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Comedy writers extend their reps

Emergence of literary managers shows clout

Irrespective of whether they’re threatening to strike, writers have traditionally been at the bottom of the representation food chain. Even when it came to signing with managers, for a long time scribes were kept out of the club.

Emerging hand-in-hand with the growing clout of the movie and TV writer in recent years, however, has been the emergence of the literary manager. Things changed about a decade ago as the agencies grew in size and scope and were unable to offer the same care and feeding to all of their clients, particularly writers. Managers arrived on the scene to take up the slack, mainly in the form of developing and producing scripts.

Today, the role of literary manager has vastly expanded, with managers doing everything from packaging to — in some cases — financing projects.

“Whereas before, all you needed was a really great concept for the studio to buy something, now the studios and networks want you to bring them projects that are developed,” says John L. Jacobs, who heads the management-production shingle Smart Entertainment, whose clients include “Family Guy” creator Seth McFarland and “Anger Management” scribe David Dorfman. “They’re not just looking for a good concept or a good writer, they want it all. They want it all packaged and put together when it’s brought to them.”

This is particularly true when it comes to comedies, now that studios are salivating for the next “Wedding Crashers” or “40-Year-Old Virgin” — movies with small budgets that made a big splash.

Because managers can, as Paul Young of Principato-Young says, “work across the town,” i.e. collaborate with all the agencies as well as other managers, something that more rivalrous agents tend not to do, managers have been particularly essential in filling Hollywood’s comedy pipeline.

“Managers work much closer together than a lot of the agencies,” says Young’s partner, Peter Principato. “Especially in comedy, our paths cross constantly; there’s more of a kinship there. There’s kind of a mode of trying to help each other.”

For instance, after developing the spec script “Me Time” with their writer clients Ian Roberts and Jay Martel, Principato and Young passed the script along to manager-producer Jimmy Miller and his former partner Eric Gold, who represent Jim Carrey.

As a result, Carrey is now set to star in the film, which is queued up at 20th Century Fox, where Principato-Young has a first-look deal.

“The 40-Year-Old Virgin’s” writer-director Judd Apatow, who’s also repped by Miller, says of his manager: “A lot of what Jimmy does is connect people he thinks might be like-minded. A lot of the people I collaborate with are people I met through Jimmy. Mainly it’s the fact that he has amazing taste in funny people.”

When Apatow, who also famously cultivates his own comedy clique, was still in the TV trenches working on “Undeclared,” Miller paired him up with his clients Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, who were working on a spec called “Anchorman.”

The trio developed the film together until it became a DreamWorks feature release in 2004.

A more recent Miller introduction put Apatow in touch with Etan Cohen, who wrote the upcoming Ben Stiller comedy “Tropic Thunder.” Apatow says Cohen is about to start writing a film for his company.

In TV, too, managers are at the comedy forefront. Howard Klein and his partners at 3 Arts Entertainment work hands-on with the writers and producers of hit shows such as “The Office,” “30 Rock,” “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and “King of the Hill.”

Klein, who like all managers also produces certain material with his clients — in his case, he’s an executive producer on “The Office” and “The Starter Wife” — says that at times being a producer allows him to be a more effective manager.

“When you’re producing, you’re a part of it, you’re not waiting for the phone call,” he says. “When you’re on the outside, you really can’t help to the extent you can help when you’re on the inside — say, giving script notes or actor recommendations.”

On a more extreme level, some managers are working outside the traditional studio and network system and financing their clients’ projects.

When HBO was not interested in making a one-hour comedy special for up-and-coming comedian Katt Williams (the now-traditional route to comedy glory), Michael Green of the Collective “took the bull by the horn,” as Green says, and financed and shot his own Williams special.

Williams and the Collective are in effect partners on the show — “The Pimp Chronicles, Pt. 1” — which HBO licensed and aired, drawing 8 million viewers. The show was released on DVD through the Collective’s distribution deal with Vivendi Universal and sold more than 400,000 units. Williams’ follow-up, “American Hustle: The Movie,” was similarly produced and will air on Comedy Central in January.

Parallel Entertainment’s J.P. Williams, who represents the Blue Collar Comedy Tour’s Jeff Foxworthy, Bill Engvall, Ron White and Larry the Cable Guy, financed all of the production and P&A on the feature film “Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector.” He covered the production costs on “Delta Farce” and the upcoming “Witless Protection.”

Those films were released by Lionsgate, but Williams provides his own distribution pipeline for clients’ comedy CDs via Jack Records, a venture with Warner Bros. Records.

Williams is the first to admit his entrepreneurship was born out of necessity, the result of representing comedians who were not obvious Hollywood sells.

“We didn’t have Sony saying, ‘Hey, we’ve got this great script, we’d love Larry the Cable Guy to make it,’ ” Williams explains. “That was not happening, so I had to create my own opportunity.”

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