Lit whiz starts biz, exits WMA

Gottlieb joins Strone, takes powerhouse lineup with him

NEW YORK — Hotshot lit agent Robert Gottlieb is leaving William Morris after 24 years to form the Trident Media Group with former WMA agent Dan Strone.

Gottlieb, whose all-star lineup and multimedia deals helped make “franchise author” a publishing buzzword, resigned Wednesday.

A company designed to rep intellectual property in all areas of entertainment, Trident will also function as a lit agency for such Gottlieb clients as Dean Koontz, Elizabeth George, Janet Evanovich, Stephen Coonts and Deepak Chopra. All are expected to leave William Morris with Gottlieb.

Gottlieb, a member of WMA’s board of directors, was an unusually freewheeling figure within the agency’s lit division, perpetually seeking deals for his clients outside traditional publishing channels.

Gottlieb developed the franchise-expanding, joint-byline mass market paperbacks “created” but not written by longtime client Tom Clancy. He negotiated an overall deal at ABC for Clancy and struck a $25 million deal with Pearson for the author’s computer gaming company, Red Storm Entertainment. He sold Dean Koontz’s “Intensity” as a small-screen vehicle for Mandalay — it became Fox’s first-ever summer miniseries — and brokered the publishing and miniseries deals for the “Gone With the Wind” sequel, “Scarlet,” a $65 million venture.

At Trident, Gottlieb will continue to break with tradition, repping clients for film and TV, e-publishing and other new-media platforms. No longer confined to agency conventions or union restrictions, he may even produce films.

“Hollywood agents just sell,” Gottlieb told Daily Variety. “Book agents sell their clients’ work and manage their careers. I want to extend that and be in a position to be highly entrepreneurial as I create new ventures for them.” Other clients joining Gottlieb at Trident include Catherine Coulter, Dale Brown and Allan Folsom.

At WMA, Strone specialized in film and TV deals for department clients, and publishing deals for a genre of celebrity nonfiction — by such talent as Jerry Seinfeld, Whoopi Goldberg and Paul Reiser — written in the stars’ familiar shticks.

Both WMA and Gottlieb said their relationship, which ended after Gottlieb’s negotiations for a three-year contract extension stalled, remains amicable.

Damage control

WMA played down the decimating effect of losing Gottlieb’s formidable client list. “It’s certainly serious, but not devastating,” said Owen Laster, co-head of WMA’s lit department with Gottlieb, who will run the division for the forseeable future. “We’ll be rebuilding,” said Laster. “It’s too early to say how or where.”

But WMA’s lit department is still smarting from the recent defection of its star author Tom Clancy to AMG. And the loss of Gottlieb’s firepower is yet another sign of the seismic shift in the New York agenting world, as an array of immensely profitable and innovative boutiques steal business from majors like WMA and ICM.

Rumors have circulated that Gottlieb’s exit was hastened by his sparring with WMA head Jim Wiatt. But Gottlieb was quick to stress that his reasons for leaving had little to do with WMA politics.

“This is all about the future and formulating a business that’s better positioned for the new economy,” Gottlieb told Daily Variety. “Opportunities for creators of intellectual property are going to create new sources of revenue far beyond what they dreamed of before.”

Gottlieb and Strone are wasting no time in putting their new house in order. William Morris Lit agents Lauren Sheftell and Maya Perez are following them to Trident, where they’ll be joined by two agents to be named at a later date. Phones and computers in Trident’s new 12th floor office, with its picturesque view of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in midtown Manhattan, were expected to be operative today.

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