I've always Liked The Late Show with Dave Letterman and now I have yet another reason. Dave Letterman and his production company Worldwide Pants have become the first to cut a deal with the strikers. The other executives have the ability to hire scabs but no talk of that has yet surfaced.
I say 'bravo' to Worldwide Pants, which has produced other monster hit shows such as Everybody Loves Raymond, for meeting the writers' demand for a better deal. This bargain is unprecedented and has even been referred to as a "pact" between the WGA and a major production company. I think of the word pact as having a more human than business connotation, but maybe that's just my inside Letterman fan revealing himself. The specifics of the issues still on the table with the rest of the production companies are not entirely clear, but they mainly deal with DVD residuals and pay for online content. Minor requests if you asked me. There is something sacred about creative writing and, in my opinion, people who do it for a living ought to have a decent paycheck.
Worldwide Pants is setting the pace for a solution, but what if the corporations held out forever and squelched the writers? Would we still have shows? Of course. You can always find someone to do it for less. That's not the point though. Writers pay should reflect their dignity and worth. Let me give you an illustration: One of the specific items for pay on The Late Show is Dave's infamous "Top Ten List." Envision the writers at the table coming up with these after the new deal has been put in place… for me it will almost be a holy thing. Not only do I imagine the list will be funny, but I can feel good about laughing. After all, one reference from the mid nineties states, 70% of all TV writers average less than 50k a year, though current WGA figures are slightly higher than that. Regardless, there's no "absolute scale" chart available (AMPTP and the WGA use different figures) as there is, for example, with public school teachers like myself. Thus, it's hard to gauge with true accuracy what the writers indeed pull down.
I have to confess that when this thing first started I got annoyed every time I saw Tina Fey or Jon Lovitz picketing about internet monies and such. It all seemed so over the top. I figured writers were millionaires already but that definitely is not the case. Writers write because they love it, and we watch because we love what they do. Dave Letterman is the first to strike a deal with the WGA. Now I admit it is easier for him to settle for a couple reasons: number one, he owns his show. This gives Dave more freedom to accept WGA offers than a larger company might. Second, Dave's shows are talk shows, so his deal may not be as acceptable to producers of scripted series television as the residuals may be easier to determine.
Notwithstanding, it's a model of a deal for others to follow. Dave always presents himself as humble on his show. I'd like to think he has spearheaded this bargain with the strikers because he sees them just as valuable as he sees himself or any other big stars on tv.
A new writer who gets a job to sit at that "Top 10" table should be excited about her/his accomplishment. The pay should be part of that excitement. When the television industry forgets where the heart of the laughter comes from, it needs to be reminded. Dave himself was once a comedy writer, working behind the scenes and thank goodness he hasn't forgotten those days. While I miss my other shows, all now in reruns, and hope they come back soon, I'll be okay as long as I have The Late Show on my TiVo to get me through.
I'll be watching eagerly to see if the rest of the production companies read the writing on the wall. Whether the Top 10 on Letterman will be funnier remains to be seen, but I know I will feel better about watching because the folks who make the real money from the incoming advertising dollars did the right thing for the right people.Powered by Sidelines