There’s a famous section of sociologist Malcolm Gladwell’s 2008 bestseller, “Outliers,” which maintains that those with natural ability and skill for a subject can become masters if they have the time to devote to a craft, particularly if no one is looking because they’re all concentrating on other, more mainstream, facets of that industry. Abrams Artists Agency may be staffed with outliers. Or, at least, with people who know where to find them.
Alec Shankman had been at the company barely a year when he approached founder Harry Abrams with the notion that they should be paying attention to the people on reality series. It was the early 2000s, a pre-Kardashian era when such shows as “American Idol” and “Big Brother” captivated viewers. “It was this new wave of content that was slightly different than ‘Star Search’ and some of the others that have been around forever,” Shankman says. “It was interesting because it felt like a fad to a lot of people. To me, it seemed like there was something very real happening and so I just decided to stake at least the next few years of my life on it and see how it played out.”
The gamble paid off, with Shankman eventually launching Abrams’ alternative programming and digital media department. He is now the senior VP of the alternative programming, unscripted/reality, digital branding and licensing division. He and his New York-based division partner, Mark Turner, have become known for their rosters of broadcasters and docu-soap stars as well as digital personalities.
The pair have an innate ability to know what makes a show or personality stick. Recent successes in the division include such shows as Travel Channel’s “Ghost Adventures,” National Geographic’s “Wicked Tuna” and Discovery’s “Gold Rush.” Turner recently sold a series to Facebook, which has begun exploring original content.
The pair also work with other departments to bring digital stars into more traditional spaces. Pamela Fisher, Abrams’ VP of the youth talent division in Los Angeles, says this is how she became aware of YouTube personality Daniella Perkins, and “within months we had her starring in her own Nickelodeon show.” (An added bonus for talent: Abrams has a digital media studio on its premises.)
Turner says he’s looking for influencers who have “great content,” are “brand-friendly” and have “great engagement” with their fans on social media.
Of course, Abrams agents have long embraced influencers and disruptors in many mediums. Neal Altman, now the company’s co-COO and co-managing director with Robert Attermann in New York, has steered talented theater actors who might be squeamish about putting their faces on camera to sell products into lucrative voiceover commercial careers.
Sarah Douglas and Charles Kopelman’s theater-focused literary department in New York represents some of the most provocative and inquisitive playwrights, directors and other luminaries of the era.
“We get a real kick out of our weekly staff meetings and the agents who represent [David] Mamet, who come in with a list and say, ‘Mamet: all over the world,’ ” Douglas says, referring to the playwright’s wide reach of productions. “We have
fun knowing that there’s an impact all over the world.”