Capping a historic week for Hollywood’s agencies and ending four months of secretive negotiations, the 95-year-old William Morris Agency has acquired Triad Artists in an aggressive move to help resuscitate its motion picture business and reinstate its image as an entertainment powerhouse.
While no official dollar figure could be learned, two industry sources estimated the value of the buyout to be in the neighborhood of $ 25 million to $ 30 million.
In acquiring Triad, WMA adds approximately 50 new agents to its 130-person fold, while cutting loose 16 of its own representatives. The agency will now boast about 160 agents worldwide between its Los Angeles, New York, Nashville and London offices. With the addition of another 50 or so Triad assistants, WMA will employ about 600 globally.
The combined number of agents from both agencies who won’t survive the merger is thought to be between 40 and 50. Triad would not release figures but sources estimate the number of its agents to be fired at around 25, the most seniorbeing Ken Neisser, who was head of TV lit, reporting to Rob Lee.
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The addition of new agents and talent–including such names as Bruce Willis, Daniel Day-Lewis, Danny Glover, Patrick Swayze and Steven Soderbergh–is particularly critical to WMA’s movie department, which over the last 18 months has been disabled by a succession of client and agent defections to rival agencies.
Triad also brings WMA its biggest cash-cow, its music division, which represents such talent as Nirvana, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ray Charles, Johnny Mathis and Harry Belafonte.
For Triad, which also has had its share of difficulty in signing top directors and has recently lost such talent as William Hurt and Melanie Griffith , the Morris office primarily serves as a complement, bringing to the deal some higher-caliber clients, strong TV packaging, book and music divisions and the financial wherewithal needed to compete in today’s market.
Reflective of a recession-choked industry and heightened competition for business in a shrinking market, 8-year-old Triad became the second mid-sized agency last week, along with the younger 4-year-old InterTalent, to virtually vanish from the agency front.
For WMA,which has been increasingly poised to infuse new life into its operation, the action signals a desire by the old guard to embrace more forward and progressive thinking for future survival.
As part of the new acquisition, the divisional structure of WMA stays the same, with Norman Brokaw remaining chairman and CEO, Jerry Katzman president, and Walter Zifkin, credited as the architect and initiator of the plan, chief operating officer.
All eight of Triad’s founding partners join Morris, though none as partners. Several from the group, however, will assume newly created management posts.
Each of the Triad principals come aboard as senior VPs, with the exception of Richard Rosenberg, who becomes exec VP.
Rosenberg, who ran Triad’s highly successful music department, is the only incoming Triad partner to be added to Morris’ board since music was the only sector of the agency (other than commercials) heretofore not represented by the body. He joins other WMA board members Brokaw, Katzman, Bob Crestani, Walter Zifkin, Leonard Hirshan, Jim Griffin, Robert Gottlieb, Alan Kannof and Owen Laster.
Triad co-founding partner Arnold Rifkin assumes the new position of worldwide head of motion pictures, with WMA film co-heads Mike Simpson and John Burnham now reporting directly to him.
Other newly created management posts in L.A. include Triad partner Peter Grosslight joining longtime WMA music executive Dick Alen, with both to serve as senior veeps and worldwide co-heads of the personal appearance department. They report to Richard Rosenberg, whose new title is executive VP.
Triad partner John Kimble joins as television talent co-head with WMA’s Marc Schwartz.
In New York, Triad principal Gene Parseghian will team with WMA’s Johnnie Planco to co-head the East Coast’s motion picture and talent departments.
On the Nashville front, Triad’s Rick Shipp joins WMA’s Paul Moore to serve as co-head of that operation.
Triad’s other three founding partners, Nicole David, Lee Rosenberg and Jeff Hunter, will continue in their respective areas of expertise. In L.A., David reps actors and directors, while Rosenberg handles writers, directors and actors in films and TV. New York-based Hunter handles actors for movies and stage.
Pinkslips at Triad
In the wake of the acquisition, Triad, which had employed about 230 people in its L.A., N.Y. and Nashville offices, has pinkslipped its entire business affairs, accounting, mailroom and other service departments.
According to Katzman, “No department heads or senior agents or partners” are being let go at WMA.
Ever since speculation about an impending merger began to surface last week, a high level of anxiety and paranoia ripped through the hallways of Morris and Century City-based Triad, with many agents worried their jobs might be in jeopardy.
“We’ve been kept in the dark and we’re frustrated and feel helpless,” said one Triad agent early Friday, before official word of the acquisition came down the pike. Those agents who would not be making the move were informed by phone Friday evening.
A Triad agent who made the cut Friday said, “I perceive this as a positive step and one that will send a message to the industry that we’re in the motion picture business and will bolster morale.”
That sentiment was echoed by Morris insiders, one of whom noted, “We complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses and I think it makes us much stronger and will increase our power base and make us more competitive.”
Yesterday morning, WMA hosted a brunch at its Beverly Hills headquarters to welcome the agency’s new Triad colleagues.
According to WMA officials, the transition of the Triad team to its two adjacent B.H. addresses on El Camino will begin as early as today.
The managements of both WMA and Triad are hoping the new partnership will help boost the industry’s perception of their respective reputations, both of which have been particularly bruised in the motion picture arena.
For WMA–the world’s largest and longest-established entertainment agency–the strength of its once-stalwart movie business has been eroding for the past six years since the 1986 death of veteran Stan Kamen, who represented such top-name clients as Barbra Streisand, Warren Beatty, Diane Keaton, Walter Matthau, Norman Jewison and George Roy Hill.
A more recent blow came last year when a number of prominent agents left the fold, taking with them such top actor clients as Julia Roberts, Tim Robbins and Anjelica Huston and such notable filmmakers as Tim Burton, John McTiernan, Alan Pakula and Norman Jewison.
Burnham, who has been a talent agent and co-head of Morris’ pic division with Simpson for the past two years, said the Triad acquisition “completely revitalizes us and gives us the much-needed deep bench of clients and agents we haven’t had in the department for the last 18 months and it really enhances our ability to put movies together.”
Simpson commented, “A lot of time and effort on the part of both companies went into the planning and execution of this move, and I believe it will pay off in multiples. John Burnham and I just spent the day with our new associates and we couldn’t be more excited about working with Arnold and the other members of our company as we move into this new era.” Katzman characterized the acquisition of Triad as “a statement to say we’re here, we’re alive and we’ll be a powerful force for the future.”
Insisting, “This is just the beginning, whether it means acquiring other agents or whatever, we’ll be an attractive alternative to other agencies,” he said, adding, “This is about future thinking. It’s a bold, aggressive move and we’re going to be bold and aggressive.”
Celebrating his 50th year with WMA, Brokaw said he was personally “very happy” about the acquisition of Triad and thinks it’s good news for the industry at large. “I think it’s bringing together the best manpower in the business and with all the areas we lead in, it greatly strengthens our departments–but the motion picture clients says it all.”
Brokaw says that the Triad acquisition is “without question” the most ambitious move WMA has made during its long history. He reminded that the only other similar action was in 1954 when WMA acquired the Berg/Allenberg Agency, gaining such notable clients as Clark Gable and Loretta Young.
Rifkin, who helped execute the three-way merger of Triad in fall 1984, says for him the reincarnation of Triad is bittersweet. “The separation is very emotional to say the least, but the enthusiasm, support and energy about winning and feeling good about our efforts is breathlessly overwhelming.”
Rifkin conceded, “When you realize your strong points and are willing to acknowledge the areas that have delivered less than what you hoped for and see the window of opportunity that matches your needs, then it begins to make sense to do something.”
Specifically, Rifkin admits that when it came to bringing in top director and writer clients, “The success we were having in those areas wasn’t happening. All the people we had were a year away from breaking and the community was not embracing us in that area. We were still having trouble signing major directors–it was a great frustration. There was still this reluctance among studio people and I was not able to figure what the resistance was.”
Rifkin said, “Serendipity happened a few months ago” when Ziskin placed a call to his longtime friend Richard Rosenberg and acquisition talks were revisited. The two agencies had previous merger discussions but could never resolve their differences.
“The difference this time,” said Rifkin of the talks that began four months ago, is “we were all there for a guided goal to make this work … to make a deal.”
Triad was formed by the coming together of Adams, Ray & Rosenberg, a literary and packaging agency; Regency Artists, which specialized in personal appearance, music and variety TV; and David Hunter, Kimble, Parseghian & Rifkin, which handled movie, TV and stage personalities.
The dissolution of ITA and acquisition of Triad will result in a significant body count of agents who join the already high number of unemployed Hollywood executives who’ve been caught in today’s tough economic times.
The dramatic events of the week, which will see ITA topper Bill Block and others be swallowed up by ICM and six other ITA exex switch camps to United Talent Agency, have also already prompted a major feeding frenzy of clients around town. The extent of the fallout is yet to be known.