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Agency Nonsense and Greedy Big Media 

Hollywood is kryptonite to Super Agents and Superman

Wednesday, Apr 2 2008
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Hollywood Agency News and Nonsense

After longtime United Talent Agency client Kate Bosworth let the agency know she was leaving, the rumor mill heated up because of Vince Vaughn’s recent exit and former UTA partner Marc Korman’s jump to Endeavor. Competitors swirled rumors that UTA’s talent department is “falling apart” because of a “toxic atmosphere.” There was even talk of a “coup attempt” to unseat some partners and of a “sure thing” that three talent agents would be leaving. I can report that the lousy news led to some closed-door meetings among UTA’s partners, which turned ugly (as seen through the glass walls). “The partners had a fight. It was a bad week,” an insider explained to me. “The partners are hyperpassionate, so when stuff happens, they get upset. This is not a place where nobody cares.”

I’m told specifically that a couple of young partners not in the agency’s talent department used the losses of Vaughn and Bosworth to “make some noise and get everybody uptight” and took advantage of senior partner Nick Stevens being out of town to take aim at two partners in his talent department, Lisa Hallerman and Sharon Sheinwold. Another source told me, “It is true there were many conversations going on relating to the talent department and actors. The agency this week turned in on itself. It did get heated and loud. Yesterday was an intense day, but today is calm. I don’t think anyone is leaving. I don’t sense it at all.”

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At the same time, both inside and outside UTA, there appears to be a recognition that the major boutique may be at a crossroads. It certainly has turned down, and keeps turning down, overtures from other agencies to merge. But I do think it’s getting harder for UTA to go it alone as the entertainment industry keeps consolidating.

Yes, it has a unique place in the Hollywood food chain (even if its agents eat their young). The talent and 10-percenters attracted to UTA can be described as notoriously aggressive and even combative but also collaborative and creative, and ultimately original and iconoclastic. This is not agenting according to the one-size-fits-all philosophy, thank God. True, over the years, UTA’s actors’ list and personnel roster have been continuously picked off by Creative Artists Agency. “But UTA consistently does something that CAA can’t, and CAA knows it — grow talent,” a source reminded me.

Meanwhile, UTA lost out on hiring Lori Sale, who decided to leave ICM as head of global branded entertainment. She was the subject of a hot pursuit by both UTA and Paradigm. In the end, she decided to go with Paradigm, because of the strong music division, and will head a new division, Paradigm Artist Marketing.

The William Morris Agency recently suf­fered some client losses: TV writer-producer David E. Kelley left WMA this week for En­dea­vor, not long after Topher Grace did the same. Comedy feature writer Ed Solomon recently departed Morris to go to CAA (as did WMA’s director Jim Mangold three months ago). The agency also nearly lost director Adrian Lyne.

While all that was going on, CAA partners Bryan Lourd and Kevin Huvane had to cool their heels last Wednesday morning inside the Roybal Federal Building. Even the government realized this was costing CAA a fortune. Around 12:30 p.m., the feds told U.S. District Judge Dale Fischer that the two agency partners needed to go back to work. So an ex-FBI guy already on the witness stand was bumped for them. (How nice to know that federal trials are run like that ridiculous restaurant Craft.)

At 12:35 p.m., Huvane appeared on the stand first. Asked about the events surrounding August 10, 2001 (the date listed on DMV and police documents relating to the two CAA partners, which were found during a 2002 raid on Pellicano’s office), Huvane pointed the finger at Michael Ovitz. “He founded a rival company. We had a dispute with him and decided not to do business with him.” Some Hollywood history is in order: CAA had issued an “it’s Ovitz or us” ultimatum to Hollywood in 1999 after Michael Ovitz broke his promise not to raid the talent agency after he founded Artists Management Group and signed away Robin Williams and seven other actors and directors. Ovitz, who’s charged with no wrongdoing, is mentioned in the feds’ trial memo as having hired Pellicano to investigate his frienemies.

 How Legally Greedy Can Big Media Get?

I don’t understand why the Warner Bros. lot isn’t draped in black — the studio should be mourning the imminent loss of a shitload of Superman dollars. I’ve finally got my hands on the entire 72-page ruling Wednesday of U.S. District Judge Stephen G. Larson, who concluded: “After 70 years, Jerome Siegel’s heirs regain what he granted so long ago — the copyright in the Superman material that was published in Action Comics, Vol. 1. What remains is an apportionment of profits, guided in some measure by the rulings contained in this Order, and a trial on whether to include the profits generated by DC Comics’ corporate sibling’s exploitation of the Superman.”

Think about it: Siegel sold the rights to the action hero he created with Joseph Shuster to Detective Comics for $130, and his heirs got back ownership of the character in 1999 and can possibly lay claim to $50-plus million of Warner Bros.’ and/or its DC Comics cash. The Shusters look to clean up before long too. Lest any rabid Superman fan blame the Siegels or Shusters for fucking up a Superman Returns sequel, or a Justice League of America movie featuring Superman (or not), know this: Warner execs fucked up both by themselves. There’s been enough back story surrounding these pics to fill a book. There wouldn’t have been if only Superman Returns had been any good.

Siegel’s heirs once complained to then–Time Warner CEO Dick Parsons that the company was “greedy” and “heartless” and acted “just like the gestapo ... Is that the reputation you want?” I say the answer is a resounding yes, because for years Warner tied Disney for its aggressive unwillingness to settle these kinds of legal disputes and its absurd eagerness to risk going to court. Its corporate counsel would hire litigation piranhas hungry for billable hours, who pledged to make each case go away by exhausting the patience and resources of the creators or rights holders. It’s a thoroughly effective but completely disgusting way of doing business.

Yet it’s interesting that, especially lately, Warner has lost or settled some pricey lawsuits, especially those pursued by that Malibu Robin Hood of a litigator Marc Toberoff, who has taken on Big Media on behalf of creators and their heirs for Superman and Superboy, The Dukes of Hazzard, The Wild Wild West, It’s Alive and so on. The majors both fear and hate him, with good reason: He’s a relentless opportunist — exactly what’s needed.

Jack Klugman’s just-filed lawsuit against NBC Universal over Quincy M.E. sounds like one of the worst cases of phony-baloney studio accounting, not to mention sheer arrogance, in Hollywood history. When is Big Media going to stop this larceny? According to the lawsuit, NBC Uni is claiming that, as of the end of fiscal year 2006, Quincy M.E. had accumulated more than $66 million in net losses — despite everyone knowing the 1976–1983 series is a classic shown all over the world to this day.

Through his Beverly Hills attorneys John­son & Johnson (full disclosure: this firm represents me in a lawsuit related to a personal matter), Klugman, who’s claiming NBC Uni won’t even show him his contract, gave me this statement: “I don’t want their money. I want my money. I can’t believe they’ve collected over $250 million dollars and they say they are still in the hole. I have 28 percent of the net and they won’t even give me a copy of my contract. I worked for them for almost eight years. I got up at 4 o’clock in the morning. I would rewrite. I did a ton of work. It’s on every day. I haven’t gotten a penny for years.”

From Nikki Finke''s DeadlineHollywoodDaily.

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