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Back on the Air

Back on the AirAs the Writers Guild strike continues, Rob Burnett, Tufts graduate and CEO of the production company Worldwide Pants, helped broker a deal bringing some writers back to their shows.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [01.07.08] On Jan. 2, late-night television flickered back to life with fresh programming. However, only "The Late Show with David Letterman" and "The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson" were back on the air with writers, thanks to a Dec. 28 deal negotiated between the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and the shows' production company, Worldwide Pants, headed by Tufts graduate Rob Burnett.

"We're thrilled about it," Burnett (A'84) told USA Today. "It's without a doubt a competitive advantage in the short run. But as a 20-year member of the guild our excitement about having writers back is definitely muted by the fact that there are lots of guys and gals still on the picket line."

Related: 2005 profile of Rob Burnett

The Writers Guild, the labor union representing film, television and radio writers in the United States, has been striking against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers since Nov. 5. The writers are seeking a new basic contract that incorporates residual payments from DVD sales and payment for content distributed online.

The deal with Worldwide Pants is the first of such independent agreements that the WGA is seeking with other production companies as leverage in its battle against the networks, according to Broadcasting & Cable.

"When the Guild said they wanted to make interim agreements, we pretty much wanted to be first in line," Burnett told USA Today.

While details of the deal have not been announced, they are believed to meet many of the key demands from the WGA.

"We are a writer-friendly company," Burnett told The New York Times. "We don't have a problem giving the writers what they are asking for. We think they deserve it, and we're happy to give it to them."

Burnett told the Associated Press that he had been seeking a deal with the WGA that would allows writers to return to the show, rather than bring the show back on the air without writers as some other talk and late-night shows have done.

Writers for programs such as "The Late Show" are expected to weave strike-related material into the jokes and sketches they pen until the stoppage ends.

"I think Dave probably will be vocal about that because our sentiment is certainly with the writers," he told The New York Times. "But nobody tells David Letterman what to say on television."

Thanks to the agreement, shows produced by Worldwide Pants will be in a better position to host guests such as the big box office names who belong to the Screen Actors Guild and politicians who don't want to be seen as crossing a picket line, according to Hollywood Reporter.

Burnett acknowledges, however, that despite the deal for Worldwide Pants, the broader matter is far from resolved.

"The strike is a deadly serious issue," he told the Los Angeles Times. "Do we have a competitive advantage? I'd give it up tomorrow if it meant everyone could go back to work. Maybe this will somehow lubricate the system and brings this to an end."

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