Update on Friday at 7:00 pm:
Guess who was spotted having dinner at Katsuya last night? Ari Emanuel, Patrick Whitesell and Michael Bay.
So with the top brass of WME wooing their superstar director-client at the go-to sushi spot, that suggests that WME was indeed caught off guard by the news leaking that John Fogelman, Bay's agent, was planning to leave.
So did the agent jump before he was pushed? Increasingly it looks like that is the case.
Fogelman, a William Morris man, was widely-considered to be Emanuel's bagman during the merger with Endeavor. He was the WMA board member who would vote to push out Jim Wiatt and Irv Weintraub.
"Fogelman was the guy they recruited to be swing vote to get rid of them," said one knowledgeable insider.
His reward: Fogelman came to WME to head the motion picture talent department, but it quickly became clear he didn't have the temperment to manage talent or manage other agents.
"They install him as head of the motion picture deparatment. He ran the meeting until they saw how he ran the meeting. Then he wasn't running the meetings anymore," said this insider.
(As another insider put it: "He shouldn't be an agent.")
After that, the "prickly" Fogelman was moved aside to work with corporate and lifestyle clients. No wonder my source yesterday said that Fogelman felt "he didn't have a role."
So then what happened? My insider says that Fogelman started to get too vocal about being unhappy, and agitated for a more prominent position at WME.
Ari and Patrick were not about to make that concession. So it became a kind of standoff. Pushed? Or jumped?
Either way, WME will shed what some tell me is a $3 million/year salary.
The news on Thursday that top WME agent John Fogelman was departing swept out one of the remaining titans from the William Morris era — but the reason for his leaving remained a mystery.
Fogelman, a top agent and member of the board of directors, vaguely let it be known that he was going to start a strategic consulting firm that would help build his star client JJ Abrams and Abrams' Bad Robot production company into a media empire.
That was news to Abrams' camp.
An individual close to Abrams said the writer-producer-director had not committed to work with Fogelman. "That's what John's ambitions are. But he doesn't have a plan yet," said the individual.
Meanwhile WME let it be known that Fogelman was leaving of his own volition.
Maybe, but the whole exit thing was exceedingly strange. There were no details of this new venture, no news of its financing, and no date of an exit from WME. Indeed, many senior WME agents told TheWrap they had no idea that the news was coming. (Though others said the blood was in the water since Monday.)
All of that smelled very much like a high-level meltdown inside WME, where Fogelman's strong personality was known to clash with chairman Arie Emanuel's.
Said one person close to the situation, "It's a combination of him wanting to do other things and him feeling like there was no place for him" at WME.
"John was controversial — he's not a good leader, not great with people. But what he did with Hasbro was genius," another individual with knowledge of WME's inner workings told TheWrap. Well, there's that.
The Hasbro deal forged by Fogelman — four "put" movies at Universal over six years — brought in what one insider said was likely to be $6 million to $8 million for the agency.
Fogelman lured Hasbro from rival CAA in 2007. The toy giant has a "key man" clause over Fogelman in its agreement with WME, allowing the company to break its deal with WME under certain conditions.
And that might have the agency worried.
Meanwhile, competitors like CAA and UTA scrambled to respond to the potential vulnerability of Fogelman clients Abrams, Michael Bay, Courteney Cox and Whoopi Goldberg.
Abrams, who stayed with WME when his first agent, David Lonner, left and became his manager, will stay.
"JJ is going to be status quo," said an executive in his camp. Abrams is very busy with movie and television projects and not interested in changing agencies at the moment.
But what about Hasbro and others?
Also read: John Fogelman Leaving WME, But When?
Even if Fogelman wasn't pushed, the news of the agent's departure clearly was not meant to leak on Wednesday, when Vulture ran an item that he planned to open a strategic advisory company.
For close to 24 hours, WME would not confirm his departure, and even Fogelman told TheWrap on Wednesday night that he wasn't leaving.
Fogelman is widely regarded as a brilliant dealmaker with a prickly personality.
Most insiders, including competitors, interviewed on Thursday said they believed WME would manage to hang on to Fogelman's clients.
Fogelman leaves behind Dave Wirtschafter and Mark Itkin from the William Morris era.
Fogelman had told some of his colleagues that he was thinking about leaving, but as of Thursday, he hadn't firmed up any of his plans.
At WME, the thinking was, while Fogelman the agent was preparing to leave, Fogelman the client was on the way in. There's a good chance that Fogelman's new venture — and no one was saying what that would be — will need an agent. And WME expects that it will be that agent.
On Thursday, WME wasn't talking.
An individual at WME called the situation "fluid," with executives saying he could stay as long as he wanted. As long as Fogelman remains — and it's not clear how long he will — the agency is publicly acting as if nothing has happened.