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UTA TV focus the real deal

Greystone, Brass Ring, Mess Media, Diplomatic among new clients

The primetime reality boom may have gone bust, but UTA still thinks there’s plenty of coin left in nontraditional programming: Tenpercentery has tapped veteran agent Chris Coelen to head up its newly expanded alternative television department.

Coelen takes charge of a 2-year-old division that’s been beefed up to include three agents dedicated to alternative: Sara Chazen, Lee Horvitz and Hayden Meyer.

In recent weeks and months, Coelen and his staff have been busy signing a slew of new clients to UTA’s alternative department, including Craig Haffner’s Greystone (“Biography”); Rick Telles and Cris Abrego’s Brass Ring Prods. (“Fear”); and Scott Messick’s Mess Media (“Boot Camp”).

UTA also lured away Michael Davies and his Diplomatic Prods. from William Morris (though WMA retains package credit for “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire”). Tenpercentery has also signed “Survivor” co-exec producer Craig Piligian.

“Now that the hype has passed, the bigger picture of alternative programming is coming into sharper focus,” Coelen said. “The traditional buyers of alternative — cable and firstrun markets — have become even more competitive (with license fees), so we’re very bullish on the long-term prospects in this area.”

While the frenzy of reality-based projects (think “Temptation Island” or “Lost”) in primetime has cooled, networks are still very interested in alternative programming, Coelen said. What’s more, the reality explosion of the past two years has driven up license fees for cable and syndie unscripted product — meaning more potential coin for alternative programs.

There are also still plenty of opportunities in primetime, according to Coelen.

“If you look at the numbers CBS did with ‘Carol Burnett’ — that falls under the category of alternative,” he said. “There are a lot of people who want to reinvent variety, to do more feel-good, upbeat programming. Alternative is bigger than it’s ever been.”

Indeed, in addition to format-driven properties, Coelen and his agents will cover a slew of nontraditional programming, including scripted and unscripted programs for syndie and cable outlets; children’s programming; and news/talk skeins and talent.

Creative chase

Coelen said UTA’s alternative department — which does battle daily with nonfiction vets William Morris, CAA and ICM — will try to follow the same formula the agency’s lit and talent departments have emphasized: finding people with strong creative visions.

“We want to find as many original voices as possible,” he said. “We want trailblazers. We don’t want people who are copycats.”

In addition to UTA’s newer alternative clients, the agency’s roster has long included such nonfiction heavyweights as R.J. Cutler (“American High”), Gay Rosenthal (“Behind the Music”), Joel Gallen (“A Tribute to Heroes”) and Bill Guttentag (“Crime and Punishment”).

UTA co-founder and board member Peter Benedek said Coelen has been “enormously effective” within the agency’s alternative department.

“He’s the right person to lead our continued expansion,” Benedek said.

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