Chervin Comes Out Swinging
A prosecutor-turned-TV agent moves up at ICM
By Ben Grossman -- Broadcasting & Cable, 10/1/2006 8:00:00 PM
Not much in Hollywood can rattle Ted Chervin. A trained boxer and former U.S. attorney who once indicted the head of Colombia's Cali drug cartel, Chervin didn't exactly take the typical path to becoming a television agent. But he is drawing on that unique background and a deep competitive streak in his new role as co-head of worldwide television at International Creative Management (ICM).
The grandson of a professional fighter, Chervin developed his hard-charging style as a kid in Bronxville, N.Y., where he grew up boxing and playing hockey. He applied the same intensity to his studies, attending Harvard Law School with thoughts of a political career.
But despite his interest in social justice, the prospect of getting bogged down in bureaucratic inaction and gratuitous mudslinging soured him on politics, and he focused on becoming a prosecutor.
Chervin spent a year clerking at the Manhattan federal courthouse before joining the United States Attorney's Office. He began working as a federal prosecutor on small drug cases but quickly took on several high-stakes cases, working with the FBI and Drug Enforcement Agency to pursue international cartels, mobs and other drug syndicates.
The rush of prosecuting such cases put him right back in the competitive arenas of the hockey rink and the boxing ring. “Running a federal criminal investigation is one of the most intense competitive challenges there is,” he says.
Much as he enjoyed “catching bad guys,” Chervin grew restless as he approached his 30th birthday. In 1993, he went to Los Angeles to see a TV-writer friend who was forever encouraging him to check out Hollywood. There, he met with Elliot Webb, an agent at Broder, Kurland, Webb, Uffner (BKWU). Although he had heard all the cautionary tales about town, Chervin was attracted by the opportunity to be an advisor while being close to the creative process.
With money borrowed from a friend, he moved across the country, rented a run-down apartment and took an entry-level job at BKWU, which had no mailroom or training program at the time. He did legal research work on weekends to pay the bills.
“Nobody could believe what I was doing,” Chervin says of his ex-colleagues in New York. “They were really shocked.”
Starting from scratch, he cobbled together a client list of three relatively unknown writers and directors: Bill Lawrence, Rob Greenberg and Pamela Fryman. Within the next couple years, all three landed hits that put them on track to successful TV careers.
After becoming a writer on Friends, Lawrence went on to create Spin City and Scrubs. Greenberg became a writer on Frasier. And Fryman, who scored with Just Shoot Me, now executive-produces and directs How I Met Your Mother.
“It was just lucky, nothing more,” Chervin laughs.
But NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly attributes Chervin's success to the fighting spirit he developed as both a boxer and a prosecutor.
“Ted comes at you like a jackhammer; he has a boxer's temperament,” says Reilly, who has negotiated with Chervin on several occasions and calls him a friend. “But you always end up feeling good about it on the other side, which is why he is so good for his clients.”
In 1998, Chervin became a partner of Broder Webb Chervin Silbermann. He considers ICM's acquisition of the agency earlier this year a validation of its success. The challenge now is to apply the boutique approach that made Broder a success to the larger world of ICM.
And like every other Hollywood agent, Chervin is trying to figure out how to best represent his clients as the TV business evolves with new technology and distribution models. Indeed, it was his client Lawrence who made Nobody's Watching, the rejected WB pilot that gained notoriety on video-sharing site YouTube before being picked up by NBC.
“No one knows where it will end up, and no one has figured out how to monetize it yet,” he says of the changing landscape. “Sometimes that's exciting, and sometimes it's scary.”
Finally, something that can rattle Ted Chervin.
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