UPDATED with Keyser’s current title: The Association of Talent Agents just proposed a June 7 meeting between the full negotiating committees of WGA and ATA to restart talks on a new franchise agreement. The date might create a scheduling conflict for WGA-Agency Agreement Negotiating Committee co-chair Chris Keyser, the former president of WGA West.
I have learned that the Party of Five co-creator is taking out a drama series project with Endeavor Content, the production company affiliated with talent agency WME. I have learned that he and Endeavor Content have set up June 4-7 pitch meetings at Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Apple and Showtime for the show, called The State of Affairs. I hear Keyser is scheduled to be at the meetings.
Keyser is the writer/executive producer on the project, from Endeavor Content and Chernin Entertainment through the companies’ scripted drama venture. The potential series is based on Esther Perel’s book, described as a provocative look at relationships through the lens of infidelity.
Keyser, who was a client of CAA, is not breaking WGA rules as writers are allowed to pitch projects as long as their fired agents from agencies that had not signed the guild’s new Code Of Conduct are not involved. But Keyser’s active collaboration with Endeavor Content in the middle of the WGA’s standoff with the ATA over packaging fees and affiliated production companies is sure to raise eyebrows among the guild’s rank and file. Endeavor Content is the biggest talent agency-affiliated studio, whose rapid growth likely contributed to thrusting the issue into the spotlight of the WGA-ATA negotiations. What’s more, I hear The State of Affairs has a split package on it.
Deadline reached out to Keyser and the WGA for comment. Here is Keyser’s response in its entirety:
The Guild made a strategic decision to approve Endeavor Content as a Guild signatory company. Neither before the agency campaign began (when CAA made my deal with Chernin Entertainment) nor during the course of the campaign, has the Guild ever discouraged or forbidden any member from working with a so-called ‘affiliated studio.’ Every additional studio that provides work for writers is a good thing. That includes Endeavor Content, WiiP and CCM. This is in no way antithetical to the goals of the agency campaign, which is entirely focused on eliminating the conflicted practices of the agencies themselves. In the case of WME, CAA and UTA that means disentangling them from their studios, but not eliminating the studios or decreasing their business. Remember, in 1962, MCA, the agency, went away, but Universal Studios remained. So, even if I could have anticipated this question, back when I made my deal, it would have raised no legal or ethical issues. No one is being asked or expected as some sort of gesture – to walk away from work at an affiliated studio. Our sole obligation in this struggle is to abide by WR 23 and fire our agencies until they resolve their conflicted practices. That we have all done as a united Guild.
The Writers Guild has made it clear that any deal proposal from ATA that involves agency-affiliated production outfits as well as packaging is a non-starter, and Endeavor Content, in its current form, is agency-affiliated. Keyser has been one of the faces of the guild’s campaign to ban the two practices, and recently spoke about them in a video address to the membership.
“We had no choice but to fight back — against packaging fees and against the looming threat of affiliated studios, where our representatives are also our bosses,” he said.
“This is the truth about the big four agencies: They do not, by-and-large, function the way we think of agencies functioning,” Keyser added. “They are not in the individual client service business—not for most of us. They are, instead, like mega-pods. At this point, they are non-writing executive producers on every television show that is made. They don’t announce themselves as that. But that’s what they are. They attach themselves to every show through the access point of their package-able element, usually us. Then they take a fee on every episode and a large piece of the backend. Their client lists are just a cost of doing business—a list of people who are—or who may someday—create a show on which they can be a producer.
“The affiliated studios are, if anything, more pernicious. Though some of us make good deals with them, that is not the point. They could instead make those good deals with us as independent studios. The agencies have created studios because they believe they will be more profitable than the traditional agency business itself. It is profits that drive priorities. And so between studios, whose imperative it is to lower costs—and agencies, whose imperative it is supposed to be to increase the cost of labor—who do you think wins out in the end? And when the agencies are beholden to private equity or to shareholders—all of whom demand return on investment and care not a bit about how much employees are paid—and we would be employees of the studios—who do you think wins out in the end? Investors or writers?”
Private equity firm Silver Lake Partners has a “significant minority” stake in WME and Endeavor Content’s parent company Endeavor, which is gearing up for an IPO.
As a (former) client of CAA and not WME, Keyser was not in a situation where the same company had to represent his interests as an agent and be his employer, and, as Keyser noted, The State of Affairs had been set up at Endeavor Content before the WGA severed ties with ATA in April. Yet, Keyser’s private endorsement of the biggest agency-affiliated studio by actively pitching his project there and his efforts to sell a packaged show are at odds with his public stance on the issues. (Endeavor Content sibling WME is involved in the series; I hear it shares the package with UTA, which reps the book.)
Published in 2017 by HarperCollins, The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity, by couples’ therapist and bestselling author of Mating in Captivity Perel, reflects Perel’s 10 years of traveling the globe and working with hundreds of couples who have grappled with infidelity.
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