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Letterman Decides Late Shows Must Go On

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Letterman Decides Late Shows Must Go On

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Letterman Decides Late Shows Must Go On

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

Coming up, the nagging problem of big-game poaching in Africa.

But first, the "Late Show with David Letterman" and "The Late Late Sshow with Craig Ferguson" will go back on the air Wednesday with new material instead of reruns. Letterman's production company, Worldwide Pants, negotiated a deal with the Writers Guild of America that allows both shows to resume broadcast with their writers, with fresh material and topical jokes.

Letterman and Ferguson will be the envy of solo late-night hosts like Jay Leno and Jon Stewart, who are returning to the air in January without their scribes. The guild has yet to reach a deal with other studios and production companies over how much writers should be paid for work distributed in new digital formats.

Joining us on the line is Bill Scheft. He's a guild member who writes for David Letterman.

Thank you for being with us.

Mr. BILL SCHEFT (Member, Writers Guild of America; Writer, "Late Show with David Letterman"): It's my pleasure. And I'm also the strike captain for the "Late Show with David Letterman," and that's a title I still have and will continue to have as long as this goes on.

WERTHEIMER: Does this feel like good news to you that you're going back to work, or do you feel like you're letting people down or…

Mr. SCHEFT: It's very, very mixed news. I'm thrilled to be going back under the terms that my guild sought because it proves that the guild's demands were reasonable.

WERTHEIMER: Because Letterman signed on those demands.

Mr. SCHEFT: Letterman agreed to it.

WERTHEIMER: Well, now what about the other late-night shows - "Conan O'Brien," "The Colbert Report," "Jimmy Kimmel Live" - do you think that this opens up the possibility that writers on those shows could go back to work? That those shows might cut a deal too?

Mr. SCHEFT: For those shows to cut a deal, the networks would have to make a deal because those shows are not independently owned. Here is what's going to happen: It immediately creates an unfair playing field for the other shows. And I'll just talk about the shows we're directly competing with. Jay Leno now have to go on without writers and with a picket line in front of his show that the guest that he books that are SAG guests(ph) or Local 802 who…

WERTHEIMER: Who belong to their own unions, right?

Mr. SCHEFT: (Unintelligible). There is going to be no picket line in front of our shows. This is real leverage because now if I'm Jay Leno, I go to Jeff Zucker and I go, what are you doing?

WERTHEIMER: Jeff Zucker is the big boss at NBC Universal.

Mr. SCHEFT: Right. You know, late night is the only profitable arena for NBC right now. So I just can't believe that Jeff Zucker is going to sit by and say, you know what, this is will be all right. This is no big deal.

WERTHEIMER: What about the dramas? The primetime shows? The cable dramas?

Mr. SCHEFT: Well, everybody benefits from this because let's just go back to Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien. They go to Jeff Zucker and they say, you can't do this to us. We're getting clobbered. Jeff Zucker cannot go to the Writers Guild and say, okay, look, I'm willing to make a deal just for these two shows. No, he runs the network. The network owns those shows. The network has to make a deal with the Writers Guild.

WERTHEIMER: So are you optimistic?

Mr. SCHEFT: Yeah. I mean, Worldwide Pants, by making this deal, shows that this is a deal that can be had. This isn't a waiver that…

WERTHEIMER: Right.

Mr. SCHEFT: …the "Late Show" and "The Late Late Show" got. This is a binding contract with the WGA in which, essentially, they agreed to all the demands that the WGA put on the table before the AMPTP walked on December 7th.

WERTHEIMER: That's the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. So I'm taking it from what you're saying that you are optimistic.

Mr. SCHEFT: How can you not be optimistic because anything beats a table with 20 chairs and nobody in them? Anything beats that in a labor negotiation.

WERTHEIMER: Bill Scheft is a writer for the "Late Show with David Letterman." He spoke to us from New York.

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