Chris Keyser, a key negotiator in the Writers Guild of America’s battle against talent agencies over packaging fees and affiliated studios, continues to remain an active developer during the negotiations with the Association of Talent Agencies.
Keyser, who has been shopping a pitch with WME’s affiliate production company, now has a second TV project with a packaging fee attached — this time, from CAA. Sources tell The Hollywood Reporter that a scripted drama based on the life of famed chef Julia Child — with Keyser attached to exec produce and supervise — is near a deal for a pilot order at HBO Max. Joan Cusack (Toy Story, Shameless, What About Joan) is near a deal to star as Child.
Keyser will exec produce the series and supervise writer Daniel Goldfarb (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Tyrant). The drama hails from Lionsgate TV and 3 Arts, the management company the studio acquired majority control of last summer. The Julia Child series is a CAA package, which was set up in late 2018 ahead of the WGA’s new Code of Conduct. The project was put together in November and taken out recently by Lionsgate once Goldfarb’s script was completed. Sources say Keyser learned of CAA attaching a packaging fee to the Julia Child project once HBO Max expressed interest in the show.
The Julia Child show is produced by a traditional studio (Lionsgate TV), unlike The State of Affairs, the drama that Keyser is shopping via Endeavor Content and Chernin Entertainment. That project, which remains in development, was set up more than a year ago — and before the writers battle with agencies over affiliate studios (like Endeavor Content and CAA-based Wiip) and packaging fees (as is the case on both projects). Sources say The State of Affairs — a drama written and exec produced by Keyser and based on Esther Perel’s book about relationships and infidelity — is likely to land a script order at Apple.
Still, the timing of both projects circulating in the marketplace is not great for Keyser, who was based at CAA before opting to fire his agents in April when the WGA terminated its 43-year-old agreement with the ATA. It’s also worth noting that Keyser is not violating any guild rules as writers can continue to pitch new projects so long as their fired agents — any who have not signed the WGA’s new Code of Conduct — are not involved.
At the center of the ongoing battle between the Writers Guild and ATA are fees agencies receive for packaging clients on TV series and films — which Keyser is doing on both The State of Affairs and with the Julia Child show — and affiliate studio productions (true for the former) in which agencies become the studios on their packages.
Keyser defended the packaging on The State of Affairs in a statement when the drama was first being taken out to potential buyers amid meetings between the WGA and ATA: “This [existence of affiliate production entities] is in no way antithetical to the goals of the agency campaign, which is entirely focused on eliminating the conflicted practices of the agencies themselves,” he wrote. “In the case of WME, CAA and UTA that means disentangling them from their studios, but not eliminating the studios or decreasing their business. Remember, in 1962, MCA, the agency, went away, but Universal Studios remained. So, even if I could have anticipated this question, back when I made my deal, it would have raised no legal or ethical issues. No one is being asked or expected as some sort of gesture — to walk away from work at an affiliated studio. Our sole obligation in this struggle is to abide by [Working Rule] 23 and fire our agencies until they resolve their conflicted practices. That we have all done as a united Guild.”
Keyser has been the face of the guild’s effort to end packaging fees and affiliated studios. He recorded a 16-minute video to WGA members blasting the agencies’ practices of profiting from packaging fees and affiliate studio productions. “[The agencies] have shown that their loyalty is not to us [the writers] but to a system of compensation,” he said in the May 1 clip. (Read that transcript here.) Keyser next has the rebooted immigration-themed Party of Five due at Freeform and season two of Netflix’s YA drama The Society, on which he serves as showrunner.
The Julia Child drama is the latest order at HBO Max, which continues to build its pilot slate. It joins Practical Magic prequel Rules of Magic, John Wells-produced Red Bird Lane and Lena Dunham dramedy Generation, starring Martha Plimpton. HBO Max’s scripted series slate includes Ansel Elgort’s Tokyo Vice, Cristin Milioti comedy Made for Love, Paul Feig anthology Love Life, starring Anna Kendrick, and a Gremlins animated series, among others.
3:34 p.m.: This story has been updated to remove David Hyde Pierce, who has no involvement with the project.