Letterman Returns With Scribes, Finally Answering the Question: Do Writers Actually Matter?

Photo: Photo Illustration: AP; Courtesy of CBS

Late Friday came the exciting news that at least two of the late-night hosts returning to the air this week will have shows that won't be awful. David Letterman's production company, Worldwide Pants, struck a deal with the WGA allowing Letterman's (and Craig Ferguson's) writers to work when the show returns Wednesday night. The big question, of course, is whether Letterman will be able to make up his long-standing ratings deficit — he's trailed Jay Leno's Tonight Show for as long as anyone can remember — when he can offer monologues and Top Ten lists while Jay, presumably, can only offer an hour of Jaywalking. If Letterman can't beat Leno with an objectively superior show (as opposed to the subjectively superior show he usually offers), we have to ask: What good are writers, really?

Letterman has a secret weapon in the late-night wars, of course. It's not his writers; in fact, the real shame of Worldwide Pants' deal with the WGA is that, as Letterman proved during 1988's strike, he's the only late-night host capable of crafting an entertaining show out of nothing but intentionally unfunny bits and vitriolic screeds against money-grubbing producers. His real secret weapon will be his guest list. The New York Times reports today on the battle going on behind the scenes by late-night bookers desperate for guests, since neither Screen Actors Guild members nor politicians are all that eager to cross picket lines to appear on struck shows. So while Leno and Conan are fighting over Walter H.G. Lewin, MIT physics professor, Letterman should be able to book pretty much any big star or politician he wants. (He'll probably also book Professor Lewin, too, just to stick it to 'em all.)

Of course, all this coverage ignores the most wonderful part of the deal between Letterman and his writers: Finally, the Late Show Writers on Strike Blog can die.

Worldwide Pants inks WGA deal [Variety]
Late Night Hosts, Can You Do Improv? [NYT]

Earlier: David Letterman's Writers Make the Best Case Yet That TV Writers Don't Deserve Extra for Internet Work