Much of what one needs to know about how Jay Sures operates, one learns from the powerhouse agent’s introduction to golf. A runner and tennis player until a shoulder injury left him sidelined, Sures thought about taking up golf. Only problem was, he’d never picked up a club before.
A typical new duffer would learn the game on the links, but Sures is anything but typical. He spent a year taking lessons off the course, and when he finally teed it up for the first time, at age 40, he ended up breaking 100 for the round. “Jay’s not a natural born athlete,” observes Peter Benedek, United Talent Agency partner. “He was a runner, not a ballplayer per se.”
Within eight years, Sures had his handicap down to the single digits. Benedek, who’s seen his protégé blow past expectations for the better part of three decades, was hardly surprised by Sures’ success. “When Jay decides to do something,” says Benedek, “he just gets it done.”
After starting as Benedek’s assistant in 1987, Sures now is a managing director at UTA, responsible for the agency’s 200 agents and numerous boldface-name TV stars. He applies the same pursuit of perfection to UTA that he did to his golf game. “Having a great agent is having an advocate on your side—someone who goes to bed with a pit in his stomach, who cares deeply about your success and is a strategic thinker in every which way,” says Sures.
Growing up in Los Angeles and graduating from UCLA, Sures hoped for an analyst job with an investment bank, but was rejected by every one he tried. But the new Bauer-Benedek Agency was hiring. “I ended up working there because I needed a job,” he says.
Sures says he was so clueless about entertainment that, a few days into his tenure, Benedek slipped him a book that listed the credits for just about every movie ever made, and told him to start making flashcards.
Benedek recalls Sures as, if nothing else, promising. “I thought he had fabulous energy, was very well organized and was incredibly motivated,” he says. “Jay wanted that job more than anyone else did.”
Sures moved up quickly, leaving behind assistant work before long to represent his own clients. He developed a reputation for fierce loyalty and dogged deal-making. While the stereotype of the screaming, conniving agent (looking at you, Ari Gold!) informs many people’s opinion of the vocation, clients and adversaries alike say Sures takes a measured approach to getting to yes.
Larry Wilmore recalls how he was tied up as showrunner at ABC’s Black-ish and co-creator on HBO’s Insecure when Jon Stewart called about fronting what would become The Nightly Show. The only way he could pursue the Comedy Central project, he says, was if key execs at ABC and HBO agreed to it.
Enter Jay Sures. A few hours later, Wilmore had his talk show.
“That was a tense day, but it all worked out,” says Wilmore, noting Sures’ “calming voice” in anxious moments. “He talked them into seeing it as a good thing. It was an amazing day, and it showed how amazing Jay is.”
It’s a credit to Sures that several clients, including star producer Steve Levitan, have stuck with him for decades. “That says a lot about who you are as a person, and as an agent,” says Benedek.
It’s been a busy few years at UTA. In spring 2015, a dozen agents bolted rival CAA for UTA. Before that was the acquisition of N.S. Bienstock, which brought loads of elite-level news anchors to the agency. Sures mentions Jake Tapper, Chuck Todd, Martha Raddatz and Don Lemon, among many others, sliding under the UTA umbrella. “That was a very productive acquisition for us,” he says.
Sures has built lasting friendships with several people on the other side of a negotiation. Dana Walden, chairman and CEO of Fox Television Group, describes their relationship as akin to a brother and sister, complete with its share of voluble disagreements. But the affection among pseudo-siblings is evident too. When Walden’s mother was diagnosed with lymphoma years ago, Sures not only lined up a top-flight doctor he knew, but met Dana at the hospital for support as well.
“Jay is a very committed, loyal, very caring friend,” she says. “As we both get older, we haven’t screamed at each other in a long time.”
Outside of work and golf, Sures enjoys spending time with his wife Molly and three daughters: Emily, 16; Claire, 13; and Catherine, 4. “Those girls have him wrapped around their little fingers,” says Walden. He’s a tireless consumer of TV news, starting around 5 a.m. He is active in politics—hosting fundraisers for key political figures, including a July fete for VP nominee Tim Kaine that had Walden, Kevin Reilly and Chuck Lorre, among other Hollywood A-listers, in attendance. (Another soiree Sures hosted this summer was his annual Emmy weekend bash, where Wilmore, Jane Lynch and Jerry Bruckheimer joined the dark-suit-heavy crowd milling about his park-like Brentwood Hills estate.)
Sures does not hide the fact that a future in politics is at least on the table. “Something political has always been in the back of my mind,” he says.
Walden believes Sures would fight for constituents with the same dogged determination with which he fights for clients. “Jay would be successful in virtually anything he tried to do,” she says.
That, of course, includes golf, and Sures’ deft short game. “I’m a 147-pound, skinny little Jewish kid—there’s no chance I’ll hit the ball 300 yards,” he says. “So I better figure out how to get the ball in the hole very quickly.”