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HRTS Member Profile: Sean Perry

Sean Perry Headshot

Sean Perry

Sean Perry is a Partner and the co-head of the nonscripted television department at WME, as well as the recently-elected President of the HRTS. I recently had a chance to speak with Sean to discuss vision, success and Brandon Tartikoff.

Q: Can you tell us about your background and what made you want to work in entertainment? How did you first get involved with the HRTS?
-I grew up in the entertainment business, with a father who was a game show host and a mother who was a model. I found out early on, after I graduated college and I was an assistant at ICM, that I had a knack for putting people together, to make projects more sellable. This is now understood to be packaging but at the time I thought it was just a logical thing to do. I sought some counsel from some family friends, including Phil Kent, who is now one of the senior people at Time Warner, and another guy named Stan Moger of SFM Media, they both said that I should focus on the agency business.

I started at ICM as an assistant and was then courted away as an assistant to become an agent at a small agency called Abrams-Rubaloff & Lawrence and I spent a number of years there from approximately 1989 to 1996, when I transitioned from a commercial agency into an unscripted agency, we added a new department. While there, I represented people from Brandon Tartikoff to dick clark productions and a number of other talented producers and notably packaged, with my partner Richard Lawrence, JUDGE JUDY, THE REAL STORIES OF THE HIGHWAY PATROL, and a number of other TV series.

In 1996 I kind of let it be known that I’d be open to doing something else, there were some philosophical differences about where I thought the agency might go, and I went and spent two years as the Senior Vice President of King World, under Andy Friendly and Michael King. While there, the most notable thing is that I was the executive in charge for HOLLYWOOD SQUARES, we hired Whoopi Goldberg as the center square and Tom Bergeron as the host. I realized during those years that I missed agenting, I missed the creative part of agenting, I missed the pace of agenting and I had been hit up by this group of guys who had started this company called Endeavor and I said no. Then they came at me again and I sat down with them. Their pitch as to what they wanted to do with the agency and where they wanted to go was really a lot of what I was saying to my former partner Richard Lawrence and so I signed on the dotted line. Some years later I rose up the ranks and became a Partner at Endeavor and then we merged with William Morris and put our senior management at the helm, being co-chairs of the company. I’m now a Partner at William Morris Endeavor and co-head of the nonscripted department worldwide.

My first experience with HRTS was going to lunches while I was at Endeavor. I thought the lunches were brilliant, they were fun and informative and no other organization was doing anything like that.

Q: While at Abrams-Rubaloff & Lawrence you worked with Brandon Tartikoff, what are some memories of him?
-Brandon was the greatest big brother for somebody if he believed in you, and he took bets on youth that he believed in. It’s not all that he did but it’s what I remember personally. I remember early on I was bringing in projects and things and I got us an overall deal with E! and got a lot of press out of it and he introduced me to one of his assistants, Ben Silverman. He liked people who were going places, he liked to take bets on folks. The other thing is that he never had delineated “these are the successful people, these are the up-and-comers”, it was just people that he believed in and I was fortunate to be one of those. I also remember his philosophy on dealing with the creative community. When he was at NBC he never had overall deals, never put people into studio deals, he didn’t over-note people after he bought shows, and his philosophy was “if I buy a show from somebody I know and trust, let them make the show that I bought”. He didn’t put people into overall deals because he figured “if I treat people well, they’ll keep coming back here”. My oldest son Brandon is his namesake, that’ll tell you how special Brandon Tartikoff was to me.

Q: Why should individuals and companies join the HRTS?
-I’ll give you an analogy, which is the wine industry in Napa. I’m a big wine collector, I am a semi-historian of wine in Napa. What the wine business did in Napa, prior to the advent of computers, wineries in Napa said “we are a community and if we as a community make the best product we as a community will do well”. Within that, each winery made the best wine it could make and would perhaps be the best one of the community. Alongside with saying that they wanted to have a successful winery, they knew that they had to have a successful community to at that point triumph over the dominance of France.

In many direct respects, HRTS is the exact same thing. It is a place where people gather, they certainly want to do better than the people at the table next to them but they are a community and if that community succeeds then everybody succeeds. HRTS is the only place that assembles those people as a community. NATPE pulls together a portion of the community, MIPCOM pulls together a portion of the community, but HRTS is the only one that looks up and says “whether you’re in cable, syndication, new media, anything that could be closely television-related, we celebrate the community, we educate each other within the community and make each other feel like we’re part of a community”. When you leave an HRTS luncheon, you take the knowledge and you do the best you can.

Q: What is your vision for the HRTS?
-it’s the embracing of new models and the embracing of new technologies that will be the transporters of our entertainment. HRTS will always continue to have a reverence for cable, syndication and network television but you’re going to see HRTS continue to grow, and in some respects lead the way, in saying our business is a multiscreen business that is playing across cellular, computers, every type of game, you’re going to see us have to build, sell and produce television to appeal to all screens.

HRTS is now doing this, you look at recent Board appointments with Michael Kassan now on the Board. He comes out of the advertising space and that advertising money is essential to original content in areas that are not yet monetized by the 30-second commercial. You’re going to start seeing a lot of ways to grow some of the financial-institutional relationships, a lot of us glance over the business page of Variety every day and that’s important, to see which banks finance companies and television shows.  Over the next three years we’ll see growth in new technology, the advertising world and the financial community.

When you look at our Board, smart men and women, I am honored and somewhat in awe that they voted me in to become the president and I mean that with all sincerity. There are people on that Board that I look up to, that I thank, that I have the greatest of respect for, and I am honored to have been made president. With that in mind, truly the best thing I can do is to make sure that the vision that I just laid out is something that I share and get the Board behind but then utilize that Board and their expertise to build out our educational programs, to build out our luncheons and special events because there’s no other organization that has assembled at the Board level the amount and quality of executives that we have, there’s nobody close.

Q: The HRTS offers a mentoring program, what would you say to someone who is considering becoming a mentor?
-every one of us had mentors, some were formal and some were informal. A lot people sit here like I am and say that I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for the likes of Brandon Tartikoff, Phil Kent, Dick Clark, Stan Moger, people that were my mentors. The fact that we are going to grow a formalized mentorship program is necessary to go share knowledge with the next generation, and for us to give back to an industry that has been very, very good to many of us.

Q: What advice would you give someone just starting out in the business?
-I would tell them to outwork every other person. No matter how smart you are, how good you think you are, outwork everybody. It’s the old adage that “it’s amazing how lucky hardworking people get”. I would then tell people to make sure they get out there, and what I mean by that is: go to every party, go to every bar mitzvah, go to every cigar night and poker night. Things happen out there, outside of your office, outside of your production studio, outside of your law firm, and as you are coming up your job is to get out there and meet everybody.

There’s a line from CINEMA PARADISO, the line is “I’m tired of hearing you talk about everybody else, I want to hear everybody else talk about you”. Get out there, so people start talking about you. Make alliances. Like a great episode of SURVIVOR, make alliances, find those people that are your peers that are smart, and hold on and grow those relationships. I did that and now I look around and I see leaders in our business, from Mike Darnell to Ben Silverman and I could list another 20 or so that I made sure I had relationships with because I thought they were going to go someplace someday and they did, I did and if you connect with each other, all boats will rise with the tide. People that were once assistants and researchers are now presidents of networks and studios and you have a direct in to them because you’ve done each other favors, you have a bond.

Q: Anything you would like to add?
-if you are an HRTS member and you have ideas, please come to anybody on the Board, come to Dave Ferrara, come to me, we are absolutely open. This is not going to be a straight line for the organization, we will not deviate from the path on which we have been successful but we are absolutely open to creativity and the larger the group of people that come up with ideas, the better the ideas will be that we can implement.

If you’re not a member, come one day to a luncheon, come and be a part of the conversation. The benefits are phenomenal, the price of membership is a great bargain and you need to come and have an experience and a conversation to know that. Come check us out.


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