Percentery gets first down in sports turf

BEYOND WEEKEND box office grosses and sweeps results, Creative Artists Agency will spend April 29-30 focusing on another unpredictable derby where money and power hang in the balance — namely, the National Football League draft.

CAA scored a breakthrough on this foreign, artificial turf by signing Matt Leinart, the USC quarterback who figures to be among the first names chosen. For both the agency and players, it’s a logical marriage, illustrating the evolving relationship between sports and entertainment.

Indeed, if ever two groups were destined to meet, it’s spoiled athletes — young stars that can earn huge amounts of money but whose careers, even in best-case scenarios, come with built-in expiration dates — and Hollywood agencies, which know a little something about tending to bruises, even when they only afflict egos.

Athletes, moreover, are already deeply ingrained in showbiz culture, launching music and movie careers in addition to serving as soft drink, sports apparel and fast-food pitchmen — in some instances these days long before they hang up their cleats.

By that reasoning, it makes sense for a pretty-boy quarterback like Leinart to plan ahead by planting the seeds for his entertainment career now, hoping to do something more, perhaps, then mimic the roles of QBs-turned-actor/analysts like Don Meredith (“Banjo Hackett”), Joe Namath (“The Last Rebel”) and Terry Bradshaw, who bravely bared his backfield in the recent Paramount release “Failure to Launch.”

As further evidence, ESPN is already in the reality biz with such polarizing, still-in-uniform personalities as Giants slugger Barry Bonds and Texas Tech coach Bob Knight, yielding surprisingly watchable programs even for those who won’t watch the net’s mind-numbing 12 hours of first-day draft coverage.

THIS ISN’T TO SAY that CAA won’t face some headaches dealing with a different strain of mercurial stars, but it’s at best a minor adjustment. Consider New York Knicks guard Stephon Marbury, who recently told reporters in regard to his coach, “I don’t care what he wants to hear. I’m telling you what I’m going to do.” Substitute the word “director,” and it’s clear divas aren’t confined to dressing rooms and oversized trailers.

At the same time, there are only so many superstar actors to commission, and a whole treasure trove of ballplayers who, thinking ahead, don’t want to be a hamstring injury away from spending their post-retirement years hawking securities or peddling used cars. Nor should it be a surprise that it was Leinart — a native of that newly discovered TV wonderland, Orange County — who took the plunge.

The group with the most to fear, meanwhile, should be sports agents, a relatively insulated and mostly unsavory bunch. Assuming CAA can leverage representing Leinart to delve deeper into sports, those athletic reps will face a savvy competitor that knows a little something about wooing away talent.

In fact, if they’re not careful, sports agents could wind up resembling one of their quarterback clients beset by a weak-side blitz — standing upright one moment and on their backs the next, feeling dazed and not entirely clear as to who or what hit them.

ALTHOUGH DEREK LEA isn’t a household name, he stars in two swashbuckling historical epics on display this month, and does so without speaking a word.

Thanks to the growing trend of employing dramatic recreations to spice up TV documentaries, Lea, a British stunt man whose credits include “Gladiator,” filled the title role in National Geographic Channel’s just-aired “Spartacus: Gladiator War,” followed by an equally bloodthirsty turn as Richard the Lionhearted in PBS’ exploration of the Crusades, “Holy Warriors,” airing tonight.

In both productions, a narrator and tweedy historians do all the talking, but the square-jawed Lea gets the lion’s share of screen time, looking pensive before dispatching Roman soldiers and Jerusalem-defending jihadists. Granted, leading-man status in this realm has its drawbacks, as PBS’ captioned its photo of a sword-wielding Richard by saying that he is “played by an actor, above.”

Frankly, I’m no fan of the docu recreation invasion, which risks bastardizing history through nuances that couldn’t possibly be known. Still, it’s less objectionable in these pre-cinematic spectacles and, if nothing else, represents a boon for performers like Lea who finally receive their moment (well, sort of) in the spotlight.

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