During television's early years, talent agencies sometimes directly produced television programs. Years later, with the demise of the studio system, talent agencies once again became critical packagers of talent and now wield considerable power in a town where power and agentry are synonymous.
Agents are constantly on the phone, putting deals together and keeping them from falling apart. They manage talent (writers, directors, and actors) and see to it that talent agrees to work with other talent.
Agents typically start their careers in an agency's mailroom, often at William Morris, America's oldest agency. Though I first interviewed Jeremy Zimmer, Bill Haber, Jay Bernstein, and Ray Solley when they were working elsewhere, by coincidence, all of them had worked at William Morris at one time or another, and two started out in the William Morris mailroom. Zimmer explains why the mailroom is a smart place to put a fledgling agent:
The only true commodity that an agent and his agency sells is information. You're a purveyor of talent. The talent needs you for your information about the activities of the marketplace. By starting in the nerve center of the mailroom you learn the importance of the commodity of information.
In the interview, Zimmer is often brash and outspoken. Bill Haber, diplomatic and cautious, couldn't be more different. Haber cofounded Creative Artists Agency (CAA) in 1975 and headed CAA's television department when we spoke.
Around the time Haber was starting CAA, Jeremy Zimmer was a young man, on his way to becoming a parking lot mogul before an altercation in the lot left him with a knife in his chest. He stopped parking cars but couldn't get another job until his grandfather, Dore Schary, once the head of MGM, set him up to work in William Morris' mailroom. Zimmer would later join the industry's largest agency, International Creative Management (ICM), and then cofound United Talent Agency (UTA).