IN THE BLINK OF AN EYE?

Raising the question of who blinked first, the New York Times reported today (Monday) that David Letterman is working out a deal with the Writers Guild of America that would allow him to return to the air on CBS in early January with his usual writing staff even if the strike continues. Executives of Worldwide Pants, Letterman's production company, told the newspaper that they were hopeful the deal with the writers could be concluded this week. "That could potentially put Mr. Letterman at an enormous advantage over most of his late-night colleagues" the Times observed. The newspaper noted that Letterman is in a stronger position to hash out a deal with the writers because, unlike many other late-night shows, he owns the production company responsible for it, not the network. However, the Times article did not indicate whether Letterman's company and the WGA had come to an agreement on residuals for new media, the principal issue involved in the current labor dispute. Complicating matters is the fact that while Worldwide Pants produces the program, CBS nevertheless distributes it and presumably would be responsible for paying writers residuals for online use of their material on CBS.com and/or other Internet sites. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reported today that NBC is expected to announce that it will return its late-night shows to the air as early as January 2 -- without writers.

WGA WANTS SEPARATE MEETINGS WITH STUDIOS, NETWORKS

In what appeared to be a change in its negotiating strategy, the Writers Guild of America informed its membership Saturday that it plans to seek to hammer out individual deals with the studios, networks and production companies. "Each signatory employer is required to bargain with us individually if we make a legal demand that it do so. We will make this demand on Monday," the writers said. However, J. Nicholas Counter, president of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers told the New York Times that the AMPTP remains the bargaining agent for the individual companies "and on a multiemployer basis."

SURVIVOR SUFFERS OWN CHINA SYNDROME

The season finale of Survivor: China produced the smallest audience ever for a Survivor series, but it was still good enough to help CBS win Sunday night. The reality series scored an 8.2 rating and a 12 share in the 8:00 p.m. hour, rising to an 8.8/13 in the 9:00 hour. NBC's Sunday Night Football was in second place at 8:00 p.m. with a 7.9/12, then moved ahead of Survivor at 9:00 p.m. with a 9.2/14 and peaked at 10:00 p.m. with an 8.4/14, as the Survivor reunion show posted a 7.3/12. But it was CBS's old reliable 60 Minutes that put the network ahead for the night. The magazine show posted an 8.7/14 at 7:00 p.m., while NBC's Football Night in America managed only a 5.0/7.

ABC TAKES WRAPS OFF MID-SEASON

ABC announced a new strike-affected midseason schedule on Friday. The most prominent change is the return of Lost on January 31, a Thursday. The show will air at 9:00 p.m., the time period ordinarily occupied by the network's biggest hit on that night, Grey's Anatomy. The problem that the network faces is that while it has eight new episodes of Lost ready to roll, it has only one episode of Anatomy -- thus, the decision to move Lost from its usual Wednesday time period. ABC also announced plans to premiere its drama Cashmere Mafia on Thursday, Jan. 3, before moving the show to Wednesdays at 10:00 p.m. Only eight episodes were completed before the strike.

BLOODBATH AT CBSNEWS.COM?

Several websites have reported an employee bloodbath at CBSNews.com, with one pink-slipped employee writing anonymously that more than 20 have been hit. One unidentified emailer told the TVNewser website: "layoffs include mix of veterans and newbies. Already low morale said to now be even lower." In a statement, CBS Interactive indicated that the layoffs were the result of an overall realignment of its online properties and noted that as a result of acquisitions it had grown its workforce by hundreds of employees. TVNewser also reported that seven members of the staffs of NBC News and MSNBC had also been let go.

NBC NIGHTLY NEWS TO HAVE CELEBRITY ANNOUNCER

NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams closed Friday's newscast with the announcement that on Monday, the program will "be debuting our new announcer, a new voice at the very top of the broadcast you'll hear every night. And here's a hint: it's a name you know." Over the weekend, NBC issued a press release indicating that the new announcer has had an "extensive, award-winning theatrical career for nearly forty years." He will replace Howard Reig, who officially retired from NBC in 2005 after a career with the network that began in 1952. His voice had introduced the Nightly News program for more than 25 years.

Cinemark Movie Club
Brian B.