I’d known reporter Michael Cieply was working on this article. But now his piece on Creative Artists Agency has been scheduled: it will front The New York Times‘ Business section on Monday. (“I really don’t want to see this pop up on Nikki Finke,” Cieply warned on the phone today as he was alerting Hollywood that the story was finally ready.) I know that Richard Lovett and Bryan Lourd have been looking for ways to counter what they perceive to be my negative reporting about the tenpercentery. They want some carefully orchestrated media that’s got a positive spin about CAA as something other than a Red Carpet monolith that steals stars instead of growing talent, and lures agents from other tenpercenteries with big paydays in exchange for never having a high-profile again. In addition to this NYT article (that’s written by the guy who two decades ago reported interestingly on CAA under Michael Ovitz), there’s also a Fortune magazine piece being written about the agency. I find it interesting how CAA is so desperate to change the growing Hollywood perception that it’s suddenly vulnerable. But it can’t keep firing agents and assistants and support personnel (and having the ex-employees badmouth the agency), or enact draconian cost control measures (because its partners overspent like crazy), or lose high profile clients (the latest is corporate client Hasbro, which jumped to William Morris; on the other hand, actor Alec Baldwin left CAA and came back) without people in this town talking about it. Who didn’t roll their eyes when CAA moved into new Century City digs while still owing rent on the old I.M. Pei space for a long, long time? Or that the agency footed the bill for limos to ferry stars to Bryan Lourd’s Oscar party?
That’s not to say that CAA isn’t still the dominant Hollywood agency. But talent managers who used to give CAA the first meeting, and usually the only meeting, are now setting up confabs with all the major agencies. And then, if the client doesn’t choose CAA, the managers aren’t intimidated by Lovett’s veiled threats. Nor is CAA far out in front of the pack anymore: UTA is a comedy powerhouse, Endeavor is innovating movie finance, ICM is steamrolling television, and William Morris is a major corporate rep.
Cracks in CAA’s once fortress-like foundation are showing. And its partners are increasingly nervous about the media exploiting the fissures. That’s why, instead of firing agents, CAA is now trying to get the reps placed in Hollywood first (heading up a director’s production company, for instance) so the move won’t produce malicious headlines. I should remind that the last time CAA arranged a big puff piece on itself, it blew up in its face. In April, USA Today wrote that the tenpercentery’s new sports division has gone “from concept to colossus”. A few weeks later, CAA Sports was fired by star quarterback Matt Leinart. A few weeks after that, its next star QB Brady Quinn was only the 22nd NFL draft pick. Be careful what you wish for.