COMPANY TOWN : Grey Is Black and White on Brillstein

Manager-producer Brad Grey insists that the huge, horizontal Ed Ruscha painting of a shooting star that dominates a wall of his Beverly Hills office has no symbolic meaning to him. He claims he bought the piece simply because he fell in love with the striking, electric-blue background.

Whether he intended it to or not, the contemporary work of art seems a perfect metaphor for his meteoric career and unbridled ambitions.

For several weeks this summer, it seemed that all of Hollywood was talking about Brad Grey.

The buzz in town and in the media was that the enterprising 37-year-old, who had helped his partner Bernie Brillstein build their personal management and production company into a major Hollywood success story, was being courted for top jobs by MCA Inc., Walt Disney Co. and Sony Corp.

In late August, trade papers reported that Grey had abruptly broken off talks with all three of those companies and was staying put as co-head of 10-year-old Brillstein-Grey Entertainment, which represents such clients as Garry Shandling, Dana Carvey, Dennis Miller, Lorne Michaels, Brad Pitt and Nicolas Cage and produces such TV series as "The Larry Sanders Show," "NewsRadio," "The Naked Truth," "The Jeff Foxworthy Show" and "Def Comedy Jam."

Then, last week, Brillstein said that after 41 years in show biz he was going to step back from his daily management duties and hand the reins over to Grey--whom he had knighted chairman of the company.

In an Oct. 9 memo to his staff, Brillstein said, "It shocks me to know that my 65th year is approaching. . . . As I've been doing this for 41 years it's really time to take it a little easier." Noting that heretofore he'd be known as the "founding partner," the veteran talent manager said that although he is not retiring and planned to be remain actively involved in the company, "I have always believed that every company should have one boss, one leader, and one person who has the freedom to choose the course of the company. . . . I know that Brad is completely qualified to take all of you, and me, forward to the future we all want."

Hollywood was once again abuzz with talk about Grey.

There was even widespread speculation that Grey privately played up the talks with the three studio suitors just to gain more leverage at Brillstein-Grey.

Brillstein dismisses such speculation, saying there is no relationship between his restructuring the management of the company and what went on this summer.

"I've been talking to Brad for two years about this," Brillstein said in an interview Monday. "I'm going to be 65 and he's going to be 38. I truly believe he should be doing this. I don't want to have any more of those dinners."

Brillstein, who says he plans to stick around the company for three to six more years, admits he is hurt that "eight of my dearest friends went after Brad and never bothered to call me. . . . The only guy who told me what was happening from the time the first call came in was Brad."

Grey himself has never publicly gone on record to talk about what happened this summer.

In an interview at his large, sparsely decorated office overlooking Wilshire Boulevard, Grey still didn't wish to discuss the particulars of those opportunities other than to acknowledge, "It was pretty seductive, and while I never had to make a decision, it makes you take a hard look at your life.

"The reason I'm here is simple. I really believe in what we're doing and I enjoy living in several different worlds [managing talent and producing product] and building a business." It also helps, Grey readily admits, being an owner.

"I also thought when you take a job you really have to have a desire to have that job," said Grey. "Bernie and I have a great relationship and the notion of walking away from all that was something I decided wasn't for me."

He sees a "unique opportunity" at Brillstein-Grey.

"We haven't scratched the surface yet with this company," said Grey, who was made a full partner about six years ago after having helped grow the business from three to 53 employees over the past decade.

Part of the company's plan, as Grey describes it, is to continue building the TV production company into an asset that could someday be sold at a high price. The company will produce seven network TV series this season through its joint venture with Capital Cities/ABC, including the midseason pickups "The Dana Carvey Sketch Series" and "Don't Forget Your Toothbrush."

Grey says his next focus will be the fledgling movie division, for which a top executive is being sought to replace former head Howard Rosenman. "We're going to get aggressive and within the next couple of months we'll try and build a motion picture company that stands for something," Grey said.

Launched last year, the movie arm will see its first big-screen production roll with "The Cable Guy," a comedy starring Jim Carrey that shoots next month for Columbia Pictures. Also for Columbia, "What Planet Are You From," starring Garry Shandling, is slated to go in March. Two films starring client Adam Sandler, "Happy Gilmore" and "Bulletproof," are scheduled to begin production for Universal Pictures early next year.

Brillstein-Grey's movie and TV distribution deal with Sony expires in March. Grey said it is too early to say whether its current arrangement will be extended.

Grey foresees in the near future the company expanding into the music business, though he cautions, "I want to be fairly methodical and thoughtful about it."

While it is a service-oriented business and thus an intangible asset, the management side--which boasts a roster of more than 100 clients--continues to be the core of Brillstein- rey.

It is what Grey knows best.

Born in the Bronx and raised in Spring Valley, N.Y., Grey's first industry job was as a gofer for a concert promotion company owned by Harvey Weinstein (of Miramax fame) while he was a student at the State University of New York at Buffalo. After 18 months on the job, he and Weinstein (and his then-partner Corky Berger) started a management business, signing such young, then unknown comedians as Bob Saget and Shandling.

Saget, who Grey signed as his first client in 1979 and who is still a client today, recalls, "Everyone thought I was nuts to have a manager in Buffalo." Even though at 22 he was a year younger than Saget, the comedian said, "He was a young guy with a lot of chutzpah and he was always wise beyond his years." And, yes, even then, Saget noted, "He seemed very driven."

Grey went on to set up his own management shop in Los Angeles. Not long after meeting Brillstein at a TV convention in San Francisco, the two joined forces in July 1984.

It's been suggested by many Hollywood insiders that Grey models himself after Michael S. Ovitz, both in style and his thirst for power.

"I've never thought of myself that way," says Grey. "We're very different people though I have great admiration for him [Ovitz] as I do for a lot of people who have built companies and are forward thinking like David Geffen, Warren Buffett, Tom Murphy and Bill Gates."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
64°