For a second time in three years, the talent agencies find themselves in an awkward situation heading into the May upfronts. And this time, it may result in the cancellation of most agency parties.
The same time in 2017, the major agencies were planning their soirees under the threat of a WGA strike as the guild was in a standoff with the studios. It got resolved at the 11th hours, and, except for ICM Partners, which had already canceled their party over the looming strike, the agencies proceeded to fete their clients at the New York upfronts.
This time, the big agencies face the real possibility of all of their writer clients firing them as early as this Saturday as the negotiations between the WGA and ATA have stalled and the extension of their franchise agreement expires Friday night. (The two sides are set to resume negotiations tomorrow.)
Under the circumstances, I hear that UTA, as of now, is not doing its Sunday night bash that traditionally kicks off the upfront festivities. As far as I can remember, it would be the first time in more than two decades that there would be no UTA upfronts party. (The agency’s event started as a Sunday afternoon get-together before evolving into a big Sunday night affair.)
Another longstanding upfront tradition, WME’s private dinner at the Peter Luger Steakhouse, also is in serious limbo. I hear the agency has tentative plans for the dinner but they are very much up in the air because of the uncertainty over the WGA-ATA negotiations.
Likely for the same reason, ICM Partners also has opted to forgo an upfront party this May after doing one last year. Meanwhile, CAA, which discontinued its longtime private upfront party last year, had not planned to bring it back this year.
The Big 4 agencies represent the majority (75%) of working writers, so showrunners are front and center at their upfront parties.
Literary agency Verve, which only reps writers and directors, is in holding pattern over the WGA-ATA situation. Verve, which has been hosting an upfront party for the past several years, is not a member of the ATA but has sided with the association in rejecting the proposed by the WGA Code of Conduct. If a deal between the writers guild and the ATA is reached, Verve will have an upfront party.