The consolidation of WMA and Endeavor began in earnest Monday as WMA execs informed more than 100 agents and other staffers that they would be let go as of May 31.
Endeavor also let go about eight to 10 staffers. Reps for both agencies declined comment.
The layoffs came on the same day WMA and Endeavor got the go-ahead from the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Dept. to proceed with the deal to combine as WME Entertainment. The sides are still awaiting a final signoff from state labor commissioners in New York and California through their authority as the regulators of tenpercenteries.
Insiders said WMA staffers began getting the calls early Monday, starting in WMA’s New York office. Among the senior execs let go was Wayne Kabak, co-chief operating officer of the New York office.
Staffers were told they would be formally terminated May 31 and would be allowed the use of their office and assistants through the end of the month.
Amid the moving and shaking within, other pieces of the post-merger fallout began to settle. Aaron Kaplan, exec veep and head of scripted TV programming, has let it be known he intends to ankle to start a management-production company.
Mark Itkin, head of WMA’s prosperous nonscripted TV department, had been a wildcard in the post-merger scenario. There’d been much speculation about him jumping ship to CAA or another rival, but indications are now that he will stay on with WME.
The timing of the layoffs news hit many senior WMA staffers by surprise. There’s been a groundswell of anger internally at WMA about how the merger process has been handled, and that anger reached the boiling point for some Monday as they learned the layoffs were coming down. The mood in the halls ranged from angry to melancholy to determined to move on to greener pastures. One longtime exec cited “finding my assistant a job” as her top short-term priority.
It’s understood WMA and Endeavor execs have been poring over staff lists since the merger was approved by both agencies’ boards on April 27. It’s believed the end goal is to whittle WMA’s roughly 800 employees and Endeavor’s roughly 275 employees down to under 1,000 total staffers for the combined entity.
As numerous as Monday’s layoffs were, there had been early speculation that the merger could result is as many as 200 or more WMA and Endeavor staffers facing pinkslips.
For WMA’s TV agents, the timing couldn’t be worse as it fell on the first day of the network upfront presentations in New York, just as tenpercenters are in the thick of cutting deals for writers and other talent to join new and returning skeins. On the film side, the timing was also touchy thanks to the distraction of the ongoing Cannes Film Festival.
One question not resolved Monday is the fate of WMA and Endeavor’s indie film finance operations. William Morris Independent and Endeavor’s finance reps are on the ground in Cannes actively doing biz.
The layoffs have hit also WMA’s TV department hard because TV, particularly TV lit, is one of Endeavor’s strongest divisions.
Among the high-profile WMA TV reps with prominent client lists who were notified Monday: Erwin More, TV scripted packaging head Lanny Noveck, Renee Kurtz and Alan Rautbort. Biz observers said there was little doubt that rival shingles would move swiftly to recruit some of the WMA alums. Susan Brooks, WMA’s longtime head of TV biz affairs, was also among the departures.
Among the dozens of other agents pinkslipped Monday were motion pic vet Alan Gasmer, Joanne Wiles, commercials agent Brian Dubin and personal appearances rep Betsy Berg.
(John Eggerton of Daily Variety sister publication Broadcasting & Cable contributed to this report.)