Hollywood Agent and Alumnus Speaks About Changing World of Television

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March 02, 2017

Creative Artists Agency agent Jeff “Jake” Jacobs (C85, MSJ87) spoke February 2 to a packed audience about the new frontiers in television and the creative arts.

“The world has changed and the rules have changed — really, there are no rules anymore,” Jacobs told the crowd at Northwestern’s Frances Searle Building. The event was part of the Master of Science in Leadership for Creative Enterprises program’s speaker series.

Jacobs has spent nearly 30 years working at CAA, the world’s leading agency in representing stars of television, music, film, stage, sports, and gaming. Earning both his bachelor’s degree in Radio/Television/Film and then a master’s in journalism from Northwestern’s Medill School, he said he first thought he wanted to be a sports announcer — but is satisfied with his professional direction.

“I’d probably be announcing games in Green Bay,” he joked. “And right now that sounds terrible.”

One of Jacobs’ first assignments was filling writers for ABC’s long-running made-for-TV Movie of the Week series. But, more recently, he sold the hit show Game of Thrones to HBO, based on the books by fellow Northwestern Medill School alumnus George R.R. Martin (J70, MSJ71).

“TV shows are created by someone who has an idea, a simple idea. Every show at its essence can be described in one line,” he said. “So, in the pitch, we told HBO that, at its’ core, Game of Thrones was about power — who has it and how they use it.”

When Jacobs began his career, television writers and producers were pitching shows to just four networks: ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox. Now, he regularly sells scripted television to more than 75 platforms, including traditional networks, cable networks, streaming services, and more. Reality shows alone can be found on more than 100 platforms. Content creation has been further revolutionized by smartphones and other mobile devices.

“When you think about content, think about what you consume. Because the audience is so bifurcated, and because there is so much noise, programs will only work if they’re great,” he said. “Now, the question is how do you break through? How do you find an audience? You have to be great.”

Jacobs said being a good agent means liking people and being curious about the world and all those in it.

Katharine Yeatts, a junior RTVF major, attended the event to gain useful insight.

“I found the talk very helpful,” said Yeatts, who has applied to be an intern at CAA. “I liked how he talked about some of the problems writers and producers face, and I learned a lot about the entertainment industry. I would love to work in production or distribution one day, and this has given me a lot to think about.”

-Cara Lockwood