Polone: This Is the Beginning of the End of TV Agents

Labor News, Industry News

Reprinted from The Hollywood Reporter by Gavin Polone on May 13, 2019.

“Six weeks ago, I wrote in this publication that I thought the Writers Guild of America would have to retreat from the battle with the talent agents over package fees and agency affiliates producing movies and TV,” rites Gavin Polone in The Hollywood Reporter. “Now I think I may have been wrong. The WGA is currently winning this fight in terms of messaging, maintaining the resolve of its membership and demonstrating a long-term strategy that has pierced the clouds of uncertainty and revealed a path to achieving all of its goals. Further, and more significantly, an unintended consequence of this fight has materialized: a possible future — a near future — where most working writers don’t have agents at all.

“Yes, there have been non-agent voices who have chastised the WGA’s handling of this clash. Most notably, Jon Robin Baitz, whose well-circulated letter to the guild offers much detail on what a great career he’s had, including having written an episode of The West Wing that, incredibly, did not have to be rewritten before production. Though I don’t understand how his exceptional success writing one episode for Aaron Sorkin relates to the issue at hand, he did describe how his career was enhanced by ‘the endless hours, the conversations, the hand-holding’ provided by his agents. Baitz also illustrates the value of the deal he made with CAA’s studio on a new Amazon show, where he managed to hire three WGA producer-level writers and, even more laudably, a ‘diverse female’ assistant whom he elevated to staff writer. (I’m guessing that had CAA not been able to finance TV shows, he’d have to hire two non-WGA producers and a white guy staff writer?)

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“Baitz then goes on to denounce the ‘bellicose’ tone the leadership of the guild has taken, which has alienated the agents who, they should remember, ‘are humans and have emotions, families, parents and sensitivities, just like us.’ He warns that the WGA leaders could, dangerously, ‘tear down extant structures, simply in the name of “fairness.”‘ Baitz finishes by suggesting that if they don’t take advantage of having the agents ‘listening’ at ‘the table,’ there could be ‘tragic consequences.’

“As an analyst of this dispute, Baitz has proved himself to be an amazing West Wing writer. While I don’t dispute his anecdotal, narrow view of his lovely career, he ignores the binary nature of conflicted interest in representation: Either it is a conflict or it isn’t. He also seems to reject that one of the central tenets of our society is that we must, in fact, tear down some extant structures in the name of fairness. …

THR 5/13

About Jeffrey Burman 5291 Articles
Jeff Burman served on the Guild’s Board of Directors from 1992 to 2019. He is now retired. He can be reached at jeffrey.s.burman.57@gmail.com.

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