Q&A: Sam Haskell

WMA's former worldwide head of TV discusses the agency's merger with Endeavor

WMA, Endeavor agree to merger

In 1978, Sam Haskell moved to Hollywood from his native Mississippi and landed in the WMA mailroom. In 26 years, he rose to worldwide head of television before retiring in 2004. Haskell devotes much of his new book, "Promises I Made My Mother," to his Southern upbringing and how it helped him in the business. But he also discusses for the first time his abrupt departure from WMA, including his falling out with agency topper Jim Wiatt.

The Hollywood Reporter: A lot of people in Hollywood were afraid that you would write a tell-all book. Were you tempted to do that?

Sam Haskell: No, that's just not who I am. I do tell some stories in there that have humor and some are very poignant, some I think will surprise some people, but I never intended to do a tell-all.

THR: What effect has your departure had on you personally and professionally?

Haskell: Had I not been free at the time that Hurricane Katrina hit the Mississippi Gulf Coast in the fall of 2005, I would have never been able to put that big "Mississippi Rising" television special together through my friend (NBC Universal president and CEO) Jeff Zucker giving me the three hours on MSNBC -- we raised $30 million. And professionally, I'm still a lot of people's secret agent because I still have a lot of former clients who call me and ask me for my opinion on their scripts and what they're doing. I still read the trades every day and I still talk to all my friends who are in the business. Several top executives who have changed jobs midstream told me when I left, "Don't be surprised: You're gonna lose your friends and lose your table at your favorite restaurant." I'm so proud to say I have not lost one single friend or one single well-placed table at a restaurant.

THR: In the book, you don't spare harsh words for Jim Wiatt.

Haskell: I think I was probably a lot nicer than most people thought I should be. I wrote that chapter eight different times, and it was a real enigma for me because I went from thinking I should tell nothing to I should tell it all to I should tell just enough, and I think I told just enough to put people in the room so they'd understand what I was going through. Jim was a real enigma for me, and I really love that word because I think it explains it better than anything. I just think I was in his way in many ways when I look at it very realistically. I had a definite philosophy on how I thought people should be treated, a definite philosophy on how I thought the company should be run, how our agents should be encouraged through motivational forces and not fear. We just had two different ways of doing business, and I just couldn't live with it anymore.

THR: What do you think of the way WMA was run after you left?

Haskell: I'm not there, so all I can do is respond to what people say or what I read in the trades. I think (the merger with Endeavor) will be great for both of them.

THR: What are your thoughts on the merger?

Haskell: I think that Ari Emanuel at Endeavor and Jim Wiatt at William Morris both need something the other one has. In this economic landscape, to combine forces I think is very smart.

THR: What about the agency business overall? Where is it headed?

Haskell: The agency business is always going to be a good business. It really comes down to how much business there is. When business is booming, it can support a lot of agencies doing their thing, but in this particular economic climate, on the tail of a writers strike and the SAG situation -- I think is probably going to work out but still hasn't worked out -- people are nervous. I think to consolidate is the only wise thing to do. I think Sam Gores at Paradigm has done a wonderful job of bringing in a lot of smaller agencies to build up his forces there, and I think the WMA-Endeavor merger is an excellent idea. CAA is this monolithic, all-powerful agency, and for others to have a chance to compete, they're going to have to consolidate.

THR: In the book you say "I loved William Morris" in past tense. What are your feelings toward the agency now?

Haskell: How can I not love this company that gave me such great opportunity in my life to not only take good care of my family but to also do good things for so many people. Just because I had a problem with a couple of the people there doesn't mean I don't love the agency.

THR: Any chance for you to return to Hollywood full time?

Haskell: I never say never. I am thinking about a political career in my home state of Mississippi, and I've got to get back there to establish my residency, but if some great offer came through, I'll always consider it.
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