WGA STRIKE UPDATE: Letterman May Follow Carson and Cut Side Deal

Late-Night Hosts Could Be Back in Early January

If you have enjoyed LateShowWritersOnStrike.com, the blog by the striking writers of The Late Show with David Letterman, you might soon be out of luck.

David LettermanThat’s because Letterman’s independent production company, Worldwide Pants, is pursuing a separate deal with the Writers Guild of America to get his show back on the air in early 2008. And the NBC hosts, sans writers, may not be far behind -- an announcement that could come as early as Monday morning, according to sources.

There is precedent for Letterman’s move: Johnny Carson returned with his writers thanks to a side deal with the WGA during the 1988 strike. He initially came back without his writers in May (the strike began in March), but a few weeks later cut a side deal with the WGA to bring his writers back. Like Letterman today, Carson owned his own show.

Meanwhile, the WGA told members on Saturday that the guild will reach out to individual companies beginning Monday.

Rob Burnett, president and CEO of Worldwide Pants, said in a statement that while he, Letterman and the company are writer-friendly, this is an opportunity.

"Because we are an independent production company, we are able to pursue an interim agreement with the Guild without involving CBS in that pursuit," he said. "Therefore, since the beginning of the strike, we have expressed our willingness to sign an interim agreement with the Guild consistent with its positions in this dispute. We're happy that the Guild has now adopted an approach that might make this possible. It is our strong desire to be back on the air with our writers, and we hope that will happen as soon as possible.”

If NBC’s duo of Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien return as expected in early January, they would do so without their writing staffs. NBC owns both of their shows, so a side deal would be a surprise. NBC's Last Call with Carson Daly went back into production in early December (unlike the other late-night hosts, Carson Daly is not a WGA member).

All of the late-night hosts, including ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel, have gone into their pockets to differing degrees to pay nonwriting staffers through the holidays.

But it was expected that if the strike reached January, the hosts would return to work without writers, which now seems to be the case. But the CBS hosts could have another advantage in that actors may not want to appear on the NBC or ABC shows if they consider it crossing the picket line.

For full coverage of the strike, click here.