ATG trims 18, chases a deal

Pinkslips heighten questions about company's future

As Michael Ovitz continues to shop his Artists Television Group, the production company pinkslipped 18 employees Wednesday afternoon.

The downsizing affected mostly assistants and business-affairs personnel, although a number of execs at the vice president level were let go.

ATG prexy Eric Tannenbaum informed his staff of the layoffs during a meeting at the company’s Beverly Hills office. The terminations were effective immediately; only 20 staffers remain at the company as of today.

ATG had already started to pare its operation as the company adjusted to a smaller size vs. last season, when it exploded out of the box with four fall series.

Wednesday’s dismissals only heightened questions about the long-term future of ATG, which will co-produce the CBS sitcom “The Ellen Show” and WB reality gamer “Lost in the USA” this fall, as well as the WB midseason entries “Cedric the Coach” and “No Ordinary Girl.”

Nina Lederman, senior VP of creative affairs, and Dawn Steinberg, senior VP of casting, left the company earlier this summer (Daily Variety, June 26).

ATG’s status has been unclear since word surfaced that Ovitz had was looking for a deal.

Looking for ally

Studios and networks including Paramount, CBS, NBC, 20th Century Fox TV and Warner Bros. have all met with ATG in recent weeks about forming various strategic alliances (Daily Variety, Aug. 3).

Paramount could be a front-runner in some sort of arrangement — particularly because of the Viacom synergy on “Ellen,” which ATG co-produces with CBS Prods.

Execs who have met with Ovitz said a wide variety of partnership or acquisition scenarios, including a full absorption of the company, were discussed.

But ATG hasn’t found any takers yet and rumors that the production company might shut down haven’t subsided.

Potential partners have said that ATG’s current distribution deal with Sony (which expires next June) has complicated matters. That pact, as previously reported, advances ATG roughly $375,000 per seg for every sitcom it gets on the air and $450,000 for every hourlong skein.

In exchange, Sony takes a 17.5% distribution fee based on gross revenue generated by sales of ATG product. That could limit any backend potential for any partners or buyers.

Also of concern to potential partners: ATG’s sizable talent roster, which boasts valuable names but also carries significant overhead. ATG paid top dollar for a number of high-level writer-producers such as Darren Star.

Payments coming

Scribes under overall deals have continued to be paid on schedule every two weeks. But at least one rep said a client hadn’t been paid yet under an individual deal and that other one-shot deals hadn’t been reimbursed. As source within the firm, however, said “ATG intends to pay its bill.”

Meanwhile, Tannenbaum, the former Columbia TriStar TV prexy who joined ATG in 1999, continued to operate this week as though it were business as usual.

He met with CBS execs Tuesday to pitch a drama script from Tom Fontana and Michael Dinner, who previously served as a co-exec producer on ATG’s short-lived drama “The Street.”

Fontana and Dinner are both in the middle of multiyear, multimillion-dollar deals at ATG.

Popular on Variety

More Biz

  • Harvey Weinstein

    Weinstein Can Get a Fair Trial in Manhattan, Says D.A.

    The Manhattan District Attorney’s office argued on Friday that Harvey Weinstein can get a fair trial in Manhattan, and blamed the producer’s defense team for much of the pre-trial publicity in the case. Weinstein’s attorneys have asked an appellate court to transfer the case — which is set to begin on Sept. 9 — to [...]

  • Leonardo DiCaprio Madonna

    Leonardo DiCaprio, Madonna Call for Action on Amazon Wildfires

    As wildfires rage at an alarming rate in Brazil’s Amazon rain forest, celebrities are using their platforms to bring awareness to the deforestation’s impact and to call for action. In the past week, stars like Leonardo DiCaprio, Madonna, Cara Delevingne and Ariana Grande have taken to Instagram to express their frustration with the lack of [...]

  • 'The Durrells' TV Show

    Greece Sweetens Production Incentives as Struggling Country's Economy Rebounds

    It’s taken the better part of a decade for Greece to show signs of recovery from the crippling crisis that almost pushed it out of the Eurozone. Now, with the economy slowly on the mend, the government is doubling down on efforts to jump-start the local film industry, giving a dramatic overhaul to the incentive [...]

  • Warner Music Group Partners With Audiomack

    Warner Music Group Partners With Audiomack

    Warner Music Group announced it has entered a partnership with the music streaming and discovery service Audiomack, marking the platform’s first licensing deal with a major label. According to the announcement, the two companies will work together on content concepts and explore ways to break emerging artists, connecting music fans with rising talent before they [...]

  • Scooter Braun Congratulates Taylor Swift on

    Scooter Braun Congratulates Taylor Swift on ‘Brilliant’ Album and Campaign

    Two days after Taylor Swift fired off the latest salvo in her battle with Scooter Braun, the manager congratulated the singer on the campaign around her “brilliant” new album, “Lover,” which arrived last night. The message came after Swift said she will be re-recording songs from her first six albums, which are now owned by [...]

  • David Koch Obit

    David Koch, Libertarian Activist and Billionaire Philanthropist, Dies at 79

    David Koch, brother of Charles Koch and one of the owners of Koch Industries, the second-largest private company in the U.S., has died at 79. According to the New York Times, Charles Koch announced the news of his brother’s death in a statement. Though he did not attribute to David’s death to a particular cause, [...]

  • Beverly Hills Realtor Accused of Stealing

    Beverly Hills Realtor Accused of Stealing From Usher, Adam Lambert

    A Beverly Hills real estate agent has been arrested on charges of stealing from the homes of celebrities, including Usher, Adam Lambert and “Real Housewives” star Dorit Kemsley. Jason Emil Yaselli, 32, is accused of encouraging an accomplice, Benjamin Ackerman, to enter homes during open houses in order to steal from them. Ackerman allegedly sold [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content