WGA, Pants deal sets precedent

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The Worldwide Pants-WGA interim agreement could point the way for other companies to solve their little parts of the ongoing writers strike and get back to work.

The WGA said this week that the deal, which was announced Friday, had turned heads in the industry.

"There are certainly a lot of people who are contacting us interested in making similar deals," WGA East president Michael Winship told The Hollywood Reporter. He declined to name the companies but said the guild would, as it did in the case of the Worldwide Pants accord, do deals selectively.

"Each one will be evaluated in terms of how they fit into an overall strategy," he said.

Some shows, like "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" and "Late Night With Conan O'Brien" are owned by NBC. And it's unlikely that the network would negotiate a separate deal for the late-night shows and not its other programs. Other shows where the ownership is separate from the network that carries them could be ripe for deals.

Doing individual deals in advance, perhaps far in advance, of an overall Minimum Basic Agreement is a strategy the guild fixed upon after talks with the AMPTP broke off Dec. 7. Worldwide Pants, which produces CBS' "Late Show With David Letterman" and "The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson," jumped at the chance to agree to a deal that would get the shows back on the air with writing staffs.

"Worldwide Pants has always been a writer-friendly company, and from the beginning we never had any real trouble with what the writers were asking," Worldwide Pants CEO Rob Burnett said.

"We were able to give them pretty much what they wanted."

Details emerged over the weekend about the interim agreement, in which Worldwide Pants would agree to pay its writers for their work on the Internet under the same proposal the guild has suggested: 3% based on the applicable minimum payment per 100,000 hits, and 3% more going forward based on increments of 100,000.

CBS owns the rights to new media for "Late Show" and "Late Late Show," but Worldwide Pants agreed to pick up those costs that CBS would pay under a new Minimum Basic Agreement until an overall agreement has been reached.

"The bottom line is that as a signatory of the Writers Guild, Worldwide Pants is responsible for paying writers' residuals on everything," Burnett said. CBS said in a separate statement that the network controls the Internet exploitation rights for both programs "and will comply with any eventual negotiated agreement between the AMPTP and the WGA."

The agreement comes at a time when the rest of the late-night pack returns to original episodes between Wednesday and Jan. 9, but only "Late Show" and "Late Late Show" will have writers. The rest will have hosts and guests and an undetermined format; plans are being held close to the vest, but it's believed that the other shows whose writers remain on strike will have difficulty getting A-list talent to appear.

SAG president Alan Rosenberg applauded the agreement and said SAG members would be happy to appear on "Late Show" and "Late Late Show." The WGA told its members Friday that its "strike pressure will be intense and essential in directing political and SAG-member guests to Letterman and Ferguson rather than to struck talk shows."

There will be picket lines at NBC in New York and Burbank, the production sites of "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart" and "The Colbert Report" and the Golden Globes unless the situation changes dramatically.
Burnett acknowledged the benefit of having a deal but said he was looking at the bigger picture.

"There's no question that it provides us a competitive advantage, but there's much more at stake here. ... There are people here who have house payments and school payments. We're talking about people's livelihoods," Burnett said of the crews who work on the late-night shows. "We would give up that competitive advantage if it meant that everybody went back to work with a contract."

Burnett said the Worldwide Pants writers are a small percentage of the overall group on strike but that he hoped the deal would lead to an end to the larger strike.

"We're probably just a small cog in the wheel, but I suppose at least it's something for a company -- be it a small one -- to step up and say here, we give the writers what they want," he said.

Burnett said that while the shows' competitors already had made the decision to return to the air, Worldwide Pants had been so focused on forging an agreement that it hadn't decided whether it would do the same. The show had been booking a number of guests in the event that the show would return; Donald Trump, a guest for the first week back, had been booked back in November in advance of the new season of "The Apprentice." The first guest for "Late Show" will be Robin Williams, who will likely have a lot to say about the writers strike. Williams picketed in the November cold in front of the Time Warner Center after delivering bagels to the strikers.

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