Ryan Seacrest may be rapidly becoming one of the richest guys in show business in front of and behind the cameras, but he doesn’t like paying commissions. The longtime client of the William Morris Agency, pre-merger, informed William Morris Endeavor Entertainment, post-merger, that he didn’t want to pay the agency’s fee on the differential between his new pact and old pact on American Idol. (Some sources say there was also a dispute over commissions on his radio contract.)

Commissions had been a sore point between Seacrest and the Morris office for years. But WME refused to cut him a special deal. A source tells me, “When he pushed back, WME said, ‘We can’t represent you then. Either stay and pay full commission and together we’ll keep growing and expanding and servicing your reality business. Or leave.’ ”

That’s when Seacrest took a meeting at CAA. And then left WME for them. Even rival agencies to WME are describing Seacrest to me as a “grinder” and “scumbag” for trying to negotiate lower commissions. A year ago August, I asked whether Seacrest was in play after his longtime William Morris agent Adam Sher left the rep business to run Ryan Seacrest Productions. It was assumed that Sher would protect William Morris, where he’d been an agent for 15 years.

But, after the Morris merger with Endeavor, all bets were off. Now Sher has helped guide Seacrest to CAA. For those who aren’t in the know, Seacrest is much more than just a fey TV personality with no discernible talent. He is Ryan Seacrest Inc. with cable, production, on-air, restaurant and fashion deals.

The Viscount of Vapidness is paid an estimated $12.5 million annually for hosting American Idol, not counting all the ancillary gigs he’s lined up. And he’s just signed a rich new contract that will pay him $15 million annually (for a total of $45 million) to keep him on American Idol through 2012.



That Mike Fleiss, the reality-TV czar (The Bachelor, The Bachelorette) would leave his agent of 11 years, Michael Camacho, is a shocker. I understand that Camacho heard the news on July 21 after he had just touched down in London on vacation with his family. (At least Fleiss had the balls to make the call himself from his Malibu compound since the two men are also close friends.)

Camacho had repped Fleiss for 10 years at CAA, and then for 10 months at United Talent where the pair sold three prime-time network series and one cable series, and recently made a giant eight-figure, two-year Warner Bros. deal. Fleiss claims he wants to move away from the reality-TV biz to focus on features. Fleiss became a rich man because of reality-TV, worth $100 million by some accounts, and all those deals were done by Camacho. Even rival agents are telling me that Camacho had “batted 1,000” for Fleiss. But in the cutthroat agency biz where the grass is always greener, “it doesn’t matter how well you’ve done,” one source told me, “it’s how well someone else can promise you’ll do.”



Sony and NBC moved into first positions in the Hollywood auction of the live music, prime-time TV special and film rights to Michael Jackson’s rehearsal footage for sale by the ghouls at AEG.  

Major studios and networks like Viacom’s Paramount/MTV, NBC Universal, Sony Music and Sony Pictures, and News Corp.’s 20th Century Fox/Fox Broadcasting Co, all battled for the projects. AEG started the bidding for the movie rights at a staggering $50 million, and the TV-special rights at $10 million. “They are looking to do a prime-time TV special with NBC, and then go with live albums and films with Sony, since Sony controls the distribution rights to [MJ’s] music,” one of my insiders told me. “They will have to go to the judge to get any deals blessed.”

The reason for the Hollywood feeding frenzy over these projects is money, of course: “As you know, it will be huge,” one bidder tells me. AEG’s goal is to have the prime-time TV special on air in September and the film out in October to fully exploit Michael Jackson’s death.

As soon as executives involved in organizing Michael Jackson’s 50-night schedule of shows at London’s O2 arena learned of the performer’s death, they met at Staples Center in Los Angeles and secured all of the rehearsal footage that Jackson had done there. Randy Phillips, president and CEO of AEG Live, disgustingly boasted to AP that he had “more than 100 hours of footage that could be turned into live albums, a movie and a pay-per-view special. He was our partner in life, and now he’s our partner in death.” Ugh.



As I predicted on DeadlineHollywoodDaily.com, struggling MGM/UA this month delivered its financial statements to its lender group with an unqualified audit opinion along with a certification that MGM is in full compliance with all of its debt covenants. That’s financial speak, which, translated, means that the studio is still a going concern and not about to file for bankruptcy protection in the next few weeks.

Meanwhile, there’s more good news for the struggling studio. I’m told that the Bank of Montreal has come back with a valuation of MGM’s 4,000-plus title library that exceeds the $5.5 billion required under MGM’s term loan. So that library valuation and this audit’s “going concern” opinion will mean no default issues in the near term for the company. But the studio is by no means out of the woods in the long term.

I first reported about the audit of MGM’s activities, especially its TV and movie-production slate, back on May 14 when the studio announced it was taking steps to restructure in the face of a total $3.7 billion in debt due in July 2012. Had the audit gone the other way, then a thumbs-down could have triggered covenants forcing MGM to declare itself insolvent and/or repay its massive debt. In short, all hell could have broken loose.



Here’s an update to my column from last week: David Letterman posted his largest weekly victory over The Tonight Show since 2000, while last week’s Tonight Show hosted by Conan O’Brien posted its smallest audience since Dave premiered in August 1993. “This does not bode well for the fall,” a CBS exec warned.

Here’s what is worse: Dave’s Late Show also matched Conan’s Tonight Show in adults 25-to-54 years old. Plus, O’Brien scored The Tonight Show’s lowest advertiser-coveted 18-to-49 rating since Letterman premiered on CBS. Even Conan’s margin of strength, ages 18 to 34, has fallen one full ratings point since O’Brien’s premiere week on The Tonight Show.

How is NBC Universal chairman Jeff Zucker going to spin this? Especially after, a few weeks back, an NBC press release called Conan the “King Of Late Night TV”? Looks kinda premature now, huh? Zucker’s mantra that “We don’t need eyeballs as long as we have key demos” doesn’t fly. Actually, both count. Because Madison Avenue knows full well that if they want younger audiences with fewer eyeballs, they can buy ads on cable, which is a hell of a lot cheaper than prime time.

LA Weekly