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Agency Clients, an Old Coot, and Counting Chads 

What’s making news while Hollywood vacations

Wednesday, Aug 8 2007
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The Unkindest Cut of All

Endeavor, the powerful boutique tenpercentery, is in the unusual process of quietly dropping clients across the board — writers, directors, actors . . . the works. But I’m told no layoffs of agents are involved: “We have more agents today than a year ago,” an Endeavor insider explained. The client downsizing has been going on since March, but it’s only now reached the point of critical mass where anybody outside the agency is actually noticing. The trimming should max out at a 25 percent roster cut when finished. “It’s a strategic repositioning of the firm,” an Endeavor source told me. “CAA wants to have as many clients on Earth as possible, and we don’t. That’s the difference.”

I hear Endeavor’s writer clients — “basically, any writer not working at the moment, and even ones with small jobs,” says an insider — feel especially vulnerable. The agency is telling Hollywood this is all part of a move to rep only “the best of the best.” Others say it’s Endeavor’s attempt to get lean and mean in preparation for a possible guild strike. But I say it’s a cost-cutting move, since fewer clients mean fewer agents needed, and that spells less overhead.

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Among Endeavor’s rivals, CAA has already slashed expenses, and ICM continues to fire agents after its merger with Broder and its bloody breakup with former co-president Ed Limato. Sources tell me William Morris similarly tried to drop 10 percent of its clients a few years ago. So the agency informally divided clients up into categories: Big Earners, Midlevel and Dead Weight. Because of all the associated angst, Morris agents decided they’d rather keep the dead weight than have to make those wrenching calls. Question is, will Endeavor’s Ari Emanuel, the template for Entourage’s Ari Gold, be having sleepless nights after his agency gets around to making these unkindest cuts of all? Nah.

Redstone’s Latest Family Woe

You’d think that Hollywood would be talking about Viacom’s posting of a bigger-than-expected quarterly profit that sent shares up 4 percent. Instead, the town is talking about very public fights between the company’s chairman, Sumner Redstone, and his wife, who talked him into firing Tom Cruise. Recently, the couple had a loud argument on the Paramount lot at the Stardust premiere, and a few weeks ago there was a meltdown over dinner at Dan Tana’s. Normally, I don’t delve into the moguls’ personal lives, but Redstone’s train wreck of a family life is Page One news these days. (Redstone is either feuding with or suing everyone from his daughter Shari, his nephew Michael and his son Brent, not to mention he divorced his first wife, Phyllis, after 52 years of marriage.)

Sources tell me that the 84-year-old Redstone wants out of his 4-year-old marriage to 44-year-old schoolteacher Paula Fortunato. “He’s asked her to leave the Beverly Park house, and she won’t leave. It’s a standoff,” an insider explained. I’m told she signed one of those ironclad prenups and would only get $1 million if the marriage breaks up.

“He’s not happy in the relationship, and he has not been happy for a while,” the insider said. “I don’t think it’s going to last for too long.”

The couple met six years ago on a blind date in New York that was arranged by mutual friends from the investment bank Bear Stearns. They married in April 2003. Insiders explain that Fortunato began complaining that she was “a fish out of water in his world” and felt “left out.” At one point, they say, Redstone tried to “give her more acknowledgment and more visibility” by arranging for her to sit in on MTV meetings with bigwig exec Tom Freston (before he was fired by Redstone). Last summer, Fortunato suddenly took on a higher profile in Hollywood when Redstone openly admitted she influenced him to end Tom Cruise’s production deal at Paramount because she disapproved of the actor’s couch-jumping behavior on Oprah and his Today Show denunciation of Brooke Shields for taking drugs for postpartum depression.

Insiders told me Redstone has become concerned about his wife’s “explosive behavior,” especially “now that he’s re­arranging his whole company.” I’m told he didn’t want Fortunato to accompany him on a New York trip last week for Viacom business that included a family dinner Wednesday night with his daughter Shari. The failure of Redstone’s marriage to Fortunato has been kept on the down low. But Redstone’s feud with Shari has been all over the press ever since he claimed last month she has made “little or no contribution” to building his behemoth media empire and made known he wants to buy out her 20 percent interest in National Amusements, which maintains controlling stakes in Viacom and CBS.

Still, it’s amazing to me that Redstone can’t be loyal to his family but can be to lowlifes like producer-in-name-only Bob Evans (whose life résumé includes a cocaine conviction and implication in a murder — welcome to Hollywood!). Evans’ deal at Paramount was recently renewed yet again for no good reason except that his best buddy is Redstone. Evans has had exactly one movie-producer credit for the studio since 1999 (How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days), and legend has it he’s rarely even allowed on the set of a film anymore. So why is old coot Sumner carrying basket case Bob? “Because, among other things, he helped build the place, and I think that counts, don’t you?” a Paramount insider tells me, referring to the fact that Evans made many Paramount movies now considered Hollywood classics. What most people don’t know is that, while Evans was running Paramount, a father and son who happened to own a few small theaters back East wanted to showcase big studio titles for their moviegoers. Only Evans took a meeting and struck a Paramount deal with the duo. Later, the son, Sumner Redstone, had his Viacom buy Paramount. You get the picture.

Hanging Itself on Hanging Chads

HBO must be out of its mind to replace ailing Sydney Pollack with Jay Roach of Austin Powers and Meet the Parents at the helm of its important political docudrama Recount, revisiting one of the most dramatic events in U.S. history. The turmoil in Florida over hanging chads that delayed the 2000 presidential-election result is one of those hot-button issues that still rile both political parties. You can bet pundits will put the movie under even more of a microscope when it comes out during the 2008 presidential race. That’s because slotting in a lightweight comedy director/producer like Roach is just wrong on so many levels.

For instance, Roach helped exec-produce the reality series American Candidate, which promised to find a “people’s candidate” to run in the November 2004 race for the White House. First FX jettisoned it, then it aired on Showtime and received rotten reviews and no buzz. Yeah, that’s a big recommendation. Now Roach is paired on Recount with first-time screenwriter Danny Strong, an actor who played sidekick roles in Gilmore Girls and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and then decided to pen a script about an American political crisis. No, I’m not kidding. What was HBO thinking when it decided not even to base the project on one of the many good nonfiction books about Gore vs. Bush, like, say, former Salon and now ABC political correspondent Jack Tapper’s Down and Dirty: The Plot to Steal the Presidency? It’s as if HBO has a death wish and is virtually asking pundits to critically kill Recount before it even airs.

Granted, Pollack hasn’t made a good movie in some time, but Recount was right up his liberal-activist alley. And because of Strong’s newbie status, HBO was relying on Oscar winner Pollack’s decades of bona fides to give the telepic credibility. Pollack and Strong this summer were revising the first draft together and visiting Florida to gather more material. Now Pollack will only be exec-producing, along with another progressive producer, Paula Weinstein. Whether even these two Hollywood vets can keep the film from veering off course, from a suspenseful drama to a heavy-handed parody, remains doubtful. I’m also alarmed by reports I’m hearing that Strong’s first draft is very critical — “almost mean” — about Al Gore. I’ve already slammed recent HBO executive-suite moves, but now I’m starting to think the people in charge of the pay channel can’t do anything right anymore.

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