12 to Watch 2005: Cara Stein

Jan 10, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Cara Stein is on a mission, and if she’s successful it could have a profound effect on the future of television comedies.

As an executive VP of the William Morris Agency and co-chief operating officer of the firm’s New York office, Ms. Stein is determined to revive the moribund world of television comedy and is cultivating New York talent to achieve that goal.

Her appointment in September to the agency’s board of directors can only strengthen that resolve. While not the first woman to be named to William Morris’ board, Ms. Stein is the first New York-based television person appointed as a director.

“Ten years ago we had Roseanne, Ray [Romano], Brett Butler,” said Ms. Stein, who also runs the agency’s East Coast television department. “There was a real respect for the comic on the road, who honed their act. Then [the industry] started desperately going after whoever was funny, even if they had only five minutes of material.”

That lack of material has left viewers–and television executives, for that matter–cool toward comedies, but Ms. Stein sees change on the horizon. And she plans to use her recently raised profile at William Morris to help facilitate that change.

“I’d love to see the New York comedy scene really set the stage and become the front-runners that bring comedy back to television,” she said, adding that New York is a “phenomenal breeding ground of talent” from which William Morris can cultivate the next crop of hit comedies.

To that end, Ms. Stein, who counts among her clients comedienne Whoopi Goldberg and “Everybody Loves Raymond” executive producer Steve Skrovan, has struck pilot deals with four comics who she said “reignite that funny is based on truth.”

Her work doesn’t stop there. Ms. Stein also is keen on encouraging more New York-based production and writing. She said last year was “a banner year” for Big Apple-based comedy series, with ABC’s “Hope & Faith” and the now-defunct NBC sitcom “Whoopi” both produced in New York.

With theater’s strong presence in New York, she said, Hollywood has a well from which to draw talent for television as well as for feature films.

Ms. Stein’s appointment to the William Morris board caps an 18-year history at the talent agency. Initially interested in a job that would marry work with her passion for Major League Baseball, she took a job at William Morris for the summer as an assistant to talent agent Kevin Huvane in New York. A year later Mr. Huvane jumped ship to Creative Artists Agency. Ms. Stein stayed on, eventually being promoted to talent agent and focusing on stage actors.

Over the years Ms. Stein has moved up in the ranks, going into TV and raising the profile of the New York-based TV operation to a level comparable to that of the West Coast branch.

“What I have managed to do is to keep re-creating a new job for me, and so far I have managed to make this job new every couple of years,” she said. “That’s why this remains a very satisfying place.”

Just the Facts …

Title: Executive VP, co-chief operating officer of the New York office and head of television, East Coast, for the William Morris Agency

How long in current position: Approximately one year; with the company 18 years

Year of birth: 1962

Place of birth: New York

What to watch for: Look for Ms. Stein, the highest-ranking television board member from New York, to revive TV comedy by cultivating seasoned comedic talent.

Who knew? A lifelong Yankees fan, Ms. Stein boasts of being able to “throw like a boy,” and credits her brothers with ridding her of her elbow throw.