A Very Belated Answer

Laz posed a question in the comments a few days ago, which I thought I might want to actually answer before it becomes irrelevant:

So tell us — Letterman circumventing the process and sorta crossing the line. Is that a good thing for the striking workers as a whole because it sets a possible precedent for bigger production companies, or does it take away from the solidarity of the union?

Actually, he’s not crossing the line, his production company actually wholly owns his show and signed a deal with the WGA (note: That link has some interesting analysis by Nikki Finke, who’s clearly sided with the writers over the main issues, but is still pretty good about calling bullshit on both sides when they deserve it).

This is extremely rare in these days of vertical integration, and at least a piece of almost every other show on television is owned by one of the major media conglomerates that comprises the AMPTP. Because Dave is independent, he was able to cut his own deal and get his show back on the air with writers.

Many people with more insight than I have taken a stab at predicting how this is going to turn out, with Tim Goodman of the San Francisco Chronicle hitting most of the short term points I would have.

Long term, it really depends on the ratings. If Letterman starts to win on a regular basis (and with writers vs. Jay’s flailing, it’s hard to see him not doing so), that’s going to light a fire under NBC, whose negotiators have been among the serious hardliners.

However, if viewers are more compelled by the high-wire-without-a-net of Jay Leno trying to be funny without writers, it could prove a serious setback to the WGA, and hasten the fracture of the union (and oddly, might end the strike faster).

The one thing that has to be kept in mind is that these late night shows are absolute cash cows. They cost little to produce, get good ratings, and command enormous fees from advertisers. The amount of profit from these shows is above and beyond almost anything else on television.

Viewing habits in this timeframe are hard to break, which is why NBC has got to be concerned that its 13 year grip on the lead could be lost for good if Letterman is back with his writers and Jay without his for long enough.

Overall, it’s a risky move, but if the ratings for Letterman (and Craig Ferguson, whose show Letterman’s company also wholly owns and is also coming back with his writers) wind up way ahead of the competition, it’s going to put an awful lot of pressure on NBC Universal to drop their hard line and to help convince others to drop theirs.

This week won’t be the most telling: There will definitely be a “what-the-hell-is-he-gonna-do?” spike in interest in Leno. Next week, when people have had their chance to see what he’s doing and decide whether or not it’s worth watching, will be the key.

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