TV fans have WME’s Rick Rosen to thank, in part, for a wide
range of TV fare, from Showtime’s 2012 Emmy darling,
‘Homeland’, to Fox’s iconic ‘Malcolm in the Middle’ and
‘Family Guy’, to every one of David E. Kelley’s dialogue-fueled
dramas. Rosen heads the scripted television department at WME Entertainment, a business he’s been building ever since he first became an agent
more than 20 years ago. But that’s getting ahead of Rosen’s story.
He had intended to be a lawyer, attending the Golden Gate University School
of Law after graduating from the University of California in Santa Barbara
with a degree in political science. But that aspiration didn’t last long. “I had
no interest in the law from the first day of
law school,” he quietly jokes. “The things
I loved truly were television and sports.”
With that in mind, Rosen headed down
to Los Angeles during his second year of
law school to secure an internship. He met
with executives at studios and agencies who
told him exactly what most aspiring agents
hear: After you graduate law school, you get
a job in the mail room, where you deliver
mail and run errands. If you are good at that,
you become an assistant on someone’s desk.
That didn’t make sense to Rosen, however.
“I thought, ‘I’m a lawyer, I’m not going to
be a secretary,’” he says; he carved out a
While Rosen might not have been interested
in the law, law school had taught him
about business affairs. So he landed his first
television job, in 1984, in the business affairs
department at Columbia Pictures Television
(now Sony Pictures Television).
From there, Rosen moved into development
at Columbia. Later, he became senior
vice president of creative affairs for the
network television division at Orion Television.
He enjoyed developing TV shows, but he worked with a lot of agents
and it occurred to him that agents were doing what he really wanted to do.
“Agents manage careers and put projects together,” Rosen says. “I think
being an agent is as creative as a development job. You listen to ideas from
your clients and try to make them come to fruition.”
By then Rosen was well-established in Hollywood, and it wasn’t hard for
him to make the transition. After putting the word out, five agencies soon were
inquiring as to his availability. In 1991, he accepted a position with International
Creative Management (ICM), where he met people who would become incredibly
important to his career, such as Ari Emanuel and David Greenblatt.
“When I became an agent, Bob Broder, a longtime friend of mine who just
retired from ICM, called to congratulate me,” Rosen recalls, “and [he] said,
‘I want to give you some unsolicited advice. There are only three things you
need to know to be a good agent: the client, the client and the client.’ That’s
been like a mantra to me.”
Rosen spent four years at ICM, ultimately serving
as head of the agency’s television packaging department.
But in the back of his mind, he knew he wanted
to do something even more entrepreneurial.
“David [Greenblatt] would continually tell me, ‘You
need to know what it’s like to have your own business,’”
Rosen says. “And Ari, with whom I had struck up a real
friendship, would frequently come into my office and
shut the door and say, ‘We can do this better and differently.’ He continually put
this into my ear about how we could build something different on our own.
“Finally, my late wife really gave me the fortitude to just go for it,” Rosen
adds. “She was bullish on me doing it and she believed in me.”
In 1995, Rosen—along with Emanuel, Greenblatt and Tom Strickler—left
ICM to form the Endeavor Talent Agency. The four started working in an office
above Islands restaurant in South Beverly Hills and soon moved to a high-rise—
then another, specially designed one on Los Angeles’ Wilshire Boulevard.
Forming Endeavor “was the most thrilling thing that ever happened to me
other than the birth of my kids,” Rosen says. “If I look back 18 years, I don’t
think that I ever in my wildest dreams thought my life would be this.”
Endeavor quickly made a name for itself as the new, aggressive kid on the
block, growing by leaps and bounds. By 2009, the company was looking to
expand even more by merging with another agency.
That agency turned out to be William Morris, which merged with Endeavor
on April 27, 2009, to form WME Entertainment.
“William Morris and Endeavor were complementary businesses,” Rosen
says. “We both added really good things to each other.” Today, WME is home
of the world’s biggest television agency.
Through all of it, Rosen has continued to excel in his work, reflecting his
mantra: the client, the client, the client.
“He’s an amazing agent but he’s been an even better friend,” says Conan
O’Brien, who has been represented by Rosen since 1998, and for whom Rosen
“waged war” in 2010 when O’Brien went through his dramatic separation
from NBC. “I don’t know who else I can say that about in this town.”
Over the years, Rosen has represented such talent as David E. Kelley (Boston
Legal, Harry’s Law, The Practice, Ally McBeal), Linwood Boomer (Malcolm
in the Middle), Howard Gordon (Homeland, 24), Tim Kring (Heroes, Touch)
and many more. Hollywood’s top executives have remained impressed by
“He’s remarkably trustworthy,” says Peter Chernin, chairman and CEO of the
Chernin Group and former president and COO of News Corp., who’s known
Rosen since they attended junior high together in Harrison, N.Y. “He’s one of
the most universally respected people in this industry. Rick has always been a
guy you trusted. In this whole world, that’s made him completely stand out.”
Mark Itkin, who runs WME’s non-scripted television division alongside
Rosen, concurs: “He is totally honest. He has no ego. He’s a really regular guy
who happens to be smart and really good at what he does.”
Rosen himself says after toiling as an agent for more than two decades, he
still has absolute passion for his work.
“You have to love the business and you have to love the product,” he says.
“Being an agent is very difficult work. It’s very demanding, very stressful,
very all consuming, and it’s mostly a young person’s game. You have to really
love it. If you aren’t excited about reading David E. Kelley’s latest script on
a Monday morning—if you don’t get a thrill from that—then you shouldn’t
be doing this.”