Emmy-Winning Writers Leave Agents Out of Speeches Amid Packaging War

Craig Mazin accepts the Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series, Movie, or Dramatic Special award for 'Chernobyl' - Getty - H 2019
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

The biggest change during Sunday's 71st annual Primetime Emmys was the one that went largely unheard as few of the writers who took the stage to deliver an acceptance speech thanked their agencies or representatives.

Six months into the standoff between writers and their agents, the feud over packaging fees and affiliated studios was not directly addressed during Fox's Emmy telecast as winners including Craig Mazin — a former WGA vp candidate who has been outspoken on the matter — stuck to their preplanned thank-yous. The only time a writer thanked an agency or agent by name came when Phoebe Waller-Bridge thanked her "agents at UTA" while accepting the Emmy for best comedy series.

Waller-Bridge was the first writer to take the stage on the night, accepting her first-ever Emmy for writing Amazon's Fleabag. She used that speech — one of three she would make Sunday — to thank Fleabag's cast and crew and did not mention her agent/agency. Waller-Bridge returned to the stage moments later to collect her lead comedy actress Emmy and thanked her "acting" agents, a distinction she was careful to make.

Mazin, accepting for writing for a limited series for HBO's Chernobyl, also made no acknowledgement of his former agency and singled out the cast and executives in his speech before dedicating his Emmy to those who perished in the titular 1986 disaster. Mazin has been outspoken in supporting the WGA in the ongoing battle with Hollywood agencies. When Mazin returned to the stage shortly afterward to accept the award for best limited series, he focused his remarks not on the WGA-ATA battle but on the value of truth-telling through television with shows including his and Netflix's When They See Us.   

The only mention of the WGA backstage on Sunday came when Mazin was asked to give advice to WGA president David Goodman following his re-election: "Listen to all the members, do the best you can, and see if you can’t patch this whole thing up. And we’ll see how it goes."

Annabel Jones and Charlie Booker, accepting the Emmy for best TV movie/mini (for Neflix's Black Mirror: Bandersnatch), also did not name-check anyone from their former agencies. When Jesse Armstrong collected his first Emmy, for writing the HBO breakout Succession, he likewise skipped the WGA-ATA of it all. Drama series winners David Benioff and Dan Weiss stuck to thanking HBO and the cast and crew of Game of Thrones and didn't thank their former team at CAA.

Whether or not writers would thank their agents was a hot topic of conversation over Emmys weekend among the few agents who actually ventured out to the pre-ceremony festivities. Amid the standoff — which has now gone on more than six months, with no clear end in sight — all of the major agencies (WME, CAA, UTA, ICM Partners, Paradigm and Gersh) canceled their annual lavish parties.

At the center of the fight are packaging fees — the financial cuts that agencies take for pairing writers, directors and talent in lieu of client commissions — and affiliate production, where the agencies establish in-house studios that can bid on packages, making them both buyers and sellers. More than 7,000 writers have fired their agents as the WGA remains embroiled with the Association of Talent Agents over what the former believes is a conflict of interest.

The Emmys is the first major awards show to take place amid the standoff. It's worth noting that many writers remain close friends with their agents, who traditionally are among the first to be thanked from the Emmy podium.

Actors, meanwhile, had no problems thanking their agents, with supporting actress in a drama winner Julia Garner (Ozark) and drama actress winner Jodie Comer (Killing Eve) among those who gave shout-outs to their representatives.

Jean Bentley contributed reporting from backstage to this story.