EXCLUSIVE: There has been no internal announcement at WME about this. And the feeding frenzy has already started, with manager David Lonner’s phone ringing off the hook with calls from every major agency within minutes of Deadline first scooping the news. Because we’ve learned that Super 8 director JJ Abrams is taking a sabbatical from WME and will be repped by his former William Morris agent-turned-manager David Lonner as well as his longtime Jackoway Tyerman attorney Alan Wertheimer. Also advising JJ is John Fogelman, who also was on Team Abrams at William Morris and then repped him at WME when Lonner was exited before the merger. Fogelman has since left WME to start his own venture. Abrams feels his primary reps are gone, and he wants to take a breather before deciding who’ll make his deals in the future. Abrams is telling friends that when Lonner left WMA, he still had Fogelman. But when Fogelman left the merged WME, he was without a dedicated agent. So he’s now decided to “just take a beat” to figure out where he should be agency-wise. “He may very well end up at WME. But it is irresponsible to just assume that is the way to go simply because his agent(s) once worked there,” one insider emailed us just now. “He likes those guys. But he needs to consider everything.” Meanwhile, writer-director-producer Abrams and his reps don’t want this move to distract him. “JJ’s exclusive focus has been and continues to be on his movie. Reminder: he has long-term deals at Paramount and Warners.”
Because of those giant deals, Abrams and his Bad Robot banner have been a huge piece of business for WME ever since Endeavor merged with William Morris and took over commissioning his business. So WME will collect fees from Abrams’ biz for some time to come. But every agency in Hollywood will now be salivating to sign JJ, especially CAA which over the years has made try after try to convince him to come on board. Here’s why: beyond the major movies Abrams directs — his Super 8 just opened last weekend — Bad Robot is one of Hollywood’s most prolific producers of films and TV series. Besides the Star Trek and Mission Impossible rebooted franchises for Paramount, and the expectation that JJ will direct the Star Trek sequel, Abrams just for the 2011-2012 TV development season has two new shows on the air next fall: the Warner Bros/Abrams-produced Person Of Interest (CBS) and Alcatraz (Fox), both dramas stirring up considerable international interest recently.
In fact, Deadline TV Editor Nellie Andreeva declared Abrams the “comeback” kid of pilot season, writing how after his high-profile NBC drama Undercovers went bust last fall, some questioned whether the networks will continue to bet on him. But bet they did this upfront, with both pilots he produced, CBS’ Person of Interest and Fox’s Alcatraz, going to series. Person of Interest instantly became one of the most anticipated new fall series when CBS made it its new Thursday 9 PM anchor. The network also said it was their best-testing drama pilot ever. And over at Fox, Alcatraz prevailed over several high-profile pilots to land one of only 2 drama series spots. Then, as icing on the cake, Abrams’ modestly rated but well-liked Fox sci-fi series Fringe got a renewal for next season, bringing the producer’s series for next season to 3. Ka-ching!
This sabbatical caps a lot of changes in Abrams’ rep situation over the past couple of years. Lonner was Abrams’ longtime agent at WMA, but when that agency and Endeavor joined forces, Lonner formed Oasis Media Group because he was pushed out by Ari Emanuel. That’s because Lonner had been an early Endeavor partner who left with Steve Rabineau in a philosophical disagreement with Ari. Lonner shared Abrams at WMA with John Fogelman, who did transition into the new agency. But Fogelman, too, found himself on the outs and has since left WME to strike out on his own and is helping steer Abrams through this interim agency period. If Abrams doesn’t come back into the WME fold, it’s a perception and revenue nightmare for the agency which because of its post-takeover size and influence should have had the bench-strength to put another high-profile tenpercenter with JJ and keep him. On the other hand, when both Abrams’ agents can’t make it work with the new guys, it’s gotta send a not-so-subtle message. Looks like Lonner and Fogelman may be getting the last laugh on Ari.