William Morris Board Meets, Shoots, Leaves

They filed quietly out of the building after lunch on Tuesday, all 20 or so of the William Morris Agency board members: Top dogs Jim Wiatt and Dave Wirtschafter; the music department Peter Grosslight, Marc Geiger, David Snyder; the gals from New York Cara Stein and her literary crew Jennifer Rudolf Walsh and Suzanne Gluck; […]

Last Updated: March 12, 2010 @ 10:43 AM

They filed quietly out of the building after lunch on Tuesday, all 20 or so of the William Morris Agency board members:

Top dogs Jim Wiatt and Dave Wirtschafter; the music department Peter Grosslight, Marc Geiger, David Snyder; the gals from New York Cara Stein and her literary crew Jennifer Rudolf Walsh and Suzanne Gluck; and the TV department, Aaron Kaplan, John Ferriter, Mark Itkin.

On the agenda at their secret location was the terms of a merger between their century-old agency and the cocky upstart, Endeavor, led by Ari Emanuel.

It’s crunch time. All Tuesday afternoon, Hollywood’s agency row was on edge, and inside William Morris people were apt to jump at the sound of a phone. And still: no vote just yet.

Here’s what we know about the imminent marriage of William Morris — the agency that rakes in the revenues from television perennials like "The Cosby Show" — to Endeavor — that has the heat of stars like Sacha Baron Cohen, Jonah Hill, Ben Stiller, Tyra Banks and the inimitable stylings of Ari Gold to light the imagination.

It’s moolah vs. mojo. That equals mmmmojo.

The combined revenues of the two agencies will be about $300 million, placing it — according to estimates provided me — at about the revenue level of CAA. (CAA won’t talk about its revenues.) The revenues at William Morris are estimated to be about $200 million a year, those of Endeavor at about $100 million a year. *

My information is that the new entity will retain the name William Morris, after some lengthy discussion otherwise.

That means one very big fish for Hollywood, and a formidable force in the agency world — at least once the dust settles. Because no matter what happens, there will be plenty of dust — drama and emotion — and that would just be the merger party. (At Jim’s? Or Ari’s? Weekend? Or evening? Talent? Or just pros?)

(*For clarity’s sake, analysts and former agents estimate UTA’s annual haul to be about $100 million.)

This being Hollywood, the plot is thickening. Rivals are planning their countermoves.

At the Century City Death Star, the leaders at Creative Artists Agency paced in their urban minimalist offices, and planned a response. They’re counting on the fact that any merger will require cutting dozens of agents — a loss of 75 to 100 is one estimate. (Even WMA and Endeavor acknowledge there will be cuts; William Morris has about 300 agents, Endeavor about 75.)

A half-mile away, more pacing and power-fist-pumping at glass-walled UTA. They believe, like CAA does, that the merger will create huge opportunities to poach clients. "You’ll have two department stores competing, and the third option is us — where you’ll get focused representation," said one senior UTA agent, speaking (sigh) on condition of anonymity. "There’s no question that there will be opportunities."

At CAA, they’re even more confident about the license to poach. "They can’t fit in the same building," said a guy in a suit in the Death Star. "They’ve got motion pictures in one building, TV in another. If you’re a writer client, you have to walk down the street to see your movie guy? What kind of synergy is that?"

Then within William Morris, there are still plans afoot to splinter off and start their own shop.

Oh, Hollywood. You’re so adorable. All those sharks swimming around in a tank. And the best part? We’ll never be able to verify any of this. We’ll never see the books. Never analyze an annual statement.

Might as well be a movie or something.