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UPDATED THROUGHOUT: Sources tell me the Writers Guild Of America is intending to grant David Letterman’s independent production company Worldwide Pants an “interim agreement” that allows the Late Show host and his writers to return to the airwaves during the strike because it doesn’t involve CBS. conanjay20.jpgThis comes after Letterman’s long-time executive producer Rob Burnett, who’s also president/CEO of Dave’s production company Worldwide Pants, has repeatedly tried to secure a WGA waiver for The Late Show. (See below for details of the bills Letterman has been paying since his show went off the air.)

This trumps NBC’s announcement coming Monday that Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien will be returning by January 7th 2nd. Presumably, ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel won’t be far behind. “A major announcement will be made by more than one network on Monday,” an insider noted. But Jay and Conan, who are just hired hands and not show owners like Dave, won’t have their writers to rely on when they come back on the air. And Dave will. The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, also owned by WP, would return with writers.

Here’s the statement from Rob Burnett:

“Worldwide Pants has always been a writer-friendly company.  Dave has been a member of the WGA for more than 30 years, and I have been a member for more than 20.  Because we are an independent production company, we are able to pursue an interim agreement with the Guild without involving CBS in that pursuit.   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.”

This clearly is part of the WGA’s new “divide and conquer” strategy (see my previous, WGA Starting Monday Will Say To Moguls: “Let’s Make An Individual Deal”. Though it’s worked with Letterman, it’ll be a much tougher sell with the Hollywood moguls.

2ND UPDATE: That’s why Letterman’s network CBS felt the need today to disassociate itself from his pending WGA deal today, obviously worried that Les Moonves’ AMPTP colleagues will be miffed. CBS issued this statement this afternoon:

Regarding David Letterman’s company, Worldwide Pants, seeking an interim agreement with the WGA: 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.  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.”

At present, the other late night hosts — Jay, Conan, and Jimmy (paid the least of all and csaid to be close to bankruptcy) are paying for staff to one degree or another out of their own pockets, presumably. craigjimmy.JPGBut Letterman isn’t just doling out $300,000 a week in salary for the non-writing staff of two shows, his and The Late Late Show starring Craig Ferguson which Worldwide Pants also owns. Dave also pays for the rent of the Ed Sullivan Theatre Building in NYC and insurance for 200+ workers, I’m told. “So, triple that figure and you’ll be close to what he’s been shelling out a week for six weeks,” a source says. “I’m tired of everyone being lumped together for taking roughly the same out-of-pocket hit. It’s not close.”

I’ve learned that Worldwide Pants approached the Writers Guild early before the strike and tried to get a waiver and stay on the air. The company’s argument was that it’s a small production company that supports the WGA And that whatever deal the guild negotiated, Worldwide pants would adhere to. At first, I’m told, the guild thought making side deals might weaken its bargaining position. But now that the labor action is dragging on seven weeks without an end in sight, the guild has rethought its position in an attempt to induce individual studios and networks to cut separate deals with the WGA.

billscheft.jpgUPDATE: I’ve been trying to reach Letterman head writers Justin and Eric Stangel (they’re brothers and share that title) for comment. But Late Show staff writer and strike captain Bill Scheft (photo right) just told me he knew nothing about Letterman’s attempt to obtain the WGA waiver. “I got the update letter today from the WGA about separate deals and then thought, ‘If we were smart, we’d be first on that line,’ he said. “They should give Dave the waiver just for singlehandedly keeping six shows off the air for two months and choking off a revenue stream the networks had counted on.”

I asked Scheft how he feels knowing there’s even a possibility he could return to work in a matter of days, not months. “Nikki, you have no idea. Very emotional just to think about it. Every single day on the picket line, every day, people from the staff come and visit us. My goal is always to get through the visit without sobbing. A goal not always reached.”

In an earlier email exchange, Scheft told me, the WGA “can thank Dave for the other guys staying off and paying their staffs, in my opinion. You have to wonder if they can wield more influence as on-camera advocates for the cause. As I have said since the beginning, Dave Letterman on the air without writers, pissed off he has no writers, railing nightly against network weasels and haircuts, is the greatest ally writers can have. And he will reach a much wider audience about the strike than we have been able to so far.”

  1. WGA On Monday Will Say To Moguls: “Let’s Make Individual Deals”
  2. The Line To Break Mogul Ranks Is Here…
  3. Jimmy Kimmel Does It Again And More…
  4. Jimmy Kimmel Did It Early Without Props
  5. Leno Digs Into Own Wallet To Pay Staff?
  6. This Is No Time To Be Jaywalking, Leno
  7. Conan O’Brien To Pay Staff
  8. It Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means
  9. WGA Scolds Carson Daly For Returning ‘To Support Staff’ And Seeking Scab Jokes
  10. Letterman Confirms He’s Paying His Staff
  11. Dave Opens Own Wallet To Pay His Staff
  12. Tonight Show Returns With Guest Hosts After Leno’s Nonwriting Staff Laid Off
  13. Strike Forces Late Night TV Into Repeats