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The most powerful people in Hollywood start blabbing in James Andrew Miller’s ‘Powerhouse’

The oral historian has tackled ESPN and "Saturday Night Live." Up next: The Creative Artists Agency.

James Ladner

Everyone knows that the big celebrities — famous actors, musicians and so on — don’t go it alone. But in his new book "Powerhouse," James Andrew Miller argues that some of the most influential people in the entertainment business are invisible to most of the world.

"Powerhouse" is an oral history of the Creative Artists Agency, and Miller conducted hundreds of interviews with people both linked to and fighting against CAA. He contrasted this story with his last two books, which examined the much better-known properties ESPN and "Saturday Night Live."

"SNL is a show, ESPN is a network and CAA, even though it’s not as well known, it's this universe," Miller said on the most recent episode of Recode Media with Peter Kafka. "CAA has more of an impact on our lives than SNL and ESPN put together."

He said that what people commonly think of Hollywood agents, if they think about them at all, doesn’t give them enough credit.

"It’s so easy for us to think of [the agent] as this 35-year-old in a black suit and they get 10 percent of the money and they scream and they yell," Miller said. "I was really struck by the fact that, for a lot of these stars, you can’t really trust a lot of people. Everybody has an agenda, everyone wants something from you."

Much of "Powerhouse" concerns the singular personalities of two of CAA’s co-founders, Michael Ovitz and Ron Meyer. Miller calls them "yin and yang" personalities who built an empire of celebrity clients — Cher, Meryl Streep, Madonna, Jessica Lange, Whoopi Goldberg and Jane Fonda were all on Meyer’s list at one point — thanks in part to their differing styles.

"I can’t think of one moment where Ron was thinking of money, in terms of his own money," Miller said. "Michael Ovitz’s relationship with money is a function of, it’s a very easy way to keep score. Michael Ovitz loves to win, so he was very good at it."

On the new podcast, Miller also discussed the increasing competition CAA faces from other agencies such as William Morris Endeavor; how private equity firms are changing the agency business model; and, calling back to his earlier book about ESPN, what really happened when President John Skipper fired Grantland founder Bill Simmons.

"Hitting the delete key on Grantland was a pretty big matzoh ball, as Jerry Seinfeld would say," Miller said. "It sent shock waves through not only Bristol and ESPN, but other companies that said, ‘Hold on a second. Where’s our ROI here? What is the value proposition of something like Grantland?’"

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