It’s Official: Wiatt and Wirtschafter Fess Up to Their Staff

Now it’s official. William Morris head honchos Jim Wiatt and Dave Wirtschafter held a staff meeting on Thursday morning to acknowledge that it was true: all the smoke about a merger was because they’d been rubbing sticks together with Endeavor. It’s about time. “They said they were sorry they had not been more communicative, and […]

Last Updated: March 27, 2009 @ 8:19 AM

Now it’s official. William Morris head honchos Jim Wiatt and Dave Wirtschafter held a staff meeting on Thursday morning to acknowledge that it was true: all the smoke about a merger was because they’d been rubbing sticks together with Endeavor.

It’s about time.

“They said they were sorry they had not been more communicative, and that they still don’t know if it’s going to happen,” said one person who spoke to someone who’d been in the room. “It was idiotic not to say anything before now.” (I confirmed the meeting with a second source.)

Wiatt and Wirtschafter acknowledged holding active talks about a potential merger with the agency led by Ari Emauel — the very fact they’ve been denying for weeks to their most senior staff – and they apologized for being silent about it.

They should apologize. For one thing, they’ve been dissembling to their top staffers: not cool. And that hasn’t helped quell the rumors. Instead, the anxiety level at William Morris has been off the charts for days, and likewise at Endeavor.

Up to now, there’s not been a word. In fact, I spoke to one of Morris’s most veteran agents yesterday who was out of the country and not at Thursday’s meeting, and he said he had no knowledge of anything and was dying to know the future of the place where he worked.

He apologized on Wiatt’s behalf. “It’s hard for Jim, he can’t talk about it,” said that agent.

I recently wrote that I believed that a merger wasn’t in the offing. It’s what I had been told by senior sources on each side, despite the acknowledgement that talks have proceeded on and off for the past many months.

A senior person at one of the two agencies told me that he knew of the talks, but didn’t think it would be completed because the culture of the two agencies were so very different. (Sorry to be so cloak and dagger, but the agencies are black holes when it comes to attribution.)

But while no one can pinpoint where this is all happening, talks are underway. Joe Ravitch of Goldman Sachs is apparently representing Endeavor, and Ron Olson of Munger Tolles is apparently representing William Morris.

Their rivals at CAA and UTA and ICM are bracing for the tremors that will shake the Wilshire corridor should the merger come to pass.

A merger is still not guaranteed. “I know enough only to believe that they would really like this to happen,” said one individual who will be affected by the merger. “I’ve no clue about the Ari (Emanuel) of it all, or Patrick (Whitesell) or Adam (Venit). If they’re talking, they’re serious. Yet there has to be some degree of difficulty.”

Many degrees, in fact, some psychological, some legal. Much has been written, and more will be, about the clash of cultures that will ensue should bowties-please  William Morris consummate its union with testosterone-heavy Endeavor.

“There’s the wedding,” said one wag, “and then there’s the marriage.”

Everyone in Hollywood remembers that Ari snuck files out of ICM in the dead of night, part of starting Endeavor back when Jim Wiatt was at ICM. “They were never close,” one former colleague recalled today.

A senior film executive who was once an agent said he thinks that a merger will result in a period of turmoil, and lots of opportunities for competitors to poach clients and gain market share.

“If I were still an agent, I’d be thrilled,” said this executive. “Lots of partners, egos, people who want their name on the door. If I were an agent I’d be very happy. I’d make mincemeat out of them in a week.”