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David Simon Rips Hollywood Agencies Over Packaging: ‘It Is Theft. It Is Fraud’

David Simon is urging the Writers Guild of America to file a lawsuit against the four biggest Hollywood talent agencies and the Association of Talent Agents over the practice of packaging.

“I’m for filing a civil suit against the ATA and the Big Four for an overt and organized breach of fiduciary duty in which they have effectively pretended to represent clients while taking bribes from studios to keep those clients’ salaries and benefits lowered across the board,” he said in a lengthy blog post.

“Looking not merely at civil law, but at the federal statutes against extortion and bribery, a curious and ambitious U.S. Attorney might enjoy a deeper dive into the realm of racketeering, because for the life of me, I can’t see a difference between packaging and any prosecutable case of bid-rigging or bribery I ever covered as a reporter in federal or state courts.”

Simon is a member of the WGA East Council. He alleged in the blistering post that the 1990 sale of his book “Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets” was packaged by CAA without his knowledge or consent, which led to CAA representing both sides of the sale in what he called an “overt and untenable conflict-of-interest.”

The book became the basis of the 1993-99 NBC series “Homicide: Life on the Street,” on which Simon was a producer and writer. He went on to create “The Wire,” “Treme,” and “The Deuce.”

His post comes a week after the WGA issued a report called “no conflict, no interest,” accusing the top four Hollywood talent agencies — CAA, WME, UTA, and ICM Partners — of extensive and illegal conflicts of interest. The report contains a cloaked threat of the WGA filing a lawsuit against the agencies by invoking the 1962 antitrust suit by the U.S. Department of Justice, which forced MCA to get out of the agency business after a decade of acting as both a producer and an agency.

Ellen Stutzman, the WGA West’s assistant executive director, said at a news conference on March 12, “CAA, WME, and UTA are positioning themselves to become the next MCA,” but refused to elaborate when asked if she meant a lawsuit is in the offing or if the WGA is seeking intervention from the federal or state government.

The WGA and the ATA have made little progress in negotiations to revamp the 43-year-old rules governing how agents represent writers and face an April 7 deadline to reach a deal. The WGA has said it will require its members to fire their agents if they have not agreed to a “code of conduct,” which eliminates agency packaging fees and ownership in production companies. In packaging, an agency forgoes commissioning the client and receives a fee from the television studio.

Agencies have defended packaging as a means of creating employment and calculated that writers would have lost at least $49 million annually had they had pay commissions on packaged shows.

“Packaging is a lie,” Simon said in the post. “It is theft. It is fraud. In the hands of the right U.S. attorney, it might even be prima facie evidence of decades of racketeering.”

The WGA has already posted dozens of anecdotes recounting alleged abuses in packaging, but those have come from unnamed members.

Simon concluded his post by saying he would support riding around Bel Air, Westwood, and Santa Monica in a rental car and slashing agents’ car tires.

“I’ve got that much contempt for this level of organized theft and for the tone-deaf defense of it by the ATA,” he added. “But that’s me as an ex-reporter and a showrunner and a generally pissed-off writer talking. That guy is all in. As a WGAE council member, I’ll eschew the vandalism and listen to the members and support the will of the union as a whole. I just hope, after all these years of being robbed, that my colleagues are as united and as angry as they ought to be.”

The Hollywood agencies and the WGA made little progress in a Monday meeting — the fifth since Feb. 5. The WGA said talks would resume later this week, but did not offer a specific day.

Karen Stuart, executive director of the ATA, opened Monday’s session by referring to the March 12 “statement of choice” that emphasized that writer clients get to decide whether they want to work on a packaged show and that they have the choice to work with an “affiliated entity.”

She said agents were frustrated by the lack of specific response from the WGA. Stuart also expressed frustration over the WGA’s seeming unresponsiveness as the April 6 deadline approaches.

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