5 Burning Questions About the WMA/Endeavor Merger
Welcome to the first full day of the WME Entertainment regime. While the votes have been tallied and the butt-sniffing has already begun in the glassy corridors of power, observers peering in from the outside have come away with few revelations about the new company. Is it a "game-changer"? Of course. Does it "reshape the town"? Obviously. And does it raise more questions than it answers? Without a doubt.
1. Who's leaving? The spacious new WME residence won't have nearly enough rooms to host Jim Wiatt, Ari Emanuel and the rest of their respective agencies' children, a foregone conclusion that has led WMA's David Lonner -- who reps J.J. Abrams among others -- to run away before the moving van even pulled into the driveway. Variety also reports that Endeavor co-founder Tom Strickler is getting out of the agency business entirely, while WMA's nonscripted-TV captain Mark Itkin quit in disillusion after being omitted from the WME board. (Not the worst move for the new venture when you consider the shared emphasis on rerun value. Which, as the LAT mentions, you probably won't find in several seasons of The Biggest Loser.) Meanwhile, the forthcoming grudge-politics of the thing might best be symbolized by Mel Gibson, a WMA client whom one expert reminds us Emanuel targeted after his anti-Semitic meltdown in 2006. Again, too small a shop, and too big a town.
2. Where will they go? It's the most obvious development of all, yet the one with the least likelihood for any quick resolution: Expect CAA, UTA and ICM to plan rescue missions for stranded agents -- and their talent. Rival agency bosses subtly positioned themselves on Monday, with UTA's Jeremy Zimmer denying rumors of his company's own merger with ICM. David Gersh is just happy to have one less competitor, and Paradigm is reportedly looking into snapping up any WME janitors let go by the post-merger monolith.
3. What's in it for the studios? In the best-case scenario, WME will have its roster and departments relatively settled in about 15-18 months, and then -- with an A-list pool about even with CAA's -- clamp the studios' balls with better packages, smarter tentpoles and more institutional flexibility than the Death Star. A lesser scenario is a lot likelier: A slow trickle of high-profile defections, growing pains and power grabs, at least through 2010 and probably well beyond, giving CAA (which already has the fund-raising advantage) a running start out of the recession. A few observers have compared WME to the merger that formed AOL-Time Warner; it's a specious comparison when you consider, as Michael Speier does, that WMA and Endeavor have the advantage of being in the same business. That leverage will come, though. In the meantime, studio heads will exploit the fragmentation for every dollar it's worth and enjoy having one less agency sending them hate mail.
4. What's with that name? It "evokes Vince McMahon more than Ari Emanuel," notes one wag, while also introducing the inevitability of rival quips like, "Oh, Judd Apatow? He's moving over to Why-Me." But UTA's Zimmer makes an important point about the use of "entertainment" over "agency": "I think Ari is putting a strong point on the idea that we'll figure out how to morph from an agency that services clients to a company that will use clients to get stuff done. It's an exciting notion, but a challenging one."
5. What does Peter Bart think? You get one guess.