Saturday, June 18, 2016

The worst agent sales pitch ever

It’s 1982. My writing partner, David and I are at William Morris. Several years prior we signed on with a young agent at a small tenpercentery (I love that expression), and as she moved on to bigger and better agencies we followed her. She and we were now at William Morris.

When clients get shows on the air their agencies can package them. In other words, William Morris gets a piece of the action.  That's really how they make their money in television.  It's not off the ten percent commission they collect.

For this package they’re supposed to help you get the show on the air, clear paths for signing talent, etc. We had a pilot the year before that was a William Morris package and it was not a pleasant experience. The only actors we had trouble signing were Morris clients. At this point I should mention that the William Morris Agency of today is completely under new ownership, management, and not even located in the same building. So no one in the current WMA should be held accountable for the deeds from those days.

One thing about mounting a pilot, you get to meet and deal with lots of agents. And you see how they operate. Who calls you back? Who is an asshole? Who never follows up? One agent in particular really impressed us. Bob Broder. Among his clients at the time were James Burrows and the Charles Brothers. Bob was extremely helpful and frankly did more for us than our own “partners.” But we were very loyal to our specific agent so we stayed with her and William Morris. She believed in us when we were nobodies and now that we were successful we didn’t feel it was right to pull a Broadway Danny Rose on her.

But now it’s 1982. We’re on CHEERS and our agent tells us she’s getting out of that end of the business and getting into producing. She was offered a great job running a very successful film director’s production company. We were thrilled for her, but now felt no pull to stay at the agency.

Instead of just taking free expensive lunches and letting agents from all over town court us, we called Bob Broder. He was interested in representing us so we decided to make the switch.

We told the fine folks at William Morris and one of their agents – who we had dealt with from time to time – asked if he could speak with us. Could we give him one last chance to convince us to stay? Although our minds were pretty much made up, we still felt it was the honorable thing to do. And who knows? Maybe there was some reason why we really should stay.

So this agent ushers us into his office. He was in his ‘30s, part of the young new breed that the agency was hiring. I must say, I’m always fascinated by salesmen. When I go to state fairs I make a beeline to the exhibition hall where all these hucksters are selling miracle mops and titanium woks. I’m a sucker for a great sales pitch. At their best, those guys are artists. The mop is pretty good by the way.

We sit down on his couch, the agent closes the door, crosses to us and yells, “You guys are fucking ASSHOLES!”

Say what?

“If you leave this fucking agency you’re fucking assholes and fucking idiots!” He goes on for five minutes to call us stupid, immature, ungrateful, dickless, only marginally talented, and how we’re making the biggest mistake of our lives not letting him guide our careers. All of this laced with more expletives than a DEADWOOD episode.

Wow! What a masterful presentation. Who wouldn’t want to re-sign after that declaration of love?

Well, as shocking as it may seem, we did leave and began a long and happy association with Bob Broder.

Meanwhile, this agent left the Morris Agency himself in 1999. So I guess in the end, he too was a “fucking ASSHOLE!” I haven’t seen him in years. I don’t know what he’s doing today. I just hope it’s not eulogies.

This is a re-post from almost five years ago. God bless you if you've been reading this blog long enough to remember it. 


Stephen Marks said...

My ex-wife married him, that's where he is! So while I was reading this great post I kept thinking of the movie "The Player" for some reason. But that was inside a movie studio I think not a talent agency, can't remember. That CAA guy, Mike Ovitz, that guy seemed like the biggest, baddest, bastard ever to walk the streets of Hollywood. He seemed like one of those "you ever cross me and you're finished in this town, got it, you'll be lucky to get a job as an extra on that piece of shit new Lucy show." Ever meet him Ken?

Paul Duca said...

I hope your former agent did well for herself...

Peter said...

He's now Donald Trump's speechwriter.

I once read a rather shocking anecdote about an agent. I think it was in Rob Long's book Conversations With My Agent. The story was that another agent tried to poach Long by saying something to the effect of "I hear your agent has cancer. Maybe now's a good time to switch." Long was horrified that someone would try that approach, not least because his agent didn't have cancer or any other illness.

Jeff Maxwell said...

A million years ago, I was the goofy part of a comedy team, Garrett & Maxwell. We had just finished mining for new material in a small club in North Hollywood, CA (Art Crown's Comedy Showcase), when a guy hands us his card, introduces himself as George Shapiro, and says he would like us to meet with him and his staff at The William Morris Agency. Wow!

We had a great meeting with George and four other agents. They really liked what we did and wanted to develop us as the next great comedy team. Wow! Meeting over, one of the agents hands me a generic William Morris card. He said his personalized cards were being printed, so he wrote his name on the back and told me to call him if I needed anything at all.

We never took advantage of the William Morris offer, mainly out of youthful stupidity. But I still have the card that guy scribbled his name on. It was Mike Ovitz. I wonder if the offer is still good.

MikeN said...

>He's now Donald Trump's speechwriter.

Peter that is pretty close. That agent might have gotten the idea from reading Trump's book. Trump declares 'How stupid are the people of Iowa...' and then gets more votes than anyone ever did before(though Cruz did even better). If Ken likes sales pitches, then he should be watching Trump nonstop.

Steve Pepoon said...

Isn't it more accurate for you to have not pulled a "Lou Canova" since it was that character who screwed over Broadway Danny Rose?

MikeK.Pa. said...

I saw Bob Broder left ICM for Chuck Lorre Productions about four years ago. Seems like that would be an easy in for you and David to pitch scripts and/or pilots.

Jeff :) said...

The crazy thing is I DO remember this post. I can't believe that was 5 years ago already! Time flies!

Keith C said...

Reminds me of Alec Baldwin's character in Glengarry Glen Ross. This is actually a technique that used to be taught in some sales classes - the bully technique. It was recommended when you were trying to sell to or negotiate with someone who was big into authority figures or who was a "pleaser". Maybe you and your partner were giving off the wrong vibes, Ken.

Johnny Walker said...

The best thing about that meeting must have been the pleasure in turning him down!

I think I've been reading this blog long enough, but I don't remember this post. The best of both worlds :)

Eric said...

The same thing happened with me and my then writing partner in 1995. It wasn't William Morris but when our agent asked us the reason why we were leaving we said we don't feel like we're getting the attention we need to really build a career. I swear his eyes turned red and then he said this, "You guys are staff writers on the worst show on television! We already spend too much time on you!" Even though he was right about the first part, we still parted ways.