Deal could be a fit for Worldwide Pants

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The writers for CBS' "Late Show With David Letterman" might be the first to return to work through an interim agreement Letterman's independent production company Worldwide Pants is negotiating with the WGA.

The deal would allow the late-night show to come back on the air with its entire staff, including scribes, intact.

Worldwide Pants' individual talks with the WGA might also be a precursor to a new direction in the WGA's negotiation strategy. The guild has decided to begin approaching AMPTP companies and try to negotiate with them individually.

"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," said Rob Burnett, president and CEO of Worldwide Pants and exec producer of "Late Show," in a statement Saturday. "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."

The late-night shows had been expected to resume production after the holidays following the Dec. 7 breakdown in negotiations between the WGA and AMPTP that dashed hopes for a speedy resolution to the writers strike.

The late-night talkers have been hit hard by the strike. Since they went into repeats the first day of the walkout, their ratings have taken a hit. Additionally, the shows' hosts have been paying the salaries of their nonwriting staff out of their own pockets.

Letterman, the first to begin writing checks to crew members of "Late Show" and "Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson," is in a unique position as his company, Worldwide Pants, not AMPTP member CBS, owns the two shows.

The other late-night shows, including NBC's "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" and "Late Night With Conan O'Brien" as well as ABC's "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" are fully or partially owned by the respective networks.

So if the strike continues into the New Year as expected, those shows would return on the air without their writers and surrounded by picketers, making it hard for them to book guests. That would put them at a great disadvantage if Worldwide Pants strikes a deal with the WGA. It also would make Leno, O'Brien and Kimmel susceptible to skirmishes with picketing writers, something that NBC's Carson Daly, the first late-night talk show host to return to work, has experienced.

The news of Worldwide Pants' negotiations with the WGA, first reported by the New York Times, comes as NBC's "Tonight Show" and "Late Night" are expected to announce their January returns as soon as today.

"We respect the intent of Worldwide Pants to serve the interests of its independent production company and its employees by seeking this interim agreement with the WGA," CBS spokesman Chris Ender said in a statement Saturday. "However, this development should not confuse the fact that CBS remains unified with the AMPTP and committed to working with the member companies to reach a fair and reasonable agreement with the WGA that positions everyone in our industry for success in a rapidly changing marketplace."
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