Incorporated: 1969 as the Brillstein Company
Employees: 60 (2005)
Sales: $53.5 million (2005 est.)
NAIC: 711410 Agents and Managers for Artists, Athletes, Entertainers, and Other Public Figures; 512110 Motion Picture and Video Production
Brillstein-Grey Entertainment is one of the top personal management and television production firms in Hollywood. The company's clients include stars Adam Sandler, Jennifer Aniston, and David Spade along with numerous screenwriters and producers, while its successful television division has produced hits like The Sopranos and Just Shoot Me. Since owner and CEO Brad Grey's departure in 2005 to head Paramount Motion Picture Group, the firm has been owned by members of its management.
Brillstein-Grey Entertainment traces its roots to 1969, when personal manager Bernie Brillstein founded the Brillstein Co. Born in New York City in 1931, Brillstein had been introduced to show business by a comedian uncle, and after service in the U. S. Air Force he was hired by the famed William Morris Agency, where he worked his way up from the mailroom to the position of agent. Two years after being assigned to the company's Los Angeles office, he struck off on his own to represent clients like comic Norm Crosby and Sesame Street puppeteer Jim Henson.
The ambitious Brillstein soon began to dabble in television, and after unsuccessfully pitching an adult spin-off of Sesame Street featuring Henson's Muppets, he combined the attributes of comedy/variety hit Laugh-In and country-flavored shows like The Beverly Hillbillies to create the syndicated country music/comedy series Hee Haw. It proved a success, and in 1975 Brillstein was able to sell The Muppet Show and client Lorne Michaels' Saturday Night Live to syndication and NBC, respectively. With a talent roster that included many of the latter's stars like John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, and Gilda Radner, Brillstein began producing films with them like The Blues Brothers and later Ghostbusters. Close friend Belushi died of a drug overdose in early 1982, however, and afterwards the stunned manager came close to quitting the business.
In February of 1984 Brillstein met young manager Brad Grey at an industry convention, and when they ran into each other in Hawaii a short time later Grey proposed an informal partnership where he would learn the production side of the business in exchange for bringing in fresh talent. The Bronx-born, 27-years younger Grey had entered show business in 1979 as a gopher at Harvey Weinstein's University of Buffalo concert promotion firm, and soon broke into talent management by signing then-unknown comic Bob Saget. Saget helped him add other upcoming comedians like Garry Shandling, Dennis Miller, and Dana Carvey, and after parting amicably with Weinstein (who had by now founded film company Miramax), Grey moved to Los Angeles. A year after meeting Brillstein he began working for his new mentor's firm, where the pair developed a father-and-son-like relationship.
Managers typically collected 15 percent of their clients' earnings in exchange for promoting them, offering strategic advice, running their business operations, and taking care of travel bookings and other necessities. They were not legally permitted to seek work, which was done by talent agents for a 10 percent cut, but in reality this line was often blurred. Managing alone could be lucrative, but it did not have the same earning power as production, where owned assets like films and TV series could generate huge amounts of revenue from syndication, foreign sales, home video, and other derivations.
In 1986 Bernie Brillstein sold control of the Brillstein Company's production arm to Lorimar-Telepictures for $26 million, while Grey remained in charge of the firm's separate talent unit. Brillstein subsequently took the title of chairman and CEO of Lorimar Film Entertainment, but when Lorimar was sold to Warner Brothers in 1988 he left and regained control of his production business in exchange for ownership of several TV shows and films he'd produced including Alf, Love Connection, and Ghostbusters. The following year Grey was made partner.
BRILLSTEIN-GREY ENTERTAINMENT FORMED IN 1992
In early 1992 Brillstein split the firm's ownership equally with Grey and it became known as Brillstein-Grey Entertainment, with the pair designated co-chairmen. Soon afterward Grey helped the company negotiate a deal with Columbia Pictures Television Distribution to finance and distribute its television series in exchange for a $20 million advance and a share of the profits.
1992 saw the debut of a much-ballyhooed new late-night talk show starring client Dennis Miller, though it failed to strike a chord with the public and was soon canceled. Greater success came from Garry Shandling's The Larry Sanders Show on pay-cable network HBO, which garnered critical acclaim and numerous industry awards.
In July of 1993 Brillstein-Grey created a new motion picture division, which would be run by former Sandollar Productions head Howard Rosenman. It quickly signed a so-called "first look" deal with Columbia Pictures, which would have the right of first refusal on all projects. In December, the firm opened an office in New York.
February of 1994 saw television production company Brillstein-Grey Communications formed in partnership with Capital Cities/ABC, which had reportedly put up over $100 million to fund the venture. It was the first deal of its kind between a network and a management firm, as laws restricting such arrangements had recently been relaxed. Some estimates now put Brillstein-Grey's revenues at $100 million per year from management alone, with another sizable amount coming from production.
- Bernie Brillstein founds the Brillstein Company to manage performers.
- Brillstein helps launch The Muppet Show and Saturday Night Live.
- Brad Grey begins working for Brillstein as a talent manager.
- Brillstein sells the company's production division to Lorimar-Telepictures.
- Brillstein exits Lorimar and takes back ownership of company.
- Brad Grey becomes an equal partner; the firm is renamed Brillstein-Grey Entertainment.
- A distribution deal is signed with Columbia Pictures Television.
- Brillstein-Grey's motion picture division is formed.
- A $100 million production agreement is signed with ABC.
- Brillstein sells his stake to Grey; a $100 million MCA TV deal is signed.
- The company signs a new Columbia TriStar TV production deal; the Garry Shandling lawsuit is settled.
- The Sarkes/Kernes management company is acquired.
- A TV production agreement is signed with 20th Century Fox.
- Margaret Riley Management is acquired.
- Brad Grey sells the firm to top partners; a deal is signed with Touchstone TV.
BRAD GREY TAKES REINS IN 1995
In October of 1995 Brad Grey was named CEO and chairman of the company while Bernie Brillstein took the title of founding partner. The following spring MCA, Inc., bought a 50 percent stake in Brillstein-Grey Entertainment's television and movie production units for approximately $100 million, giving Brad Grey a significant role as a producer of films and television shows. While the deal was being finalized Grey had bought Brillstein's stake in the firm, and afterwards he would keep sole ownership of management unit Brillstein-Grey Enterprises, whose 100-plus client roster included stars like Brad Pitt, Nicholas Cage, Courteney Cox, Sylvester Stallone, and Christian Slater, as well as writers for hit shows Frasier, Northern Exposure, and Cheers. In June entertainment lawyer and two-year company veteran Lloyd Braun was named president of the firm, which was now also operating a literary unit whose clients included Elmore Leonard and Martin Amis.
At this time Brillstein-Grey was developing more than 30 film projects and had seven TV series in production including NewsRadio, The Naked Truth and The Larry Sanders Show. Its expertise producing half-hour situation comedies like these had spurred MCA to seek a deal because such series were the most lucrative for later syndication. The agreement reportedly angered new ABC parent Disney, however, because some programs it co-owned with Brillstein-Grey would now be shown on rival networks like NBC, in at least one case sharing the same time slot. Brillstein-Grey subsequently took back ABC's stake in their joint production deal in exchange for a percentage of the earnings from shows like Politically Incorrect With Bill Maher.
In January of 1998 Garry Shandling, who had been dropped as a client two months earlier, sued Brillstein-Grey Entertainment and Brad Grey for $100 million. The comic, who was Grey's second-ever management client and had been a close personal friend, claimed that Grey's dual roles as manager and Larry Sanders Show executive producer were a conflict of interest. He also alleged that some of its writers had been diverted by Grey to other series and claimed he had helped bring the firm many of its clients and given it the clout to sign lucrative deals with MCA and ABC. The suit quickly became the talk of Hollywood, with Brillstein labeling the comedian "delusional." In March, Grey filed an $18 million countersuit.
Meanwhile, MCA was selling its own television production arm to Barry Diller's USA Networks, and, as it did not have the contractual right to sell its stake in the production venture with Brillstein-Grey, it was forced to cede this back while keeping half of the profit from shows like Just Shoot Me and NewsRadio. In the fall the latter program was renewed by NBC only when Brillstein-Grey allowed the network a share of its future syndication profits, which would come when more episodes were completed. The year also saw company president Lloyd Braun leave to head Buena Vista Television, while Grey's attempt to make a splash on Broadway by producing Paul Simon's musical The Capeman fell flat.
THE SOPRANOS DEBUTS IN 1999
In early 1999 a new Mafia drama that Brillstein-Grey had unsuccessfully pitched to most of the broadcast networks premiered on HBO. The Sopranos became a major popular and critical success and went on to run for six seasons, generating huge revenues for the firm. May saw the company form a new development and production unit called BGTV in partnership with Columbia TriStar Television Group, which would supply financing and split the profits, though the shows produced would be owned by BGTV.
In July 1999 the lawsuit with Shandling was settled out of court on the eve of a jury trial, with the undisclosed settlement reportedly involving the exchange of rights to TV series. The firm also reached exclusive production agreements in 1999 with Diane Keaton's Blue Relief Productions, Hungry Man TV, and Friends co-executive producer Alexa Junge, while in early 2000 a strategic alliance was formed with advertising giant J. Walter Thompson USA to merge advertising content with entertainment and digital communications.
In the fall of 2001 Brillstein-Grey Management absorbed the Sarkes/Kernis management company and its 25 clients, including comedians like Andy Richter, Steven Wright, and Cheri Oteri. Another recently added client was New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani, whose stature had grown after his inspiring response to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The company had earlier found him a $3 million book deal, and after the attacks it helped produce an HBO special that benefited the families of firefighters and police who were killed.
In May 2002 Brillstein-Grey's TV production unit switched studios yet again when the Columbia deal expired, this time moving to 20th Century Fox. The latter would pay for overhead, administrative support, and deficit financing of broadcast television shows, taking no role in cable programs like The Sopranos. In September the company formed a feature film production unit with clients and star couple Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston called Plan B Entertainment, at which time the Brad Grey Pictures division was shuttered. The year also saw Just Shoot Me sold to syndication for $3 million per episode, bringing the firm half of a $525 million payout.
In 2004 Brillstein-Grey absorbed Margaret Riley Management, whose talent roster included a number of successful screenwriters, directors, and producers. During the year 73-year old Bernie Brillstein published The Little Stuff Matters Most: 50 Rules From 50 Years of Trying to Make a Living, his second book. He continued to work full time managing clients like Martin Short, Lorne Michaels, and his very first client, comedian Norm Crosby, who at 77 was still earning more than $500,000 per year.
BRAD GREY LEAVES FOR PARAMOUNT IN 2005
Viacom's Paramount Motion Picture Group had secretly begun courting Brad Grey, and in January of 2005 he was named to succeed departing studio head Sherry Lansing, taking the titles of chairman and CEO in March. Supporters cited his good taste, ability to work with talent, and successful television production record, though his feature film experience was relatively thin.
Because of the conflict of interest his new job would create, Grey agreed to sell Brillstein-Grey to a group of partners led by veterans Cynthia Pett-Dante, Jon Lieb-man, Marc Gurwitz, and Sandy Wernick. Pett-Dante and Liebman would serve as co-presidents, with the latter named CEO. Grey, who would reportedly take a pay cut to gain the prestige of running a studio, would keep a stake in several television shows he had helped produce including The Sopranos. Brad Grey Television subsequently reverted to the name Brillstein-Grey Television, while Plan B, the production company he co-owned with Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston, would become the sole property of the now-single Pitt and move from Warner Brothers to Paramount.
In the summer of 2005 the company signed a three-year TV production deal with Touchstone Television and lured Aleen Keshishian and JoAnne Colonna away from The Firm, where they had served as co-heads of its talent division, along with Firm manager Mary Putnam Greene. The trio brought with them clients like Sarah Michelle Gellar, Andy Garcia, Natalie Portman, and Orlando Bloom.
In early 2006 Brillstein-Grey Management head Peter Safran left to form his own company, taking along Sean "Puffy" Combs, David Hyde Pierce, Brooke Shields, and others. The firm also dropped author James Frey from its roster after he admitted that his best-selling memoir A Million Little Pieces was filled with exaggerations.
Nearly 40 years after its founding as a one-man operation, Brillstein-Grey Entertainment had become a major player in Hollywood. The firm's management division represented more than 150 clients including household names Adam Sandler, Jennifer Aniston, and Sarah Michelle Gellar, as well as a host of talented screenwriters and producers, while its television production arm had built up an enviable track record with hits like The Sopranos and Just Shoot Me. Under the leadership of new majority owners Cynthia Pett-Dante and Jon Liebman, the firm looked forward to continued growth.
Brillstein-Grey Management; Brillstein-Grey Television.
The Firm; Mosaic Media Group; 3 Arts Entertainment, Inc.; CKX, Inc.
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