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David Letterman’s Waiver

The Directors Guild of America reached a new deal  this week with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents nearly all the film studios and television networks. The directors struck their agreement just as their contract was about to expire. That stands in sharp contrast to the lengthy walkout by the Writers Guild of America, which went on strike in early November. The entertainment conglomerates have balked over paying writers residuals on “new media” (i.e., video streaming on the Internet and cell phones) and on extending Guild membership to writers on reality shows. 

The writers’ strike stopped production of most scripted television programs, and fans of popular series such as Grey’s Anatomy and The Office have suffered as the backlog of new episodes dries up. The televised presentation of the  Golden Globes was radically scaled back, and the Grammy and Oscar award shows may suffer a similar fate.

After honoring the picket lines for several weeks, late night talk show hosts such as Jon Stewart and Jay Leno were forced by their networks to return to the air without the benefit of their writing staffs. In late December David Letterman’s production company, Worldwide Pants, broke with the powerful AMPTP alliance and signed a side agreement  with the Writers Guild. The contract (executive summary below and on the following two pages) agrees to the Writers Guild’s conditions regarding new media and reality programming. In return, the Writers Guild has granted a waiver allowing its members to return to work on The Late Show With David Lettermanand The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson (which Letterman also produces) *. Letterman’s generosity, however, is largely symbolic, because the Worldwide Pants contract stipulates that its terms will be superceded by whatever industrywide agreement the Writers Guild eventually hammers out (Page 3). A handful of other production companies, including Spyglass Entertainment, the Weinstein Company, and United Artists (headed by Tom Cruise and his business partner, Paula Wagner), have followed the Worldwide Pants model and signed interim agreements.

Meantime, the AMPTP reached out Thursday to resume negotiations with the striking writers after nearly eight weeks of stalemate.

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Correction, Jan. 19, 2008: This article originally misidentified David Letterman’s CBS program as Late Night With David Letterman. ( Return to the corrected sentence.)