Carlos W. Williams
The 5th Dimension at the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, as seen in Summer of Soul
On any given day, seventy-five to a hundred deals, in various stages, hit the desk of Carlos W. Williams for advice or approval. Recently, one of those memos resulted in an Oscar: the 2021 documentary Summer of Soul, now streaming on Hulu, won the Academy Award for best documentary feature. The film, about the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival and directed by Questlove, is part of the Onyx Collective, the Disney brand that features creators of color and underrepresented voices.
Onyx is a recent — and critical — addition to Williams's wide-ranging docket. As executive vice-president of business affairs and operations for 20th Television and Freeform, he handles deals for the TV studio that resulted from the merger of Touchstone Television and 20th Television. No matter whose contract is on the table, Williams says he works toward satisfying all parties.
"I'm a solutions-based person," he says. "I want everyone around me to be successful. How can we find a fair deal for all? You have to understand the human dynamic as well as the economic side of transactions."
That human quotient involves what Williams calls "halo economics," or personal agendas. Knowing the concerns of talent, or the priorities of an agent, helps him find the sweet spot in negotiations.
A TV lover since childhood, Williams grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The son of two educators, he gravitated to law school and, eventually, entertainment. His many posts at The Walt Disney Company included separate stints as vice-president of business affairs for both ABC Studios and the ABC television network. He went on to run business affairs for firms including Warner Horizon Television, A+E Networks and A+E Studios, Bad Robot Productions and Touchstone Television.
Business affairs, he notes, goes beyond contracts. He likens the operations part of his job to air traffic control, juggling crisis management, legal questions and occasional production snafus.
Now he's reveling in the launch of the Onyx Collective. "Growing up, watching Gilligan's Island and The Brady Bunch, I didn't see people who looked like me," Williams says. "To be part of something that's committed to inclusive storytelling, by creators of color, is wonderful."
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine issue #4, 2022, under the title, "Heart and Soul."