Observer’s LA Power 25

The deal makers, creatives, philanthropists, and pols who pull the strings on the Left Coast and beyond

The LA Power 25

How do you even define power in a place as decentralized and diffuse as Los Angeles? While culling this subjective list, we defined power as: for whom do you drop everything the moment their name flashes on your phone? Yes, I can see you’re in labor, but Casey Wasserman just called!

But it is also more than that. These are the kings and kingmakers—and during the campaign fundraising season, the president-electors—who call Los Angeles home. (At least, primarily.)

These are the people who shape what it is we watch and listen to, what we stream and tweet about, as well as what we wear, where we want to go, and what we talk about when we get there.

We’ve got art benefactors, politicians, sports and real estate moguls, fundraisers and technological visionaries.

Their selfies can alter a stock’s future. Their kind request for a donation can forever change the fate of a candidate or a charity. And if they can’t fix your problem, they know someone who can.

Meet the Observer’s LA Power 25.

Shonda Rhimes ABC savior

When it premieres this fall on ABC, The Catch will be the fourth ShondaLand show currently on the network's primetime lineup. She’s also producing the FX historical mini-series about the Great Migration, The Warmth of Other Suns, with Bessie’s Dee Rees writing and directing. Her TGIT lineup has given the network a double-digit ratings bump for the night, and all three of her shows have ranked in Nielsen’s top 10 Twitter TV Ratings.

Book ’em: Adding to her dance card, Simon & Schuster will publish Ms. Rhimes’ memoir, Year of Yes, in November.

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie  
Hollywood royalty

Everyone in Hollywood is looking to buy stock in Jolie-Pitt Inc. How else to explain Netflix investing $60 million for War Machine, the Pitt-produced-and-starring black comedy based on The Operators, the late Michael Hastings’ book on the Afghanistan war? A producer on 12 Years a Slave and exec producer on Selma, the World War Z star, currently filming Adam McKay’s Wall Street expose The Big Short, is parlaying box office clout to make the most politically charged films Hollywood has seen in decades. His wife and By The Sea director, writer and co-star meanwhile is busy saving the world, continuing her UN work by addressing the African Union Summit and using her personal story to further the national conversation of breast cancer prevention. Things are moving forward on Maleficent 2, as well as her planned film about the ivory trade in the 1980s, and she is rumored to be on Marvel’s wish list as a director for Captain Marvel.

Half-pipe: Those accomplishments pale in comparison to their biggest feat in 2014: building their kids an epic backyard skate park that runs the length of their Los Feliz manse.

Casey Wasserman
Chairman and CEO, Wasserman Media Group; prodigal grandson

What’s a power list without a Wasserman? Following in the footsteps of his entrepreneurial grandfather Lew (founder of MCA and Universal), Mr. Wasserman built a sports-focused management and marketing company that boasts over $150 billion worth of contracts. With names like NBA All-Stars Russell Westbrook and Marc Gasol in his court, Casey Wasserman could perhaps be credited with having the best Rolodex in the city. The former investment banker and owner of the LA Avengers, the Arena Football team, Mr. Wasserman has the ear of the both Mayor Garcetti and former President Clinton, whom he considers a mentor. (He is also on the board of the William J. Clinton Foundation.) His Wasserman Foundation is one of the leaders in providing grants for L.A.-based arts education and health programs.

Legacy project: The Wasserman Football Center, UCLA’s recently announced state-of-the-art facility, gives new weight to the university’s gridiron rivalry with the hated USC.

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Bryan Lourd, Richard Lovett and Kevin Huvane
CAA managing director, president and managing partner

When TPG Capital became a majority owner in CAA last year, many wondered if it would lead to a major shakeup in leadership for Hollywood’s longtime top-dog agency, but this troika seems to have come out of the change even stronger. Mr. Lovett has continued to show the old-school CAA knack of packaging clients in big projects: Suicide Squad, for example, is chock full of them, while client Tom Hanks has upcoming films with clients Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard. Mr. Lourd scored points during the Sony hack by circulating a petition on behalf of client George Clooney to studio heads in support of Sony and The Interview that many were allegedly too timid to sign. Meanwhile, Mr. Huvane has garnered praise from Nicole Kidman for the way he has negotiated and extended the careers of female clients over 40, including her, Sandra Bullock and Julianne Moore.

The one that didn't get away: The agency managed to hold on to Hollywood's most coveted comedy asset when Melissa McCarthy stayed at CAA even after her former agents left in this past spring's great defection to UTA.

SPONSORED: Ray Donovan 

Nothing is more powerful than a man with secrets, and a man who can keep them is a very valuable commodity indeed. Whether it’s with a helping hand or a closed fist, Ray Donovan can make all the problems of the Hollywood elite go away. Don’t be surprised if more than one member of this list has him on speed dial.

What to expect from him next: Even Ray’s actions have repercussions and he soon learns that clean slates are a dirty business. But no matter how many hits he’s taken, one thing’s for certain—what doesn’t kill a Donovan only makes him stronger.

The all-new season of RAY DONOVAN starring Liev Schreiber and Jon Voight premieres Sunday at 9 p.m. ET/PT on SHOWTIME.

Magic Johnson 
Entrepreneur, team owner, former point guard

Few can doubt this Lakers legend's balls. Mr. Johnson continues to bang the drum for the NFL to return to L.A., and doubled down on his partial Dodgers ownership by being part of the group that shelled out an MLS record $100 million for LAFC, the new expansion soccer team that will hit the pitch in 2018 in a new soccer-specific stadium they’re building next door to the Coliseum. (Other members of the ownership team include soccer legend Mia Hamm and motivational speaker Tony Robbins—imagine the halftime speeches!) Through shrewd urban investments--everything from movie theater chains to health clubs-- and his Magic Johnson Foundation fighting HIV/AIDs and other epidemics affecting urban communities, it’s fair to say the Beverly Hills resident has done as much to improve the life of South L.A. residents as anyone on this list.

The Doctor is in: In May, Mr. Johnson followed his mentor, the late Jerry Buss, by adding Dr. to his name when Xavier University of Louisiana made him an honorary doctor of business.

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Steven Spielberg 
Director; inventor of the blockbuster

Forty years after inventing the summer blockbuster with Jaws, Mr. Spielberg returned to that arena as the producer of Jurassic World—which, no doubt helped by his promotional TV spots, grossed an Avengers-tromping $208 million on its first weekend—before returning to more grown-up fare when the Tom Hanks Cold War thriller Bridge of Spies, scripted by the Coen Brothers, is released in October. He has his first-ever Disney film in the works, an adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The BFG. His fundraising muscle is matched only by that of his old DreamWorks partner Jeffrey Katzenberg: President Obama was a guest at his Shoah Gala in Beverly Hills last spring, and Hillary Clinton was the star attraction at the Democratic congressional fundraiser he co-chaired in October.

Nice view: He and wife Kate Capshaw reportedly sold their double-lot, 7,000-plus-square-foot Malibu beach house (not their primary residence, which is up the road in Pacific Palisades) for a rumored $35 million.

Ellen DeGeneres Icon, talk show host

Twelve years after the launch of her career-remaking daytime talk show, Ms. DeGeneres’ production company is spreading her “everybody’s buddy” vibe through a host of projects, including Netflix’s new Green Eggs and Ham animated series and three NBC shows: One Big Happy, a sitcom with a lesbian protagonist; the kid-focused variety show Little Big Shots, hosted by Steve Harvey, and First Dates, a dating reality show. Whether flipping West Side condos or creating careers by random acquaintance (the guy that delivered her famous Oscar night pizza now has his own restaurant), Ms. DeGeneres’ Midas touch shows little sign of tarnishing: the comedian pulls in a weekly salary of over $1.2 million and her show is contracted through 2017. She is also extending her brand with ED, a line of women's clothing and home goods—and has a partnership with GapKids for a line of children’s wear.

Wait, there’s more: HeadsUp, the guessing game she played with her studio audience, went on to become a best-selling app and a show on HGTV. Ellen's Design Challenge will return for a second season next January.

J.J. Abrams Keeper of The Force

It should surprise no one that the second trailer of Star Wars: The Force Awakens holds the Guinness Book of World Records for most viewed trailer. Nor will it when Episode VII takes Jurassic World’s biggest weekend prize when it opens December 18. The Palisades High grad has handled the daunting task of restoring balance to the Force after George Lucas’ over-baked prequels with an enviable ease, keeping a tight lid on leaks and hitting the perfect notes of grit and nostalgia with the trailers. All this while also being the creative force behind both the Mission: Impossible and Star Trek franchises.

Millennial Falcon Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a reunion of sorts for Mr. Abrams and a man called Han: as a screenwriter in his early 20s, Mr. Abrams wrote the script for Mike Nichols’ 1991 melodrama, Regarding Henry, which starred Harrison Ford and Annette Bening.

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Patrick Whitesell and Ari Emanuel 
Co-CEOs, WME/IMG

It's been six years since Endeavor acquired William Morris and a year since WME stuck a $2.4 billion feather in its cap by merging with international sports management and marketing powerhouse IMG. While there have been bumps in the road (like layoffs on the IMG side), the polar opposite agents remain in the forefront of the lucrative business of television packaging, not to mention putting clients in high-profile pictures (see: Matt Damon in The Martian), and using their connections to do favors for the rich and powerful. (In the spring, Mr. Emanuel arranged a summit between his Chicago mayor brother Rahm and filmmaker Spike Lee, whose new film Chiraq casts an unflattering light on the city.) Plus, with the Entourage movie’s tepid box office, Mr. Emanuel may finally be able to look forward to a world without constant Ari Gold comparisons.

Good company: If you had to suffer through a Lakers game this past season, best to do it the way Messrs. Emanuel and Whitesell did this past October, flanking Alibaba's Jack Ma, China's third richest man.

Jeffrey Katzenberg 
CEO, DreamWorks Animation; super-bundler

His unsuccessful attempts to find a buyer who would meet his $3 billion asking price for DreamWorks Animation last year, coupled with underwhelming box office results that have lead to write-offs and layoffs, have been seen by many as the ultimate humbling for King Jeffrey, whose salary took a 53 percent drop in 2014. But he is pushing forward unabated, spending his time before the next Kung Fu Panda movie doing what he does best—raising money for the Motion Picture & Television Fund and doing everything he can to make sure Hillary Clinton is America’s next president. Even with Shrek’s best days behind him, Mr. Katzenberg remains Hollywood’s most feared and revered political bundler.

House of cards: At a Katzenberg-hosted fundraiser in October, the Clintons raised a record $2.1 million. Some have taken to derisively calling her presidential campaign “a Jeffrey Katzenberg production.”

Theresa Peters partner, talent agent, UTA

It has been a banner year for the UTA agency’s core comedy business, with the midnight defection of 12 CAA agents, and most of their clients to UTA this past spring marking a seismic shift, the effects of which are still being sorted out. While that move may have grabbed the headlines, Ms. Peters, had one of her more quietly effective years since leaving William Morris in 2008. Known for her list of dramatic acting heavyweights (still she has her foot in the comedy door representing the likes of Bill Hader), Ms. Peters landed clients Jamie Dornan and Oscar Isaacs in the Fifty Shades and Star Wars franchises, respectively, both potential career makers.

After the buzz ends: Ms. Peters is guiding client Aaron Paul though his post-Breaking Bad career: he landed the Hulu drama about a cult The Way opposite Michelle Monaghan and the indie thriller Come Find Me, from a 2012 Black List script.

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Tom Rothman
Chairman, Motion Picture Group, Sony Pictures Entertainment

The former Fox Filmed Entertainment head returning to top Sony Pictures may be one of the better Hollywood comeback stories of recent years, but Mr. Rothman faces perhaps the most daunting Hazmat cleanup the town has ever known. Not only is he forced to mop up the mess made by a million leaked emails following the Interview debacle, he's doing it during a summer that kicked off with, well, Aloha. Mr. Rothman is rebooting franchises like Ghostbusters and Spider-man, (Sony's third go-round with the webslinger, but its first in concert with Disney’s Marvel) and shepherding high-emotion spectacles from proven-commodity directors, including Robert Zemeckis' The Walk and Ang Lee's Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.

To pay or not to pay: The town is waiting with bated breath to see if the cost-conscious Mr. Rothman would actually award Jennifer Lawrence with a promised $20 million payday for Mortem Tyldum’s sci-fi epic Passengers, with her co-star Chris Pratt’s fee jumping from a reported $10 to $12 million following Jurassic World’s massive opening.

Eric Garcetti Mayor, Los Angeles

L.A.’s Hollywood-handsome mayor (Mr. Garcetti played the role on TNT’s The Closer before winning the actual job) and former City Council president was the driving force in developing “Silicon Beach,” hiring former Qualcomm exec Peter Marx to be the city’s first chief innovation technology officer to help lure Yahoo, Google, YouTube and Microsoft to Playa Vista (and making rents in Venice even more untenable). He has fundamentally shifted the way the city does business—and changed the lives of more than 600,000 workers—by approving a $15 minimum wage that will go into effect in 2020. A Rhodes scholar and the son of O.J.-era District Attorney Gil Garcetti, Mr. Garcetti has gotten high marks for his aggressive approach to curbing runaway production, but his handling of the fatal shooting of mentally ill African-American Ezell Ford (he was in D.C. for a fundraiser on the eve of the Police Commission's ruling on the matter) has left many scratching their heads.

In tune: A devotee of Keith Jarrett, Mr. Garcetti keeps an upright piano in the mayor’s office to keep his jazz piano chops solid.

Elon Musk Futurist

No one better encapsulates the idea of L.A. as a city of the future than the legend-in-his-own-time entrepreneur and sustainability engineer. His companies Tesla, SpaceX and SolarCity aim to reshape every aspect of modern life. While the world eagerly awaits the launch of Tesla’s Model 3 (the “affordable” version of the company's luxe electric cars) in 2018, Mr. Musk has further whetted our collective appetite with Powerwall, the high-storage home battery that he claims will “fundamentally change the way the world uses energy.” In his spare time, the PayPal co-founder and Bel Air resident keeps busy trying to colonize Mars.

Making the grade: After he was said to be unhappy with the ultra-exclusive Mirman School, Mr. Musk founded his own, Ad Astra, to educate his six sons. Don’t bother sending an application: the admission is by invitation only and reportedly comprised entirely of the children of SpaceX employees.

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Lucian Grainge
Chairman and CEO, Universal Music Group; paid music evangelist

Mr. Grainge has declared free, ad-based streaming an unsustainable business model for the long-term health of the music business and is pushing YouTube to develop a new premium platform. And when he talks, people listen. With UMG, Mr. Grainge—who is partnering with Vessel, a new web video platform through which the company will exclusively premiere new content, and his former Interscope lieutenant Jimmy Iovine, who is firmly ensconced at Apple (thanks, Beats headphones!)—claimed a 38.7 percent of the market share and 7 out 10 of the top-selling records in 2014, generating near $520 billion in revenue. They may even do better this year, with new Kanye West and Lana Del Rey records on the way. Whether a generation of free streamers can be pushed into the long-term subscription space remains to be seen.

Pretty in pink: The precocious London-born Mr. Grainge famously closed his first record deal for the Psychedelic Furs in 1978 in the middle of taking his college entrance exams.

David & Megan Ellison
Heads of Skydance Productions and Annapurna Pictures

She’s classy, he’s massy: together the Silicon Valley scions have had a huge impact on both prestige and mass-market Hollywood product. Movies from Ms. Ellison’s Annapurna Pictures garnered 17 Oscar nominations in 2014; she has Richard Linklater and David O. Russell movies coming later this year, and the town is still talking about her deeply personal Cannes speech (“I don’t believe in many things but art is definitely one of them”). Her older brother David, meanwhile, has a healthy case of sequelitis: he has the latest Terminator movie, with new additions to the World War Z, Top Gun and Star Trek franchises in the works, and Skydance is now solidly in the streaming game with Netflix’s Grace and Frankie, which just got picked up for a second season.

For the save: Ms. Ellison has become something of a folk hero of West Side cinephiles by rescuing video store and Santa Monica institution Vidiots from bankruptcy.

Mike Hopkins 
Hulu CEO; streaming’s next big thing

As head of one of the three major streaming services and the only one to rely on commercials, Mr. Hopkins is playing a bold, aggressive game of catch-up. Putting that ad revenue to good use, Hulu has been paying top dollar for shows from Jason Reitman, Amy Poehler and Parenthood’s Jason Katims and just started production on a series adaptation of Stephen King’s JFK time travel yarn 11/22/63 from producer J.J. Abrams and starring James Franco. They've also just struck a deal with Showtime to make the premium cable's content available for streaming via Hulu, for an extra subscriber fee.

Naming rights: The names of the conference rooms in Hulu’s open-floor-plan, Santa Monica-based offices (not even Mr. Hopkins has a private office), are inspired by hit TV shows: think Wisteria Lane, Dunder-Mifflin, Central Perk.

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Janice Min
Chief Creative Officer / Co-President of Entertainment Group, Guggenheim Media; tabloid survivor

Since leaving NYC and US Weekly to come West, Ms. Min turned Hollywood Reporter from an also-ran trade paper into a kind of Better Hollywood Homes & Deals, supplying splashy photo shoots, roundtables and think pieces to its small (74k) but super-rich readership. The numbers at both the Hollywood Reporter and Billboard skyrocketed since she took over. Billboard.com has been focused on building digital channels dedicated to passionate niche audiences like Latin and Dance.

On the horizon: There is chatter that Guggenheim Digital Media will spin the THR and Billboard brands forward into an entertainment news channel that Ms. Min would eventually oversee.

Ted Sarandos 
Netflix Chief Content Officer; stream weaver

Who cares if no one knows exactly how many people are watching Netflix’s original programming? (O.K., so pretty much everybody.) Netflix’s 62-million-plus international subscribers are a blunt force instrument, one the subscription service has wielded to great effect. Not only has Netflix succeeded with Marvel Universe shows to a much greater degree than ABC has been able to (a poll of statistically relevant subscribers shows that more people watched Daredevil than they did Netflix’s flagship show House of Cards) but they have also signed Chelsea Handler to do a late night show at a time when cable and the networks have kept it an all-boys club. And with War Machine, they are solidly in the Brad Pitt business, making the Pitt-produced-and-starring satirical comedy.

Undeclared: Considered among the Obama campaign’s top bundlers, Mr. Sarandos and his wife Nicole Avant, former U.S. ambassador to the Bahamas, have yet to publicly endorse Hillary Clinton, even as the rest of the town’s major fundraisers have embraced the former first lady.

Eli Broad 
Philanthropist; king of Grand Avenue

When his eponymous honeycombed spaceship of an art museum opens on Bunker Hill in September (fingers crossed) look for it be L.A.’s most-talked-about structure since Frank Gehry’s Disney Concert Hall (which Mr. Broad largely paid for). And that's even before he and wife Edythe fill the 120,00-square-foot building with their 2,000 or so pieces of modern and contemporary art. The billionaire, who built his fortune selling tracts in the L.A. suburbs and then spent it reshaping the city in his own image, has remained a beacon for controversy. He suspended his $1 million Broad Prize to high-performing urban schools when he deemed the results not dramatic enough, while the delays opening the Broad have only furthered his reputation as being an ultra-hands-on benefactor. (Just ask Gehry.)

An acquired taste: The Broad is expected to house the couple’s 34 pieces by controversial artist Jeff Koons, including his blue steel Balloon Dog and the life-sized ceramic sculpture Michael Jackson and Bubbles.

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Donna Langley 
Chairman, Universal Pictures; master of the sequel

It pays to be No. 2, or 3, or 7. As Ms. Langley reaps the rewards of Universal’s year of the sequel—Furious 7, Pitch Perfect 2, Jurassic World, Ted 2 and Minions, with Fifty Shades Darker on the fast track—Ms. Langley is still moving the town’s chess pieces, bringing in The Social Network and Moneyball producer Michael De Luca with a production deal in the Sony fallout. She had the most impressive shout-out of CineCon when Ice Cube credited her big balls for supporting this summer’s N.W.A. biopic Straight Outta Compton.

Back from the dead: Is the world really ready for when Universal revives the Mummy, Frankenstein and the rest of its Depression-era monsters as part of a Marvel-style cinematic universe?

Kevin Feige 
President, Marvel Studios; commander of the MCU

Under Mr. Feige, Marvel has managed to usurp Pixar’s spot as the Disney subsidiary the parent company most hopes to emulate. Mr. Feige’s movies seem to do the impossible, appealing equally to diehards and mass audiences while depicting large-scale destruction that somehow still makes people laugh. He both reinvents established stars (look for Doctor Strange to do for Benedict Cumberbatch what Iron Man did for Robert Downey Jr.) and creates new ones (like Tom Holland, who next gets to put on Spidey's Spandex).

Lady Superheroes Wanted: As anyone who saw SNL’s sendup of the hypothetical Black Widow feature can tell you, Marvel has female trouble. While rival DC has Wonder Woman coming out in 2017, don’t expect Mr. Feige’s Marvel to have a woman-headlined film until Captain Marvel hits theaters a year later.

Michael Rapino 
CEO and president, Live Nation

Under Mr. Rapino, Beverly Hills-based Live Nation has utterly dominated the live music space, garnering $6.87B billion in revenue last year while boasting 22 of the top 25 tours. More than that, he is a visionary, leading the charge into mobile ticketing and launching a venture with Vice to produce content around the company’s core live-music business. The Thunder Bay, Ontario, native hosted a $32,400-a-plate Democratic Party fundraiser at his home last summer where the president was the guest of honor.

Hardware wars: Just what the world needs: another awards show. Look for Mr. Rapino’s Live Nation Music Awards to enter the flooded market when it’s simulcast on TBS and TNT October 1. Sample categories: “Road Warrior of the Year” and “Best Special Effects in a Festival.”

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Jay Penske 
Chairman/CEO of PMC

The most Game of Thrones-like story of the past year was Mr. Penske’s epic tussle—played out in slow-mo on Twitter—with his former Deadline employee/editrix/in-house pitbull Nikki Finke, now fiction editor on her own website (thank you, non-compete clause). While the site that Ms. Finke founded and Mr. Penske bought in 2009 remains the central platform for the larger Hollywood conversation and a ton of breaking news, Mr. Penske’s transformation of Variety, which he purchased three years later from a once-dominant daily into a THR-style weekly glam rag is still a work in progress. Mr. Penske also bought the Fairchild titles from Condé Nast Publications for a reported $100 million, with an eye toward using the digital-dominant formula that has worked so well with Deadline and applying it to Women’s Wear Daily and the company’s other august business-to-business titles.

Moving on up: Mr. Penske and his wife, John Mellencamp’s ex, Elaine Irwin, recently sold their 5,000-plus-square-foot Bel Air home to Inspector Gadget creator Andy Heyward.

Roy Price 
Amazon Studios' head; Jeff Bezos’ Hollywood guy

For a streaming service, Mr. Price is building the kind of seriously deep bench that would make most movie studios jealous, luring indie producing vet Ted Hope from San Francisco to head their creative development and former Picturehouse CEO Bob Berney from NYC to oversee marketing and distribution. At a time when studios have been scaling back on production, Mr. Price has the town buzzing as he goes full-bore into a virtual arms race with Netflix’s Ted Sarandos to produce upwards of a dozen films a year.

Achilles heel: Now if he could just explain that Woody Allen show.