William Morris Endeavor merger makes Hollywood history

After months of speculation, William Morris Agency and Endeavor have announced their merger—a union that makes Hollywood history. Together, the century-old talent agency and the young, boutique upstart will become a formidable competitor with Creative Artists Agency (CAA), the dominant tenpercentery in Hollywood for over 20 years. The change signifies a momentous shift in the talent representation business as two houses in Hollywood battle it out for greater power. Which in Hollywood means profits.

The agencies are perfect complements: WMA is strong in television and music; Endeavor reps a chunk of A-list actors, writers and directors. 

But the merger didn’t come without a shake-up. To even out the disparity between WMA’s 300 agents and Endeavor’s 80, WMA is expected to layoff a heap of agents in coming months. And then there’s the inevitable agent/client shifting: WMA’s David Lonner, who represents J.J. Abrams (“Lost” and “Star Trek”) and organizes trips to Israel for Hollywood heavyweights, has said he will not move into the new agency. And although many expected Endeavor’s Ari Emanuel to run the show, WMA’s Jim Wiatt will take the title of Chairman with Emanuel serving as CEO along with WMA’s Dave Wirtschafter and Endeavor’s Patrick Whitesell.

Read more in Variety:

The combination of the 111-year-old WMA and 14-year-old Endeavor will create a mega-agency whose assets extend into virtually every aspect of the entertainment and media biz, with annual revenues estimated at $325 million. The tie-up, which is still subject to government approvals, also creates the largest competitor to CAA since that agency solidified its position as Hollywood’s dominant tenpercentery more than two decades ago.

Leading WME Entertainment will be WMA chief exec Jim Wiatt as chairman, while Endeavor toppers Ari Emanuel and Patrick Whitesell and WMA prexy Dave Wirtschafter will serve as co-CEOs.

Deal is expected to close within a few weeks, though it still requires approval from labor officials in California and New York, and it may face an antitrust review by the Justice Dept.

In addition to the challenges that all tenpercenteries are confronting at a time of great change in the entertainment biz, WME’s leaders will undoubtedly face a formidable task in achieving harmony between the wildly different cultures and backgrounds of the two agencies.

WME will be governed by a nine-member board of directors that includes five from the WMA camp (Wiatt, Wirtschafter, publishing head Jennifer Rudolph Walsh, music department chief Peter Grosslight and motion picture lit department head John Fogelman) and four from Endeavor (Emanuel; Whitesell; Rick Rosen, who will run the combined agency’s TV department; and Adam Venit).

The merger, for which William Morris and Endeavor had been in on-again, off-again talks for nearly a year, was driven by the fact that each agency has assets the other coveted.

WMA has a steady cash flow base primed by its lucrative music and touring department, which by itself generates an estimated $80 million annually; the legacy profits from decades of rich TV packaging fees on shows ranging from “The Andy Griffith Show” and “The Dick Van Dyke Show” to later hits like “The Cosby Show,” “Roseanne” and “Everybody Loves Raymond”; and its strong nonscripted-TV department, which rakes in fees on enduring hits including “Dancing With the Stars,” “The Biggest Loser” and “Live With Regis and Kelly.”

WMA also has the international presence that Endeavor lacks, with operations in London, Nashville, Miami and Shanghai.

Endeavor brings an aggressive team of agents and the stronger client base among film and TV actors, writers, directors and producers. As one WMA vet observed: “William Morris is cash-rich; Endeavor is client-rich. They need each other.”