12/28/2007

WGA Announces Deal With Letterman's Company

It's just been announced that the WGA has made a deal with David Letterman’s company, Worldwide Pants. This is part of the larger strategy of making deals with individual companies within the AMPTP.

There are strong feelings about this on both sides – people who think we should have done the deal, people who think we shouldn’t have. Here’s why I think the WGA made the right choice:

Some late-night writers may feel it's unfair for a few writers (i.e. Letterman’s staff) to be able to go back to work when the rest of them can’t. But the fact is, when the WGA first announced its strategy of negotiating independently with members of the AMPTP, it was a given that if that strategy succeeded, some writers would go back to work while others stayed on strike.

It’s the heart of the “divide and conquer” strategy that the pressure on individual companies comes from some writers going back to work, thus putting the companies who are willing to deal fairly with us at a competitive advantage. This deal will help create that pressure, especially on NBC and ABC; also, it’s na├»ve for anyone to think that Letterman isn’t going to be honest in his opinions about the AMPTP on the national stage that is his show. CBS is already furious with him for making this deal, he’s not going to censor himself to make them happy.

Leno, Conan, Kimmel and others have been staunch supporters of the writers, even digging into their own pockets to pay their non-writing crews. The sacrifice they’ve made by staying out this long in support of writers is an incredible thing. But unlike Letterman, who can thumb his nose at CBS because he owns his own company, the other late-night hosts are effectively hostage to the position of their employers, like NBC and ABC.

And since all the hosts are being forced to go back in January anyway, the income stream they provide to the conglomerates will come back no matter what, albeit (we hope) reduced by advertisers rebelling.

So denying Letterman a deal wouldn’t actually have deprived CBS of a revenue stream. At best, it would have reduced the revenue stream. And again, tremendous advertiser pressure will now be put on NBC and ABC to settle this.

Where New Media is concerned, it looks like Pants is going to take full responsibility for the income writers would make from reuse of their work on the Internet. Translation: even though CBS won’t pay that money, Worldwide Pants will, and will pay it as per the proposals we presented to the AMPTP that they have walked away from -- twice. Apparently Letterman doesn't feel that giving his writers a fair share of internet revenues will destroy his business.

But the most important strategic value here is that we can completely refute the idea the AMPTP has been peddling that WGA leadership is “intractable” and “incapable” of making a deal.

We’re showing our own membership, the town, and the public at large that the WGA leadership can make a deal, quickly and rationally -- when we’re dealing with rational people on the other side of the table.

We’re not the problem. The AMPTP is the problem.

They want a world where unions don’t exist, where they don’t pay any residuals, health insurance, pensions, overtime or benefits to anyone. That’s why they’re willing to try and break our union at horrific cost to everyone who works in entertainment, even though the money they’re saving is minimal by everyone’s estimation. They hope if they break us, the other unions will fall into line, and they’ll be able to eat away at all our benefits piece by piece until union protections are gutted.

This is the kind of behavior that Wall Street often rewards. But that doesn’t make it actually good for business, much less for the people who make the product the business relies on for its profits.

We want to go back to work, and we want the town back to work – with a fair deal for everyone. Personally, although I know there will be frustration for some members that we made this deal, I think it was the right thing to do.

When one of the majors comes to the table and makes a deal – and I hope they will – odds are that I won’t be one of the writers who gets to go back to work. I won’t like it, because I have a movie in preproduction right now that I've had to walk off of. But I’ll live with it, if it serves the larger good of all of us getting coverage.

Nothing about this strike has been easy, because the AMPTP started with one goal and they haven’t wavered – keep the Internet to themselves. It’s a ridiculous idea, and probably will result in them making themselves obsolete, but they still cling to it. We can’t be any less determined or resolute than they are.

This was a good choice for our leadership to make, the right choice even though it’s painful for some of us, and I hope we’ll stay united behind them.

25 comments:

Jake said...

All this does is re-inforce my personal belief the the WGA is strictly a TV Writer's union and the rest of us (who struggle every bit as TV writers do to secure work) are just after thoughts...

Explain to me again how allowing a select few writers benefits the rest of us out on the line. Our savings dwindle, our bills pile up, and we're no closer to working then we were prior to 5 November...

Don't misunderstand me, I'll be on the line come 6am on the 7 January. But I won't be happy.

Michael said...

The flaw with your argument is that shows like Letterman pay very, very low residual rates compared to prime-time scripted shows. They repeat much less frequently (Letterman only takes off 4-6 years), they don't pattern bargain out in the same way (no SAG residuals), and per the MBA, the writers get paid much lower residual formulae than they do for scripted prime time.

And even if Letterman ends up streaming his show at some point in the future, it won't have much streaming traffic except on the first night they're broadcast-- in other words, it won't be streamed much at all outside the the free window length that even our Negotiating Committee sees as reasonable.

So since the issues of the dispute *barely* impact Worldwide Pants, I'm not sure that this side deal has any force whatsoever as an example to other companies (unless WWP gets another primetime show on the air, like they had'Everybody Loves Raymond', but even that was a co-production, so I have no idea if the deal would have applied)

hotline said...

The most important part of this statement is that most people are missing the big picture - This is about union breaking. So many people seem so shocked that the AMPTP won't settle for a measly 150 million over three years. They won't because they're trying to break us altogether. And if we're broken all the other unions are broken. If we're weakened all the the other unions are weakened. How can anybody not understand that?

I believe this will be a long, long strike. So I support the writers going back to Letterman. I support the maneuver to divide the AMPTP. Anything we can do at this point I support, cause folks, this is a battle to save our union. And all unions. Anybody who doesn't see that - wise the fuck up.

They want us to divide within. They want other unions to be against us. They want this town to implode.

Everybody brace yourselves for a long haul here.

Stay strong.

reasonable said...

More companies will come to the table now.
Watch.

embers said...

I agree with reasonable, I think that this will be a break-through which will lead more companies to by-pass the AMPTP and make a fair contract directly with the WGA. I believe that the WGA will come through this stronger than ever and the AMPTP will be splintered into factions, if not broken completely. Of course it should be broken, Nick Counter is not representing the best interests of all the studios and networks.

H said...

Jake wrote, "Explain to me again how allowing a select few writers benefits the rest of us out on the line."

Jake, she did a thorough job explaining this in the very post you're commenting on. I think the salient point here is that the deal with World Wide Pants fractures the AMPTP in a way that will benefit the WGA in negotiations. It also sets a precedent for other companies to follow, should they choose to break ranks with AMPTP, they might have scripted content back on air, too. And it sends a message about how reasonable the WGA can be if negotiating with a company who is actually interested in making a deal. How can Variety spin this to make the WGA look intractable? (Wait, I shouldn't jinx it... they may find a way). It'll benefit all writers because it means a fair deal with the AMPTP might be closer.

This is fantastic news, in my opinion.

intrigued said...

I see both the positive and negative side of this deal.
But there is one glaring flaw in the argument that this deal will show that WGA can make a deal...

Mainly the fact that the WGA made a deal with itself! David Letterman is a member of the WGA not the AMPTP. Not exactly a great breakthrough for the WGA to negotiate a deal with a memeber of the WGA!

Captain Obvious said...

"Nick Counter... a name that will live in infamy..."


I agree that this was a good idea. I won't envy Letterman's writing staff. Their strike blog showed the content of their character. I'm sure The Late Show and The Late Late Show will now be, for all intents and purposes, WGA bully pulpits... ...if they weren't going to be already.

It's good press, and it shows that the writers are willing and able to forge deals. As Laeta said, we have to have rational people on the other side of the table for a deal to be possible.

The AMPTP is the problem.

H said...

True, intrigued. But Worldwide Pants is in the production business, and Letterman's role on his show is a hybrid. He's the talent, he's a writer, and he's also a producer. The only thing missing from the WWP equation that's included in say, John Stewart's show or Conan's is the financial security of studio ownership, which hedges risks and softens losses. If Worldwide Pants can make a deal like this without the safety net of studio ownership, what does that say about the financial feasibility of the deal? It catches the AMPTP with their pants down, no pun intended.

m.o.i.@ warrior ant press said...

Worldwide Pants brokered a deal because their competition is returning to the airwaves, albeit without writers. If nobody sees your work in showbiz, you're a nobody, so the Late Show(s) had to get back on the air to remain viable. If the Late Show(s) can pull up in the ratings against their writer-less competition they will have gained an edge and so will have WGA. I don't have the exact number of writers for these 2 shows but it appears that the strike is less than 2 percent settled.

bsanut said...

Dave will change everything. He's a real guy, and one of my heroes. Those assholes won't be able to shut him up, and the world will finally hear the truth, rather than the near zero network coverage and AMPTP website propaganda.

I know this part of our lives isn't that significant, given what's going on in the REAL world. But it's important. The monoliths must be taken down a notch. Working people (and that's just what writers ARE) must be paid what they're worth. Corporations aren't designed to take such things into account.

So FIGHT, dammit. My heart is out to you all. You creative people are my heroes too...

Joe in San Jose

4merBTLer said...

I just wanted to say "Congratulations!" to the WGA and WWP. While this doesn't immediately help me and my fledgling business (99% income from the studios), I believe this is a good step forward for Labor in the Industry. My support has been and remains with the WGA, and my hope is that the AMPTP can bring themselves back to the negotiating table soon to make a fair deal (preferably before my "ship" sinks in June).

Nice work, WGA, and Happy New Year!
4merBTLer

Ashley Gable said...

Worldwide Trousers Inc. and Worldwide Trousers West Inc. are AMPTP members and are the parent/sibling/something companies of Worldwide Pants.

BKLA said...

The WGA should also try to strike a deal with Comedy Central. Right now - Several shows have deals with the WGA ( Sarah Silverman show , John Stewart, The Colbert Report, Reno 911 - to name a few) - but not the whole network. If they can get Comedy Central to sign on - as a network - then they can be the first network to get fully back to work.

Also, it's time for writers to get Entrepreneurial -

The WGA Needs to come up with a contract that is not A " Work for Hire" Agreement. One that is similar to the deals that Playwrights and Book Authors make. One where the Writer Retains Copyright and Licenses their original work to the production company. Where they can retain control over additional uses of their work - not give it up in all media now or in the future, that may exist.

One where the separation of rights provisions of the old agreement is in full force - and each re-use must be separately negotiated. You want to show a theatrical movie on the internet - Separate deal. You want to do a sequel? Separate Deal.

Copyright law has been perverted over the last few decades to protect big conglomerates, not the "Creators" - as it was originally intended. The Writers need to take it back.

No Studio will take this agreement. But outside, independent money may, such as various large brands, Independent private funds, and the like.

Also, the WGA needs to allow writers to raise money and create Production companies - and let that company contribute to health and pension plans. Right now - you only get these if you turn over your rights. This must change. If you can raise money from private sources or fund it yourself - Let that count toward pensions. The only way for writers to get power is to allow the Writers to be in control of their content and have the Guild support them in these endeavors.

Allow writers a way to create content and jobs for all the workers in this industry that do an end-around the studios. Find away to make an AMPTP agreement and and Non-AMPTP agreement. Take the business away from them.

Then the AMPTP might come back to the table.

azuckerborneveryminute said...

Let's please allow the WGA leadership to lead. If every move had to be unanimously approved, it'd be insanity. Their interest is obviously in a better deal for all Guild members. Strikes may need to take time and be painful. That's just how it goes. This strategy has potential to help all striking writers. Let's be patient and keep our greatest weapon- solidarity.

Garry said...

bkla, The Daily Show, Colbert and Sarah Silverman do NOT have a deal with the WGA. Daily Show and Colbert are coming back without WGA writers.

intrigued said...

bkla,

my best guess would be the studios wouldn't have a problem allowing the writers retain ownership of their scripts. The studios would love this as they would no longer have to buy scripts that would fail! It would reduce their risks greatly!!! Unfortinately that risk now is transferred to the writers that don't have the financial security to carry that burden. Another reason this is not such a great idea for the WGA is that since many writers particpate on a single script there would be haggling over who would actually control the copyright. Last, this would also kill the union as the writers would all be individual contractors.

This idea of yours would be very beneficial to a few writers that had early success, but disastrous the group as a whole.

Harold said...

I have to believe that even if feature writers are pissed, they are willing to wait for a while to see if anything results from the WWP deal.

On the other hand, there should be a website that allows you to place bets on which feature writers go fi-core first.

Speaking of placing a bet, I would have lost money on the WWP deal. I thought it was clearly a bad idea that would do more to divide the WGA than the AMPTP. As soon as the leadership was aware that the membership was far from unanimous in their support of a WWP deal, I thought that this was a dead issue. Wrong.

I'll give the WGA leadership some credit. They've taken a risk with this deal in the belief that the potential upside is greater than the obvious downside.

I hope they're correct, but they've been wrong more than a few times during the last two months.

So, my prediction that the WWP deal was dead was dead wrong. My new prediction is that the families that own a few of the soaps will be the next deals announced. They have little to gain from this strike.

H said...

Jake, I really don't understand the TV vs. Feature writers argument. Not saying you don't have your reasons for feeling poorly represented, but I think negotiations surrounding a fair MBA aren't biased toward one medium over another. If you want to point out where they are, it'd help illuminate your argument.

I'm guessing (maybe wrongly) that your feelings have to do with the fact that many arguments (here, in the news and trades, among fans, etc) have been pivoting on how the strike affects TV. But TV has had a higher profile in the strike so far only because it's what's crumbled most publicly and soonest. Late night TV felt the blow immediately after the strike was called. Production on dramatic scripted shows ground to a halt, and a month later, those shows ran out of new episodes to air. Production and preproduction on features is a bit slower, just because that process is *always* slower. The movies that have fallen apart due to the strike won't hit screens on time (or at all) and the bottom line hasn't yet been affected... yet. But it will, even if the strike is resolved tomorrow.

But aside from all that, I read Nikke Finke's blog and the anonymous writer she quoted. I thought he was being as shortsighted as you are (actually he's being a lot more shortsighted than you are... he's being downright reactionary, but I'll save that for the comments section over there). This doesn't benefit anyone but a tiny percentage of striking writers... the staffs on Ferguson and Letterman. Everyone else is still on the picket lines. But even so, it's not so much about suffering with each other for the sake of it. It's about achieving our common goal... which is a fair MBA for everyone. How do we get there? The AMPTP walked out on negotiations twice. They've never been serious about cutting a deal and most everything I've read indicates they weren't planning on it for a long, long time. They've counted on riding out the loss until the union breaks. Now that a crack has formed, we'll see how long *they're* willing to stand together. Who are you betting on? Moguls or writers? I think we have a lot less to lose. To shamelessly cater to your argument about principles, our principles -- to be compensated fairly -- are all we really have. Most of us do not make a lot of money, and most of us aren't working on high profile TV shows, nor are we A-list screenwriters who can afford to negotiate far above the minimums in the MBA on our own. And the AMPTP? They've demonstrated they don't share our principles. But beyond that, what do they have to lose? They have a bottom line and shareholders and the almost certain obsolescence of their particular type of company unless they play this very, very right. I don't know about you, but I'm betting the writers will wait this one out with some semblence of unity a whole lot longer than the AMPTP, especially once they see fresh content on a competitor's network. The free market is about to work against them. That there is poetic justice, my friend.

And this all means the AMPTP may be bargaining in better faith with the rest of us, TV and film writers alike. Which is our goal, right? I can't speak for you, nor can you speak for all feature writers (hi, I'm one, too, by the way), nor can "BTL guy" or "not a troll" speak for whomever they regularly claim to speak for. But the WGA exists on the notion that we're all working toward a common goal... a fair MBA for everyone. The means to that end are up for debate of course, but the strategy behind this deal with WWP is a means to that end.

Oh, and regarding the GM comparison. It's a flawed analogy: auto unions strike individual companies. Not an organization of competing companies all colluding together at the negotiating table. The union negotiates with companies individually, much like the WGA just did with WWP.

Cinco Paul said...

Jake,

I'm a feature writer, too. But I'm happy that these guys are going back to work with a fair contract (not merely a glorified strike waiver, as some misinformed posters had suggested earlier). I'd love for more production entities to make deals with the WGA. This is about the big picture. Dividing and conquering. And TV is where we've got the most leverage right now.

The issue I personally care most about in this strike is animation jurisdiction. It's an issue that not many other writers care about, and one we probably won't win. But I'm still happy to walk the picket lines on behalf of my fellow writers. Because I do feel we're all in this together. Or at least we should be.

H said...

And on a lighter note, HATE it when I see typos or bad syntax in my own comments here. Doh.

both sides of the camera said...

Jake,

I understand your pain, but there is a big picture here that I am not sure you are seeing. Seems like you’ve forgotten that we’re are all in this together... and I’m not just talking about the WGA.

I am a member of SAG and IATSE Local 600, as well as Actor's Equity, and if there is anything I have learned from being a member of 3 different unions for more years than I would like to admit, it's that it's not all about you - and I say this fully empathizing with you.

You have to remember, this is a BROTHERHOOD. Without all those TV writers, the feature writers are a very weak group, and vice versa. Your strength is in your numbers and without each other, you will ALL lose.

You are not competing with other mediums, nor are you competing with Letterman's writers. While the fact that a select few writers got the fair deal you are all picketing for may not directly, immediately BENEFIT the rest of you/us (as I have walked a number of your lines), it does not HURT you either.

The talk of impending, rampant fi-core, on the other hand, hurts all of us, and renders all the lost savings, piles of bills, and sore feet moot. And fuels the AMPTP’s idea that THEY CAN BREAK YOU (and you know they read these entries).

WWP didn't get any special treatment and the WGA didn’t compromise their principles. WWP accepted EXACTLY the deal the WGA was prepared to offer AMPTP on December 7th, and exactly the deal you have been picketing for.

Therefore, finally, there is some PROGRESS. Some SUCCESS, and yes, I know it's a tiny bit of success, but SOMEBODY gave you what you wanted. It broke the stalemate and it counts! Let's embrace it and hope it creates some MOMENTUM.

In addition, the fact that Letterman accepted EXACTLY the deal the WGA was offering on December 7th legitimizes the whole WGA platform. It shows that if a small company like WWP can maintain a profit with this deal- and you know it's a decent one b/c Dave likes his $$ - then OF COURSE the Companies can.

Also, in a previous post someone mentioned that b/c the WGA didn't have to compromise with WWP then it didn't really "count" as negotiating - well, the negotiating was done ahead of time, remember? In those meetings with Nick Counter? Letterman may be WGA, but he is not going to make a deal that will hurt his company.

The WGA was prepared with a fair deal that even a tiny company can profit from. This is good PR and that's what we need. People outside the industry - including advertisers don't fully get what the heck is going on - and honestly, they don’t want to know the nitty gritty.

What they do want to know is who has the ear of the people who buy their products. And those people want to know who is being reasonable. And now Letterman, as a member of the WGA, is going to tell them.

As for CBS benefitting so greatly by the advertising Letterman will now bring in, PUH-leeze. As has been stated ad nauseum, TV is just a tiny speck of income for Viacom and all these companies. Ads on two late night shows mean nothing to them and won't affect their bottom line at all.

To anybody out there who is outraged, we get it. We all want to go back to work. Writers, Actors, Crew. But we will all get nothing from all the sacrifices WE HAVE ALL already made if you let this divide you.

We are all fighting for the same thing. There is no reason this should fracture your resolve. STAY STRONG.

catch22 said...

BKLA

The differance between Writing for TV/FILM and books is Huge.

Writers words are heard because actors speak them and because Sound guys record them
sound effects are also herd because people edit them into the sound track.

A TV /Film is much much more than a story, its a Visual & Audio presntation
There are many people invloved in the prosess of this production, before viewers get to see it.

You can not compare a book to a TV programme, because the Book is like 90% Writing, were as TV shows and film are about so much more than Just writing.

Sure without your words Actors have nothing to say
But without Actors your words are not herd, they are just words on paper.

Obviously Writers are a central part of film, But they are one cog in a Huge machine

Take away the other cogs or the grease($$) that makes them turn and you are left with paper and words.

Sometimes the Impression given off by writers is they forget how many people play a Vital role in turning their thoughts Into FILM.

thom taylor said...

UnitedHollywood should be analyzing what products are advertised on Letterman's & Ferguson's shows and arrange to promote them, while organizing a boycott of all who sell commercials on Leno, Conan, Kimmel, Stewart & Colbert's shows in January. This will send a message to sponsors that the public does not appreciate their union-busting efforts.

DargorV said...

"the strike continues because the union's leaders are focused on jurisdictional issues that would expand their own power, at the expense of the new media issues that working writers care most about"

"the WGA have led working writers into a strike that has now cost those working writers more in salary and benefits than the WGA's organizers ever expected to gain from the strike"

The only good thing you've done so far is take it out on the common people and your own members lives.

Wreaking havoc, yeah sure, in your own ranks actually. This should have ended a while ago already, but there's greedy bastards everywhere, even at your head.

Even if they'd give you all you want now, you'd still be screwed anyway because of what you've lost.

Being bull-headed isn't a good thing, its just dumb.