Last month, members of the Writers Guild fired their agents en masse, after agencies refused to do away with packaging fees. Those fees--which agencies collect directly from studios when they represent one or more of the key elements on a show--have made the agencies bags of money. But the writers say their pay has suffered as a result.
The WGA recently filed suit against the four biggest agencies--WME, CAA, UTA and ICM--arguing that packaging fees are a conflict of interest.
Now, with TV staffing season well underway, we invited two showrunners--Mike Royce and Valentina Garza--to tell us how they are managing at an unprecedented time in the business.
Royce has been a showrunner on series including ‘Everybody Loves Raymond,’ ‘Men of a Certain Age,’ and the Netflix ‘One Day at a Time’ reboot and this year, was working on a pilot for CBS. Garza wrote for ‘The Simpsons’ for six years and then ‘Jane the Virgin.’ A few days after we talked, the CW passed on her ‘Jane the Virgin’ spin-off, ‘Jane the Novela,’ and then CBS passed on Royce’s pilot. Alas, so it goes.
Both Royce and Garza lived through the last huge Writers Guild battle. This is different.
“The town stopped during the ‘07 strike, and that’s not the case now,” Garza said. “I feel like staffing season has been a real feeding frenzy. And so, it hasn’t stopped, it’s rather accelerated.”
Royce said normally this time of year he’d be getting long lists of upwards of 30 writers from agents. Instead, this year, both he and Garza have been getting much more targeted recommendations from managers and fellow writers. They’ve also both been using the online staffing portal set up by the WGA, where showrunners can post what they’re looking for, and writers can submit cover letters and script samples. They’ve also been searching #WGAStaffingBoost on Twitter.
They both agree that they’re having to push themselves to find writers that are a good fit, but say that’s something showrunners should be doing anyway. And as Royce points out, in earlier years, he’s had to push agents to find Latinx or women or LGBTQ writers for his series ‘One Day at a Time.’
The idea that agents are indispensable in this context and the writers can’t do it without them, is not one Royce agrees with. “Someone’s going to find a way to get to you,” he said. “It may not be the most perfect way and there’ll be mistakes and access will be altered. But, should I quote Jurassic Park? Life finds a way.”
We reached out to the Association of Talent Agents to see if they’d send a representative to talk to us. Our invitation was declined, though host Kim Masters
raised some of the positions with our guests that top agents have shared with her in off-the-record-conversations.
Listen to the whole conversation to hear Garza and Royce weigh in on the supposed transparency of packaging fees and the emotional element of firing their agents. And Royce also fills us in on the status of his cancelled Netflix sitcom ‘One Day at a Time’--he says there’s still hope it could live on elsewhere. Plus we find out that Garza, who’s Cuban-American and grew up in Echo Park, has a special connection to that show.