David Letterman’s production company, Worldwide Pants, jumped at the chance Saturday to negotiate independently with the Writers Guild of America, saying it was eager to make a deal with its striking writers and get new episodes of its late-night shows back on the air.
The move by Worldwide Pants, which produces the “Late Show With David Letterman” and “The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson,” could bolster the union’s efforts to break apart the alliance of studios and networks with which it has been at loggerheads.
Hours after the union told its members it would try to break the logjam by dealing with individual companies, Worldwide Pants Chief Executive Rob Burnett said the company would take the guild up on its offer.
“Because we are an independent production company, we are able to pursue an interim agreement with the guild without involving CBS in that pursuit,” Burnett said in a statement. He added that the company told the WGA when the strike started that it would be willing to make such a deal consistent with the guild’s demands: “It is our strong desire to be back on the air with our writers, and we hope that will happen as soon as possible.”
CBS, which broadcasts the two late-night shows, said it respected Worldwide Pants’ desire to help its employees. But network spokesman Chris Ender said that “should not confuse the fact that CBS remains unified with the [Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers] and committed to working with the member companies to reach a fair and reasonable agreement with the WGA.”
WGA officials did not have an immediate response as to how quickly negotiations with the company could proceed.
Bill Scheft, a veteran Letterman writer and the program’s WGA strike captain, greeted Saturday’s developments with relief. “This would be too good to be true,” he said. “It’s totally pro-writer, which is what Dave has been throughout. Ideally, other people would then fall in line.”
On Saturday, guild officials sent members a letter detailing their new strategy, which they plan to present to individual studios on Monday.
“We want to do everything in our power to move negotiations forward and end this devastating strike,” the guild’s negotiating committee wrote. “The internal dynamics of the [alliance] make it difficult for the conglomerates to reach consensus and negotiate with us on a give-and-take basis.”
An AMPTP spokesman dismissed the union’s tactic, saying the guild was “grasping for straws” and that its members were unified.
The deal would be a major boon to Letterman, allowing him return to the air with his writing staff at a time when his rivals are sidelined.
The CBS host is in a better position to make an individual deal with the WGA than late-night hosts Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien and Jimmy Kimmel, whose programs are owned by their networks.
They may return to the air without their writers -- a move considered likely to happen after the new year -- but could face problems getting guests to cross the picket line.
Since the strike began, all the late-nights hosts have worked to ensure that their non-writing staffs continued to get paid, with many doling money out of their own pockets. It’s unclear how long they would be able to continue doing so; Letterman alone has been spending $300,000 a week on payroll.
For the last six weeks, the Letterman show writers have been a constant presence on the New York picket lines and have produced a lively blog about the labor stoppage.
Scheft said that while the show’s writers would be thrilled to be back at work, “you think about all the people still left on the line.”
“The longer it’s gone on, the more I believe in what we’re doing,” Scheft said.