And why not? "You don't blame a real-estate agent for the price of homes," says David Burke, who formerly ran CBS News and says he has no problems with agents.
So who are these blameless piranhas?
The gang of eight described here (in no particular order) are, by most accounts, the major players. They differ wildly in style, if not in what they do. Each has fans and detractors. Each at times has been accused of conflict of interest, mismanagement, bullheadedness and meddling in production matters. Yet each has managed to stay atop the increasingly lucrative game.
FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Sunday November 20, 1994 Home Edition Calendar Page 99 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 23 words Type of Material: Correction
Photo credit--In last Sunday's story on agents for news anchors and reporters, a photo of lawyer Bob Barnett was miscredited. The photographer was Judy G. Rolfe.
The most famous of the lot, Leibner's NS Bienstock company represents more than 300 news clients around the country. Aside from Leibner, there are eight other agents, including his soft-spoken and well-liked wife, Carole Cooper.
Leibner himself has rarely been accused of being soft-spoken, though he can charm the pants off you. He is balding, in his mid-50s and described even by friends as aggressive and competitive, by some not-so-friends as duplicitous. Sitting in his cluttered mid-town office here, the agent exudes schmooze and enthusiasm and his longtime passion for the news business.
"Ask any other agent to rank 10 news stories and they'll probably tell you the best and worst," he says. "I can rank two through nine." This man watches not only his clients but also virtually every quasi-news program from daybreak to sundown.
Among Bienstock's clients are Diane Sawyer, Dan Rather, Maria Shriver, Paula Zahn, Mike Wallace and a host of Los Angeles personalities, including Tritia Toyota, Harvey Levin, Tawny Little, Jane Velez Mitchell and John Beard.
Like the other agencies, Bienstock receives tapes from hopefuls, accepts clients where potential is seen and then puts together more extensive tapes as it pushes to move the talent upward.
Also like other agents, Leibner has lost some through the years, including Morley Safer and Ed Bradley. "One problem with Richard is he can't let go," another agent says. His relationship with Mary Alice Williams, whom he moved from CNN to NBC in 1989, is a case in point.
Their bruised--and litigious--ending in 1992 still rankles both of them. Williams says she left Leibner because he was representing her while also pushing Maria Shriver and Faith Daniels for the same jobs at NBC. He says that she knew coming in who his clients were and that she was misled by NBC News President Gartner about her future there. He says they buried the hatchet over a lunch; she says she's still seething.
"You better have a thick skin to represent people," Leibner says. He's still the top gun around, which is why no less than Creative Artists Agency, Hollywood's premier talent firm, early this year signed a deal with Bienstock to gain access to the information-reality world.
Griffin could hardly be further in appearance or style from Leibner, but he also has the respect of most of those with whom he deals.
Dapper and discreet, he has become the top representative for news personalities within the William Morris Agency. Sitting in his 33rd-floor Manhattan office, Griffin remains polite but cautious about saying too much about what he does.
He has no shortage of ego, however, especially when told that agents have been accused of constantly flirting with conflict of interest. "I guarantee they don't say that about me," he says.
Not that he hasn't had his share of bumps. He has been Deborah Norville's agent since bringing her from local news to the "Today" show as a news reader in 1989 and ultimately as the spurned permanent replacement for Jane Pauley.
His peers say he pushed his client too far too fast, and now they're questioning the wisdom of her most recent move--from CBS, where she anchored a prime-time newsmagazine last summer, to the syndicated "Inside Edition." (Griffin says it was an "eleventh-hour decision," based largely on Norville's decision not to travel so much.)
Still, Griffin, 45, is considered a class act by most, particularly current clients, who include Geraldo Rivera, Robert MacNeil and Jim Lehrer, Regis Philbin, Joan Lunden and Lesley Stahl. In the cases of MacNeil and Lehrer and Rivera, he's been able to work out highly lucrative profit-participation packages in which the talent also owns the companies.
"What I like about Jim is he's always there," says CBS' Stahl, who says she needs that kind of a sounding board and guru. "Jim doesn't do the contract and disappear. I'll call him before I sound off on issues at work to get his advice on whether I should be tough or pliable."
"A true gentleman" is often the description of Konecky, a full-time lawyer who handles the contracts for several high-priced talents: Barbara Walters, Ed Bradley, Morley Safer, Charlie Rose, Kathie Lee and Frank Gifford, "60 Minutes" executive producer Don Hewitt and ABC News President Roone Arledge.