Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Michelle Williams Needs a Better Agent

I read the story early Wednesday morning.  Robin Roberts interviewed an entertainment editor about it during GOOD MORNING AMERICA.  It was a major story on the ABC Evening News with David Muir.  Because of the Kevin Spacey scandal, reshoots had to be done on the movie ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD.  Spacey's role was reshot with Christopher Plummer.  Two stars had to reshoot scenes.  The stars are muscular Mark Wahlberg and the strong actress Michelle Williams.  Reportedly, he got $1.5 million for his reshoots.  She got $1000.  This news comes on the heels of the TIME'S UP movement getting underway.  It shoots down sexual harassment, pay inequality based on gender and the imbalance of power in the workplace.  Here's one thing that really irks me about that report:  The two stars are represented by the same agency.  Michelle Williams -- girl, I know how you must feel.  I have been there to a lesser degree.  YOU are a 4-time Oscar nominee.
I have a couple of questions about this situation.  First, here's how I can relate to the news about Michelle Williams' low fee.  This came after we read that a female anchor on E! was not getting nearly what her male co-anchor got ... and Hoda Kotb is getting nowhere near what Matt Lauer got.  Michelle Williams has a wonderful reputation as a committed actress, a team player and a very gracious person.
Back in the early 1990s, after my three years on VH1, I was contacted by WNBC local news to be a regular on a new weekend morning news show that was soon to launch.  I was told I'd be doing entertainment interviews, film reviews in the studio and some lifestyle pieces.  This appealed to me.  I wanted to break through the color barrier of black folks never being seen as weekly film reviewers on news programs.  I took the job.  It wasn't big money but I was eager to continue the kind of entertainment interviews I'd done on VH1, the kind that some of the SNL folks upstairs from us had seen me do.  Well, the day before the show premiered, my duties were abruptly changed for no good reason.  I would not be doing film reviews or entertainment interviews in the studio. I'd be outside covering local community events.  My feelings were injured.  To add insult to injury, white producer said that she was sure I had "the skills" to cover entertainment.  She had never, ever looked at my VH1 demo reel.
 I called my broadcast agent and told him about this mess.  He sheepishly asked if I could take care of it myself.  Why?  He did not want to rile my WNBC local news boss who was also Matt Lauer's boss.  Matt was a new local anchor who was on the brink of making a big leap up to TODAY.  My agent -- soon to be my ex-agent -- also represented Matt Lauer.

I did push to do some entertainment interviews.  In the show's second month, I got Madonna to talk to me.  After that, I still had to do community events.  My goal was to move up to being an entertainment features contributor for the weekend network edition of TODAY.  I started in September 1992 and quit in January 1995 when I was told my work was excellent and I was popular with viewers but I'd never move up to full time employment and I'd never get network exposure.  Matt Lauer was network by then.  I gave notice.

Jump to the year 2000.  Two print columnists told me that ABC News was seeking a film reviewer/historian for a new live weekday hour-long show it was producing on Lifetime TV.  I aggressively pushed to get an audition.  I had to be aggressive because ABC News producers didn't think I knew anything about films.  One admitted that I was seen as a local funny "man-on-the-street" guy.

I auditioned and I got the job. I'd do an 8-minute segment every Friday which I'd write myself and I'd write reviews for the website.  I had a title -- "Entertainment Editor."  I was reviewing two new films a week, one DVD release, and spotlighting Women in Film history by recommending a classic film with a strong female lead performance.  That was my idea.
The pay was $500 a week.  The broadcast agent I had at that time was shocked to hear what ABC was offering.  "You should be getting $1500 a week for that!"  I told him who to call to negotiate.

He could not get me one penny more.  But you know what? I absolutely LOVED that job.  Films are my passion.  Also, I was doing something I never saw black people do on network TV when I was growing up -- film reviews. I hoped I'd be making an impression on network execs.

As for the pay, ironically my agent took 10 per cent of my weekly pay, as he was allowed to do per SAG-AFTRA union rules, for attempting to get me more money.  Some agents would've just passed because the pay was low.  Not this guy.  He also became my ex-agent.  There I was, talent for ABC News on a live national show every week doing something African-Americans never got to do every week on a network news program.. and I was taking home $330 a week.  After my agent took his cut.

My questions --- if you're an entertainment news reporter looking for a story -- are these:  What's the deal with agencies not taking care of their clients as well as they should?  The other question -- is the pay inequality in Hollywood and TV wider among performers who are people of color than it is for white talent?  Just wondering.

I have had national TV talent jobs since 1999.  The ABC News/Lifetime TV job was one, hosting a Food Network show that ran every week for six years is another and I worked with Whoopi Goldberg on her national weekday morning radio show that ran from 2006 to 2008.  The highest annual income I made for a national broadcast job from 1999 to now --- was $55,000.  By the way, my job on Whoopi's show started at $500 a week.  For a national show.

I bet white performers like Billy Bush, Mo Rocca and Carson Kressley made more -- and had better agents.

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