It was one of those defining moments that nearly everyone has in his or her professional life, when commitment to career choice is tested. And like a lot of things in Ari Greenburg’s life, that moment came early.
Mr. Greenburg was finishing his undergraduate studies at the University of California at Berkeley in 1994 when he had an interview with a human resources executive at International Creative Management. As he saw it, a job at a talent agency would start him on the path toward his ultimate goal at the time-running a broadcast network. He hoped the interview would lead to his participation in ICM’s agent-training program, but his dreams hit a brick wall when the HR executive declared that Mr. Greenburg was not agent material.
Fast-forward 11 years and it is clear Mr. Greenburg has proven that HR executive wrong several times over. At 32, and now a partner at talent agency Endeavor, Mr. Greenburg has made a name for himself as a television packaging guru responsible for the sweet payday that rocker Ozzy Osbourne and his family received from MTV a couple of years ago and for deals involving hit TV series such as “Without a Trace,” “The O.C.” and “Veronica Mars.”
“I enjoy being an agent, and as a packager I am getting closer and closer to the material and to the process [of making television],” he said. “Taking assets that are already here and building brands out of them, that is what excites me.”
How Mr. Greenburg got to this point is as much a story about a smart kid from Philadelphia not taking no for an answer as it is about how he found himself in the right place at the right time. After the rejection by ICM, Mr. Greenburg got a job at Rysher Entertainment. Eight months into the Rysher gig Mr. Greenburg placed a phone call to then-ICM partner and Greenburg family friend Rick Rosen to ask him a question. That conversation led to Mr. Greenburg being hired at ICM as Mr. Rosen’s assistant-a role he continued to perform after Mr. Rosen and three other talent agents bolted from ICM to start Endeavor in 1995.
Getting in literally on the ground floor at Endeavor afforded Mr. Greenburg opportunities that he might not have gotten at more established talent agencies.
“A lot of the Endeavor philosophy I bought into,” Mr. Greenburg said during an interview. “When I started the company never had any producers. What we decided to do was rather than sign on [existing producers], we would build our own.”
Mr. Greenburg attributes a lot of his professional success to what he describes as “being in the right place at the right time” as well as to being given the freedom to try new things just as Endeavor was getting off the ground.
“He’s very smart, first, and secondly, he’s very passionate,” said Mr. Rosen, Endeavor’s founding partner. “I think when you take someone who is smart and who has passion, those are the two ingredients that are essential to being a good agent.”
Despite the successes he has been involved with, not every deal has scored big. The project Mr. Greenburg considers his single best pitch is for the failed WB series “Jack & Bobby.” Despite the talent involved and a premise that broke through last season’s clutter the show never clicked with viewers and was canceled after one season.
“The biggest mistake with ‘Jack & Bobby’ was the difference of opinion over whether to take it to The WB and make it a real classy teen drama or take it to CBS and make it a classy drama that happens to feature a couple of teenagers,” Mr. Greenburg said. But Mr. Greenburg thinks the political flavor of the series failed to connect with The WB’s teen viewers.
That disappointment won’t keep Mr. Greenburg from putting together packaging deals for other dramas-or comedies, for that matter. Indeed, what seems to work in Mr. Greenburg’s favor is his ability to avoid being pigeonholed as an agent. While many agents tend to focus exclusively on comedies, dramas or reality programming, Mr. Greenburg has opted to float among the three categories, seizing opportunities wherever they might arise.
“You’ve got to be flexible as an agent, and you have to move your clients within these genres,” he said. “The really great agents I have learned from had success here by moving around from area to area.”
Title: Partner, Endeavor
Date of birth: Sept. 10, 1972
Place of birth: Philadelphia
Big break: Being hired as the assistant to agent Rick Rosen
Who knew? When Mr. Greenburg first came to Hollywood he had dreams of becoming the head of a broadcast network in the vein of the late Brandon Tartikoff.