In yet another sign that publishing has gone Hollywood, CAA has signed on to represent the magazine Reader’s Digest, which is attempting to branch into TV development.
Reader’s Digest Association Inc. is specifically interested in mining its own magazine’s articles and its strong brand name to create TV movies and miniseries.
“CAA is one of the premiere talent agencies and top TV packagers, and we hope they will help us make the most of our tremendous archive of nonfiction articles,” said Christopher Willcox, editor-in-chief of Reader’s Digest magazine. “We have a vault of narratives we’d like to take advantage of in TV.”
Willcox and CAA agents said they’d like to see Reader’s Digest-branded telefilms, but the company isn’t interested in creating its own production arm for now.
Digest of fame
“We’d like projects to have the Reader’s Digest name and imprint, just as the Hallmark movie means something,” CAA agent Brian Siberell said. “But we don’t anticipate a fully operational, self-funding production company.”
Aside from telefilms, project possibilities include a Reader’s Digest magazine series and shows based on some of the magazine’s regular humor columns. Regular advertisers in Reader’s Digest may be involved in sponsoring some of the projects.
CAA and Willcox are also hoping TV exposure will bring a new, and potentially younger, audience to the magazine.
While CAA repped Texas Monthly before the mag went to the William Morris Agency, and ICM reps some Conde Nast pubs, it’s still relatively rare for magazines to retain agency representation.
In explaining the agency’s push to sign the pub, Siberell said, “Reader’s Digest is not only an American institution in its 77th year, it’s the most widely read magazine in the world.”
Reader’s Digest has attempted TV ventures before. The company made a magazine series pilot and has sold rights to its articles. The company also inked a deal with PBS in 1995 to create TV projects over a five-year period and to share in backend rights.
While the Reader’s Digest-CAA deal has been in the works for awhile, the pact comes at a time when a spotlight is focused on the melding of magazine publishing and Hollywood because of Tina Brown’s departure from the New Yorker to create a magazine and new media company at Miramax.
“I think TV needs material,” Willcox said. “The content demand is growing as the number of channels grows, particularly narrative content. TV is also looking to brand identities to differentiate its programming.”
Despite the demand for content, magazine-TV ventures have rarely been fruitful in the past because pubs often face difficulties getting film or TV rights to their own articles. Siberell said Reader’s Digest will avoid those pitfalls, because, unlike many magazines which rely heavily on freelancers, most Reader’s Digest’s writers are on staff and have worked there for years.