Gavin Polone was an agent before becoming the producer of TV shows including The Gilmore Girls and Jane by Design, so he knows a few things about the agency business. Rarely shy about speaking his mind, Polone recently wrote an essay in the Hollywood Reporter about the agencies' long-standing practice of charging what is called package fees for almost every new show that gets on television. With the provocative headline "TV's Dirty Secret: Your Agent Gets Money for Nothing," the article explained how the fees work and argued that they are bad for everyone--except the agents who collect them.
We sat down with Polone, as well as Emmy-nominated writer-producer Rob Long, who concurs that few in his position understand why package fees can be bad for them and their shows. Long's credits include several seasons on the NBC hit show Cheers, and he's also the voice of the KCRW commentary, Martini Shot.
Polone kicked off our conversation by explaining how a writer might think package fees look like a good deal, but over time, especially if a show is successful, a writer may end up losing more and more of their show's budget to package fees. In decades gone by, agencies were rewarded for bringing together different elements of a TV show--combining writers, producers and actors on a project that they would take to a studio and a network. Today, agencies demand a package fee even if they had nothing to do with assembling those elements.
Polone and Long both argue that many writers don't grasp the impact of allowing their agents to collect those fees, and they're hardly alone in their ignorance--sometimes even the agents don't understand how the fees work. However, it's a tricky system to stop because no writer wants to be without an agent, and no studio wants to lose business. If enough studios and high profile writers wanted to make a stand against the fees, change could come, but it would take an organized effort that doesn't appear to be materializing any time soon.