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Talk Shows' Return Boosts Internet Royalties Debate

David Letterman's agreement with the Writers Guild of America is seen as a first step, but not a win for Hollywood's writers.

David Letterman returns to the air Wednesday after about two months of reruns thanks to an agreement he brokered with the Writers Guild of America.

Letterman and The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson will have their writers as they and other talk show hosts bring their first new material to viewers since the networks ran out of scripts because of a writers' strike. Other hosts will have to contend with picket lines, as the writers continue protesting producers' offers regarding residuals and Internet royalties.

The WGA has been at odds with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers over revenue made from Internet streaming. Talks have progressed and broken off for several months, leaving some television shows with shorter-than-normal series schedules.

Still, union leaders expressed hope that the deal brokered with Letterman's Worldwide Pants production company could lead to progress with other networks.

"This agreement is a positive step forward in our effort to reach an industry-wide contract," Patric M. Verrone and Michael Winship, presidents of the WGA West and East, announced in a joint statement. "While we know that these deals put only a small number of writers back to work, three strategic imperatives have led us to conclude that this deal, and similar potential deals, are beneficial to our overall negotiating efforts."

The pair said that, because of a lack of success with the AMPTP, the union will continue working toward individual deals with its members -- a move they hope will increase pressure on the bargaining unit for more than 350 production companies and studios.

"Companies who have a WGA deal and Guild writers will have a clear advantage," they said. "Companies that do not will increasingly find themselves at a competitive disadvantage. Indeed, such a disadvantage could cost competing networks tens of millions in refunds to advertisers."

Winship urged members to picket The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Jimmy Kimmel Live, and Late Night with Conan O'Brien as the hosts return without writers. He said picketers are protesting the networks, not the hosts, who are union members and support the strike.

In the meantime, the AMPTP has posted a running tally on its Web site to show that the strike has lost writers more money than they had hoped to gain.

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