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William Morris Merging With Endeavor? A Fact-Free Report

William Morris is merging with Endeavor? I don’t think so. Hollywood’s agency row was on fire all afternoon with the publication of a remarkably fact-free story in The New York Times recycling the rumor that Endeavor was going to merge with the William Morris Agency. At least, that’s what the headline said. The story was […]

William Morris is merging with Endeavor? I don’t think so.

Hollywood’s agency row was on fire all afternoon with the publication of a remarkably fact-free story in The New York Times recycling the rumor that Endeavor was going to merge with the William Morris Agency.

At least, that’s what the headline said.

The story was a lot more careful to say almost nothing commital at all.

I’m not surprised. People well-placed in this situation tell me it’s just not true. I checked last week and it wasn’t true then. I checked last night and it still wasn’t true.

There aren’t ongoing talks. Nothing happened in particular last week. The most significant development, I’m told, was an announcement a couple of weeks ago on Deadline Hollywood Daily that a merger was imminent. A story that the New York Times somehow felt compelled to follow.

I guess that’s how the rumor mill works around here these days, and it works overtime.

“For two months, two of Hollywood’s biggest talent agencies have quietly been talking merger,” the Times story began.

Agencies talk lots of things all the time: Merger. Poaching. Back-biting. Advice. It’s the way of the row.

Maybe there’s news in paragraph two? “The chatter here has been fixed instead on the retooled Oscar show,” it went on. Bzzzt.

Paragraph three was more promising: “Times have changed.”

Ah, we think, here come the facts. But sadly, no: “In the last decade, writers, directors and actors have come to rely more heavily on managers at companies like Brillstein Entertainment Partners or Management 360, even as agencies have pursued corporate branding, digital ventures (sometimes with the agency as an owner) and both music and sports.”

In fact not until paragraph eight do alert readers get something like new information:

“Endeavor and William Morris edged closer to a merger last week, though significant snags remain, according to people with knowledge of the discussions who spoke only on the condition of anonymity.”

Snags over what? And who’s talking?

Quick gut check: if William Morris chief Jim Wiatt was about to sign a merger with Ari Emanuel, would either of them leak the news before the papers were signed?

I don’t believe it. A senior individual at the William Morris Agency assures me that while WMA and Endeavor have talked on and off for the past eight months, there are no new talks ongoing. And furthermore, that a merger is not in the offing.

“Our cultures are too different,” says this person.

(They are very different indeed: raucous, frat-house Endeavor meets buttoned-up, Hollywood history. Doesn’t make it impossible. Just difficult.)

Furthermore, a knowledgeable individual from the Endeavor camp assured me the same. “Have there been conversations? Yes, but it has happened over time.” The Times story, this individual noted with some frustration, had “not one nugget of information in there.”

So what gives? I think a couple of things are going on. The New York Times is feeling pressure to keep up with Nikki Finke’s news-breaking blog. They shouldn’t, but they do. The Times used to be there to take the long view, to place these subjects in context, and to have a little fun with that left coast culture. But in the panicked world of newspapers, bloggers are felt to be a threat.

Secondly, I suspect that CAA has something to do with this. Before the story had circulated, I talked with an individual at CAA today and heard a lengthy, unprompted analysis as to why it made good sense for William Morris, with its cash, to buy Endeavor, with its mojo. (I think the Times called it “momentum.”)

It was strikingly similar to the analysis in the article that showed up a bit later in the day. 

Coincidence, no doubt.