I have written Letterman diaries, probably more than you think.
By 2007 I was a regular participant in The Daily Show / The Colbert Report diary series at Daily Kos. When those shows were on vacation or Tia Rachel needed a break, I would cover the repeats, fill in the gaps, and handle the new shows. I looked on my activity as similar to that of a lighthouse keeper or a convenience store clerk, you don’t expect much business but you keep the door open for the poor souls who really need it. I don’t celebrate holidays much so it was no hardship for me.
Now when David Letterman signed with CBS in 1993 he did two incredibly smart things.
First of all he hired anyone from his old show who wanted to come along.
Second he hired anyone from his old show who wanted to come along.
Let me explain that a little. He started his own production company, World Wide Pants, who contracted to provide a work product, Late Show to CBS. CBS could air it or not, they could extend the contract or not, but employees of World Wide Pants worked for David Letterman.
David signed their pay checks, he decided who was hired or fired, and if any of the ‘suits’ from the network didn’t like how you were doing your job they could take it up with the boss or go pound sand.
So at the end of 2007, after many years of fruitless negotiation, the Writer’s Guild of America went out on strike. Most longer term productions simply shut down to wait it out. Networks ran re-runs. However there is a substantial amount of scripted television, like talk and reality shows that were expected to continue providing fresh content. Reality TV tried to argue that it was not scripted to which the reply was- yeah, and Professional Wrestling isn’t either, so they had to shut down too. Also the initial part of the strike took place over holiday season when many talk shows would be on hiatus anyway.
Some talk show hosts, like Jay Leno, Jon Stewart, and Stephen Colbert used this time to feign solidarity with greater or lesser degrees of sincerity, but there came a time when their corporate masters said- hit the set or the street and we don’t care how sucky the show is. As I recall Jay sucked a lot because he’s the most over rated comic of his generation and is nothing without his writers.
I don’t know how Jon and Stephen fared, I’m not a scab.
The concept of the ‘suits’ was that if you could inflict pain on the writers by demonstrating television would go on and on making money without them forever, they’d give up. The hosts were ordered back to work under their ‘performers’ contracts to inflict that pain and to be fair to Jon and Stephen they did publicly offer to pay what it took to get their writers back. That request was refused because it didn’t bring enough pain.
They didn’t have David Letterman contracts.
Before the strike even began Dave inked a separate deal with the WGA (Is that all you want? Here’s the check.). His show ran seamlessly and when CBS started talking about bringing the pain he looked at them and said- See this contract? You can take me off the air or you can go pound sand.
I was on watch at the beginning of the strike and had quickly switched to Late Show as an alternative inspiration. When it was announced that Jon and Stephen would be crossing the line Tia who’d been sitting it out said- Ok, they’re back. Thank you for your service.
Um… strike’s not over yet. Until the Union writers are in their cubicles I am covering the real deal and not scab shop replacements.
She has probably never forgiven me, I wouldn’t have because now it wasn’t enough just to do it, I did it better.
As is the case now in my exile. Everything I write is crap, but it’s quite practiced and craftsman-like crap and I do it more regularly than almost anyone I can think of. Once in a while I’m tempted to write more or deeper but that would simply raise everyone’s expectations. I’ve been doing this for over 10 years now and while I don’t imagine I’ll have a Letterman like 33 year streak I’m not as tired as I used to be and less tempted by bright and shiny objects.
There will be at least one more piece tomorrow.