Young Turks Purge at CAA, Sleazy Bribe at WGA, Sour Grapes at ABC

CAA Finally Dumps Partner Rick Nicita

After years of complaining about partner Rick Nicita, CAA’s original Young Turks have pushed him out of the agency and foisted him on James Robinson’s Morgan Creek, where he’ll be co-chairman and chief operating officer. It must have been a desperate situation for the 63-year-old Nicita, who, after years of rumors that he was on the outs, is now willing to work for one of the worst bosses and nastiest creatures in the movie biz.

This horrible new job culminates Nicita’s 42-year career as an agent, first for William Morris and then CAA, where he became a partner in 1995, when Michael Ovitz left to become the short-timer prez of the Walt Disney Co. That’s when the agency was handed over to the so-called Young Turks — Jay Moloney, Richard Lovett, Bryan Lourd, Kevin Huvane and David “Doc” O’Connor — as well as to head of music Tom Ross, head of television Lee Gabler, and veteran agent Nicita.

Moloney was fired in 1996 because of a hopeless drug habit. Since then, the Young Turks have slowly but surely consolidated their grip on CAA, pushing out first Ross, then Gabler, and now Nicita. Of course, now is an opportune moment for CAA to give Nicita the ol’ heavy-ho since Tom Cruise isn’t the star he once was and his United Artists is on the skids (Nicita’s wife and Cruise’s longtime producing partner, Paula Wagner, is CEO there.)

Is IATSE Prez Tom Short Stepping Down?

I’m hearing that IATSE four-term president Tom Short may be leaving his position, with an announcement coming any day. The union won’t confirm or deny, but below-the-liners are telling me they got word of this from their union reps.

Short has been in San Diego at the Midsummer General Executive Board meeting July 28 to August 1 for the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employes, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts (the labor union representing technicians, artisans and craftspersons in the entertainment industry, including live theater, motion picture and television production and trade shows), so this would be a logical place to make his swan song.

After being a union member for 40 years, Short leaves behind a controversial legacy, to say the least. He’s been alternately praised and criticized for his relationships with Hollywood CEOs. Most frequently, he’s lambasted for being in their pocket.

Before, during and after the writer’s strike, Short took up AMPTP’s cause and blamed the WGA for the repeated breakdowns in contract talks, even though the mogul reps repeatedly walked away from the negotiations. But that anti-Hollywood guild position served him well: The Hollywood moguls have been protecting his union’s control over reality and animation writers, who really belong in the Writers Guild.

Currently, Short’s 110,000-person membership is hurting from the stalemate in negotiations between SAG and AMPTP. Yet, he’s remained quiet. Meanwhile, with his own IATSE’s contract with Big Media expiring July 31, 2009, Short began preliminary talks with AMPTP this summer. But, those talks have been suspended until further notice.

One of the IATSE chief’s last official acts should be to take that foot out of his mouth: After criticizing WGA and SAG for not starting contract talks early enough, Short found that it’s not so easy dealing with AMPTP this time around.

Sit Down, Shut Up! Take the Bribe!

This summer has proved to be a terrible month for show-biz union solidarity. Not only were SAG and AFTRA warring, but WGA and IATSE were too. I broke the news back on June 12 that Sony lied to the writers of the Sit Down, Shut Up! prime-time animated series by claiming it would be a WGA show, and then watched those same scribes stalk off the IATSE ’toon.

Sony wound up offering a sweet deal — including payments of as much as $200,000 of additional compensation through a blind script deal — to convince some of the scribes to come back. Most of the writers returned. Two refused to accept anything less than WGA jurisdiction of the show. Now, the show is back in production.

The returning WGA writers made a big deal of the fact that, even though Sit Down, Shut Up! will be produced under the jurisdiction of IATSE Local 839, the Animation Guild, they wrangled WGA parity in key areas, such as auditable residuals, new media, script fees and merchandising rights, as well as a guarantee that these gains apply not only to themselves but also to all future writers on the show.

But it’s a terrible precedent for the WGA that Sony was able to solve the union standoff by simply throwing money at the problem. As one WGA leader sadly told me, “The siege ended with a bribe.”

Does the L.A. Times Need a Rocket Scientist?

“He doesn’t need a job, he needs an adventure,” one source explained to me. I can confirm that David Geffen is no longer interested in buying the Los Angeles Times. Meanwhile, reliable sources tell me that Eddy Hartenstein, the ex-chief of DirecTV, is under serious consideration to be the newspaper’s next publisher, replacing the fired David Hiller.

No deal is done yet, but Hartenstein is first choice on the shortlist. The 57-year-old rocket scientist (yes, really) is a name well-known to Hollywood since he was the Big Kahuna in the development of modern-day satellite television, serving as DirecTV’s CEO, chairman, vice chairman and president from the company’s inception in 1990 until 2004, when he left after Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp bought DirectTV.

OK, so why Hartenstein for the L.A. Times gig? I’m told it’s because he understands subscription-based product and new media distribution after taking DirecTV from zero to 12.5 million subscribers despite facing very stiff competition from cable. Hiring Hartenstein would seem to be an unusually smart move by Tribune Co owner Sam Zell. But why is Hartenstein jumping onboard the Titanic? “He doesn’t need a job, he needs an adventure,” one source explained to me. “He’s looking for the next bounce.”

What’s Really Afoot at ABC Studios

Expect an announcement in the next days that Morgan Wandell, the senior vice president of drama development at ABC Studios, is going to run Brothers & Sisters, Eli Stone and Dirty Sexy Money producer Greg Berlanti’s hot company under a new multimillion-dollar and multiyear development deal there. But here’s what won’t be in the press release: Wandell was supposed to get the job of ABC Studios executive vice president of development, being vacated by Julia Franz. He didn’t because ABC Entertainment topper Steve McPherson blocked it.

I’m told McPherson was royally pissed when he passed on Wandell’s development of Criminal Minds and The Ghost Whisperer only to see Wandell sell the shows to CBS. (Here’s the pot calling the kettle black, because when McPherson was head of Touchstone TV — the predecessor to ABC Studios — he sold CSI to CBS after ABC passed.) McPherson has long had a bug up his ass about ABC Studios, which is why, in his recent contract negotiation, he threatened to leave unless he could run that company as well. But this was nixed by his boss, Anne Sweeney, and McPherson signed a new deal in May.

Now McPherson and ABC Studios chief Mark Pedowitz uneasily coexist despite hating each other. But they’re bonded in their mutual disdain for Sweeney, who’s not fond of them, either.

This is why I so love Hollywood.

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