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Basketball to Hollywood: He Chose to Court Talent

Aug 4, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Upon graduating from college, Peter Micelli had one last multiple-choice test to take.
Choice A: Play professional basketball in Italy for $60,000 a year; or Choice B: Work in the mailroom of a Hollywood talent agency for about $4.25 an hour.
Seems like a no-brainer for a guy who spent the majority of his life as a two-sport athlete playing basketball and volleyball and was a starting forward on the California State University Northridge basketball team for almost four years.
He chose B.
Eight years later, Mr. Micelli, 30, hasn’t looked back. He steadily rose through the ranks at Creative Artists Agency to become a literary television agent representing producers and writers on hit shows and critical favorites such as “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “The Practice,” “Smallville,” “CSI” and “That ’70s Show.”
For a goal-driven person like himself, choosing CAA was the right answer, Mr. Micelli said.
“So few people get [to the NBA],” he said. “You know your limitations even though you want to believe you’re the greatest thing in the world. The guys in the NBA are so phenomenally talented. I knew after the first or second year [of college] it would be a European career at the very best. It definitely made me aware that there are other things I needed to start pursuing.”
One of the avenues he began to pursue was becoming a talent agent. Growing up in Beverly Hills, Calif., Mr. Micelli lived down the street from Billy Crystal’s manager Buddy Mora, who told Mr. Micelli he would make a great agent. “It just kind of stuck,” Mr. Micelli said. “I knew I would be a good salesman. I knew I wanted to be in a business where I could define how big my business got, and I wanted to do that in the confines of a really classy organization.”
Mr. Micelli gravitated toward the television department because “I was always more interested in watching a prime-time block of television than I was going to a movie,” he said.
Kevin Reilly, entertainment president at FX cable network, said Mr. Micelli has a great “energy and balance” for the job. “He brings a great enthusiasm to the projects and the clients he’s representing,” Mr. Reilly said. “[But] if it’s not the right fit for whatever reason, he knows to pull back and back off.
“As a young agent, some guys lack that finesse. They either oversell or are too easily intimidated. Peter has a real confidence and energy about him and knows how to be respectful.”
When signing new clients, Mr. Micelli said he looks for those who not only have great material but also are passionate about their work.
“Writers can be really great in terms of writing, but if they can’t go into a room with network executives and really articulate what their vision is and really show passion and show that they’re the best person to do it, they’ll run into a lot of problems,” he said. “One of the things I tell all my clients is I want them to work as hard as I do. If they work as hard as I work for them, the recipe will always be success.”
Finding success has become a lot harder because of the changing economic landscape of the television business. With reality shows eating up time slots that used to belong to scripted series and studios slashing writing staffs to keep budgets down, “The game of musical chairs that is staffing season has become really, really competitive,” Mr. Micelli said.
“You have to spend more energy than you’ve ever done in the past, making sure that your clients are in a position to get those jobs.”
STATS
Name: Peter Micelli
Date of Birth: Oct. 21, 1972
Place of Birth: Mount Clements, Mich.
Title: Television literary agent, Creative Artists Agency
Big Break: Getting a job in the mailroom at CAA
Who Knew? He’s part owner of the Hollywood nightclub Nacional
Favorite TV Shows: “That ’70s Show,” “CSI,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm”