in the WGA strike, are outside the realm of our knowledge and the scope of our writing.

  • David

    The Deadline Hollywood was interesting. It kind of, hinted, at an almost answer to the issue I was most curious about:

    “But CBS said in its statement issued tonight: 'CBS controls the Internet exploitation rights for both programs, and will comply with any eventual negotiated agreement between the AMPTP and the WGA.' But then Letterman's side showed that its company and not CBS is the one responsible for paying residuals to the WGA writers for Internet use of the shows.”

    In their press releases, the WGA states, “Worldwide Pants is agreeing to the full MBA, including the new media proposals we have been unable to make progress on at the big bargaining table.”

    I'm guessing what all this means is that WWP agreed to pay the residuals for internet downloads and streaming and stuff, but since they currently don't control that stuff, they aren't paying anybody anything. But if they ever do get control in the future, they'll pay it.

    Which leaves me wondering, are WWP's writers getting anything more with this new deal than they were before?

  • David

    The Deadline Hollywood was interesting. It kind of, hinted, at an almost answer to the issue I was most curious about:

    “But CBS said in its statement issued tonight: 'CBS controls the Internet exploitation rights for both programs, and will comply with any eventual negotiated agreement between the AMPTP and the WGA.' But then Letterman's side showed that its company and not CBS is the one responsible for paying residuals to the WGA writers for Internet use of the shows.”

    In their press releases, the WGA states, “Worldwide Pants is agreeing to the full MBA, including the new media proposals we have been unable to make progress on at the big bargaining table.”

    I'm guessing what all this means is that WWP agreed to pay the residuals for internet downloads and streaming and stuff, but since they currently don't control that stuff, they aren't paying anybody anything. But if they ever do get control in the future, they'll pay it.

    Which leaves me wondering, are WWP's writers getting anything more with this new deal than they were before?

  • David

    The Deadline Hollywood was interesting. It kind of, hinted, at an almost answer to the issue I was most curious about:

    “But CBS said in its statement issued tonight: ‘CBS controls the Internet exploitation rights for both programs, and will comply with any eventual negotiated agreement between the AMPTP and the WGA.’ But then Letterman’s side showed that its company and not CBS is the one responsible for paying residuals to the WGA writers for Internet use of the shows.”

    In their press releases, the WGA states, “Worldwide Pants is agreeing to the full MBA, including the new media proposals we have been unable to make progress on at the big bargaining table.”

    I’m guessing what all this means is that WWP agreed to pay the residuals for internet downloads and streaming and stuff, but since they currently don’t control that stuff, they aren’t paying anybody anything. But if they ever do get control in the future, they’ll pay it.

    Which leaves me wondering, are WWP’s writers getting anything more with this new deal than they were before?

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