Josephson Makes Name for Herself
ICM bigwig had a tough act to follow
By Ben Grossman -- Broadcasting & Cable, 10/9/2005 8:00:00 PM
ICM bigwig had a tough act to follow Nancy Josephson wanted to make it on her own merit. With degrees from Brown and Harvard Law and experience at an entertainment law firm under her belt, she had minimal interest in working for her father Marvin—who formed International Creative Management (ICM) in 1975 and currently sits on the board of directors.
Then again, she desperately wanted to be an agent. Her father had taught her much of what he knew about the business and had grown ICM to be one of Hollywood’s top talent shops.
It was actually ICM Vice Chairman Sam Cohen who convinced Josephson to set aside her concerns and join ICM’s New York office. Starting in the agency’s business-affairs department in 1986, Josephson quickly realized her initial reservations were, in fact, merited.
“People would actually whisper when I walked by,” she says. “All because my dad was in the big office in the corner. I was in the little pischer office, but there I was.”
Before long, people both at the agency and around the industry found out that Josephson was very much her own person. Now a co-president of ICM in Los Angeles and the first woman to reach the senior management level of any major talent agency, she has more than made a name for herself.
“Nancy is great at recognizing talent and has a big-picture vision for the business,” says UPN President Dawn Ostroff. “She understands where the business is going and how she needs to deal with her clients, along with the different studios and networks, to get there together.”
'Friends’ in High Places
It didn’t take Josephson long to show her knack for the biz. Not long after starting in business affairs, she began landing her own clients, the first of whom she signed after seeing their off-Broadway play Personals. Their names were Marta Kauffman and David Crane, and the pair would go on to create Friends.
“I saw the play and thought they should work in TV,” she says. “I guess I was right about that.”
Within two years, she had jettisoned business affairs and was running the television department in New York. But the real action was in Los Angeles, so in 1987, she switched coasts to become a packaging agent, in charge of making sure all the parts of a program fit.
From there, Josephson’s ascension continued. She became head of the television literary department in 1991, then head of packaging, before taking over all of ICM’s television business in 1995.
Despite becoming co-president in 1998, Josephson continues to represent her clients, who include director Kevin Bright, model/TV host Tyra Banks and actress Cheryl Hines. “I still sign staff writers because it’s what’s fun for me,” she says. “I still love to grow with the clients.”
Josephson is also determined to address what she—and many others—perceives as a paucity of quality programs in the comedy genre, which she blames on micromanaging by networks and studios. “The system is really broken,” she says. “I had a client once get notes from 12 different executives. How can a writer do their best work like that?”
One of her strategies for fixing the genre, not to mention fast-tracking her clients’ careers, is to send out a spec script every week. “Spec pilots are really starting to make their mark in our business,” Josephson says. “I try and encourage clients to follow what’s in their gut, and it’s my job to sell it.”
And while her gut originally told her not to work for her father’s company, Josephson says the lessons Dad taught her over the course of her life are invaluable. She promptly produces a memo Marvin wrote to all ICM employees back in 1976; it’s his take on the Ten Commandments, or, as he put it, “some principles by which ICM lives (and prospers).”
Topping the list is, “Above all else, be honest.” And while the public’s impression of agents doesn’t exactly elicit images of truthfulness (rather, Ari Gold from Entourage comes to mind), Josephson has made it her mission to fight that stigma. “I give this memo out to all our new trainees—this is my code,” she says. “I always tell young agents when they get in a sticky situation, just tell everyone what is going on. Be honest.”
A Balancing Act
Another on the list was “keep your commitments”—an increasingly difficult commandment for Josephson to abide by these days. Besides running the TV department at ICM, she balances being a wife, a mother of three and an enthusiastic participant in multiple charities and Hollywood organizations. (Josephson was the first female president of the Hollywood Radio & Television Society.)
“I don’t know how she does it—she can juggle a large family with an incredible client list and she’s really there for everyone,” says Ostroff. “Plus she is incredibly involved in the community, and does it all with grace and ease. It’s hard to live up to her.”
Amidst the commitments, Josephson’s dedication to the business—and to her client list—is steadfast as ever. “There’s a script by Diane English that I just love,” she says. “I’m like a dog with a bone. I keep sending it to [NBC Entertainment President] Kevin Reilly, saying 'read it again, read it again!’ He was like, 'Oh my God,’ but I’ll get him to make it. I will.”
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