Broadway’s “Funny Girl” Fiasco’s Conflicted Agent

You can be forgiven if you haven’t followed the massive Broadway crack-up saga of the “Funny Girl” revival; after all, Broadway is an elite, increasingly culturally irrelevant dinosaur where 80% of those on stage are gay, 90% of those in those in audience can afford hundred dollar tickets, and half of the shows first premiered when Joe Biden was in braces. You can be excused even more if you missed the massive ethics scandal at the crack-up’s core; after all, most theater reporters have no ethics alarms, just like most theater professionals. Still, to quote a character in an ancient Broadway classic that had an significant ethical impact, “Attention must be paid.”

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Lunch Time Ethics Appetizer, 4/17/2019: Accountability, Conflicts of Interest, Incivility, Hype And Privilege

It’s a real ethics poop-poop platter…

1. Red Sox lousy start ethics. Boston Red Sox starting ace Chris Sale, widely regarded as one of the top two or three pitchers in baseball who signed a rich multi-year extension with the team right before the season began, lost his fourth straight start yesterday to begin the season. He told reporters, “This is flat-out embarrassing. For my family, for our team, for our fans. This is about as bad as it gets. Like I said, I have to pitch better…It sucks. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. I just flat-out stink right now.”

2. The Hollywood writers vs agents mess. I haven’t posted on this because I can’t find a copy of the controversial “Code of Conduct” that the agents refuse to sign. I also need to bone up on  the agency laws in New York and California. This article is a good summary of the show-down. Regarding the question of conflicts of interest in the practice of “packaging” and agents going into the production business, , however, it seems clear that the writers have the better arguments. From the article:

Packaging is a decades-old practice under which agencies may team writers with other clients from their stables for a given project. With packaging fees, an agent forgoes the usual 10 percent commission fee paid to them by individual clients; in its place, they are paid directly by the studio….The writers argue that agencies violate their fiduciary obligations to their clients when they make money from studios instead of from the people they are representing. The practice of accepting packaging fees, the writers say, allows the agencies to enrich themselves at the writers’ expense when they should be using their leverage to get more money for writer-clients.

Any time an agent gets paid by the party the agent is supposed to be negotiating with, that’s a textbook conflict. I’m amazed the agents have been getting away with this practice for so long. As for the production deals…

There are agency-affiliated companies that have moved into the production business — and this does not sit well with the writers unions. W.M.E., for instance, has an affiliate company called Endeavor Content. It was formed in 2017 and is a distributor of the show “Killing Eve,” as well as a producer of an epic drama coming from Apple TV Plus called “See.” C.A.A. also has an affiliate: Wiip. It is a producer of “Dickinson,” a comedy series that is also part of the Apple rollout scheduled for the fall. United Talent Agency is also getting in on production, with an affiliate called Civic Center Media. It has teamed up with M.R.C., the producer of “House of Cards,” to make new shows.

The agencies have argued that these affiliates are artist-friendly studios that will help writers, because they add to the number of potential buyers — which means more competition for writers’ services and bigger paychecks. The writers have said that agencies have a conflict of interest when they act as studios. How, they ask, can an agent represent you and also be your boss?

Bingo. The short and easy answer is “They can’t.”

Stay tuned… Continue reading

Business Ethics: Searching For An Effective Way To Show Contempt, And Failing Miserably

"You got a complaint?"

“You got a complaint?”

After yesterday’s excursion, I am adding Gold’s Gym to the long list of companies I will no longer patronize come Hell or high water. As my Dad used to say (he died exactly four years ago today, on my birthday, which I suspect may have been just another in a long line of his black humor pranks), “That and twenty cents will get you a ride on the MTA.”

Gold’s Gym screwed me in one of those little ways that doesn’t matter much in any one case, but that multiplied by thousands probably pays for some nice bonuses. I don’t appreciate this, and there should be a some way to make it stop, or at least hurt the company a little.  As with so many other unethical business practices, however, by other companies large and small, there isn’t, which is why those practices persist. And the fact that they are just scrimey, petty, unfair and wrong apparently isn’t that enough to make cause an executive somewhere in the chain of command who was raised right to just say, “Wait—this makes our company look like a used car lot.  Where’s our integrity?”  I suspect it’s because when such an executive does this, his boss says, “Integrity is nice, Bill, but that little trick pays for your raise.” To which Bill answers, “Oh. Never mind.” Continue reading

The Unethical Ploy Of The Blameless, Powerless Agent

It happened again.

Do you ever feel like Jerry when they didn't have his rental car?

Do you ever feel like Jerry when they didn’t have his rental car?

I am always friendly, respectful, kind and generous to people behind desks, windows and counters, unless they engage in a particular kind of conduct that is guaranteed to cause me to be confrontational and critical, and that almost always leaves me feeling simultaneously guilty and infuriated. This is when an agent of a service provider announces, almost always with a smile, that the organization/company/government agency will not be able to do what it has assured me, often for a price, that it would do, or is not able to do it at an acceptable level of quality, or perhaps in the promised time frame. The agent helpfully tells me that I am stuck with the  inferior product or service I bargained for and relied upon, and that yes, it shouldn’t be this way, but it is, so there.

Then, when I express some dissatisfaction with that result, explanation, and most important of all, the absence of any guaranty that I will be compensated or that the organization, while acknowledging its failure, has given any thought to compensating those like me or executing some response in time for my problem to be, if not solved, mitigated, the agent pathetically points out that he or she is just a humble and powerless messenger and that it is cruel of me to persist in expressing my dissatisfaction to him or her, since the agent is neither responsible for the problem nor has any power to fix it.

This is where I lose it.

And it happened again.

My wife and I paid close to $1500 ( in fees only, transportation and lodging not included) for the privilege of attending a national conference of a professional association to which we belong. When we arrived at the site hotel to register and pick up our credentials, badges, tickets and materials, shortly before the opening reception, we were told by a cheery, smiling woman that our name and convention materials were not there. “But we paid for them, and pre-registered,” my wife said. “I got a confirmation. We were told in an e-mail response that the materials for events and programs we designated would be waiting for us here.”

“Ah, then you must have registered on-line after Wednesday,” she told, us smiling. “Unfortunately, we were already here by then, and there was no way for us to make out your package! And you don’t have one of our formal, printed, professional badges that make you look like the member you are, but I’m happy to give you a crappy sharpie so you can scratch out a couple and look like you snuck in instead of paying 1500 buck for the privilege. Isn’t that good enough?” (She didn’t quite say it that way, but that was the gist of it.)

“Well, no, actually, it’s not,” I said.  “Your confirmation said that everything would be ready for us here. It isn’t ready.”

“That was just an automatic response, sir.”

THERE it is! “Don’t blame the owners and programmers of the computer, sir—it’s Skynet’s fault!”  Do not tell me that. Ever. Continue reading

“The Good Wife” Ethics, Season #2: Alicia, Kalinda, and Pretexting

The acclaimed CBS series “The Good Wife” premiered last night, with an episode called “Taking Control.” The title is ironic in one respect. Because the legal profession regards lawyers as being in control of the non-legal staff that works for them, good wife and whiz-bang attorney Alicia Florrick (played by Juliana Margulies) violated one of the most important legal ethics rules in the very first episode. This was far from unrealistic, however. Her ethical breach is not only a common one, but also one that many lawyers are careless about. It is also unethical conduct that the public assumes is standard practice for lawyers…because movies and TV shows make it seem that way. Continue reading