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October 5, 2009

The Most Feared Woman in Hollywood: Part I

http://www.jewishjournal.com/blog/item/the_most_feared_woman_in_hollywood_part_i_20091004/

Studio executives quiver at the sound of her name: Nikki Finke, the middle-aged, reclusive queen of entertainment journalism; famous for her brutal, blistering, takedowns.

Finke is the force behind Deadline Hollywood Daily, the three-and-a-half year-old blog she created that illuminates the dark underbelly of the entertainment industry. Finke is famous for breaking industry news before it happens—an executive once complained that Finke had written about his firing before it was carried out—and for getting insider scoop from the highest perches in Tinseltown. Finke is a well-traveled newspaper reporter who recently saw a big payday when she sold DHD to Mail.com for a reported $14 million. (Finke was later accused of bolstering her profile with inflated estimates.)

Hardly anyone in Hollywood will speak ill of Finke, so afraid are they of becoming the object of her ire (or the subject of one of her blog posts), which would make it difficult for any reporter to thoroughly profile her. But this week, The New Yorker’s Tad Friend gives it a shot. In the piece, “Why Hollywood Fears Nikki Finke,” he writes:

A combination town crier and volcano god, Finke evokes in her readers both anxiety and respect. One top studio executive says, “Nikki’s blog you have to check, and the others you have to delete from your in-box. She’s very, very, very accurate, extraordinarily so—you have a supposedly private conversation with two other people, and it’s on her site within an hour.” She usually posts five to ten stories a day, some of them just press releases or minutiae about elections at the Writers Guild, but many of them transfixing: anonymously sourced accounts of clandestine negotiations; photos of newly fired executives with red X’s slapped across them (after she’d broken the news of their impending demise); boasts of “TOLDJA!” when something happens that she predicted, or, anyway, half predicted; and helpful career advice (“Stick it where the sun don’t shine, you asswipe,” she recently counselled a CBS publicist).

Unsurprisingly, Finke has not reacted favorably to being written about; it’s far easier to be author than interviewee. And so she complains. Writing on her blog earlier today, she disparaged not only Friend for his piece, but also, the New York Times’ David Carr who profiled Finke in July, around the time she sold her Website. She also knocked the erudite literary magazine for kowtowing to Hollywood pressure:

I’m too superficial to read The New Yorker because it’s so unrelentingly boring. Even the cartoons suck these days. So back in 2008, soon after the writers strike ended, I said no when The New Yorker first approached me to cooperate for a profile. Fast forward to this summer, when the mag was desperate to liven up this week’s dullsville “Money Issue” with some Tinseltown mockery…the article is a superficial clip job, no better than David Carr’s rushed Page One profile on me in The New York Times recently. As I expected, it’s an amusing caricature, only occasionally true but hardly insightful. Still, I’m relieved that The New Yorker didn’t lay a glove on me. I found Tad Friend, who covers Hollywood from Brooklyn, easy to manipulate, as was David Remnick, whom I enjoyed bitchslapping throughout…But I wasn’t the only one able to knock out a lot of negative stuff in the article without even one lawyer letter, email, or phone call. I witnessed how The New Yorker really bent over for Hollywood. NYC power publicist Steven Rubenstein succeeded in deleting every reference to Paramount’s Brad Grey. Warner Bros and Universal and DreamWorks and William Morris/Endeavor and Summit Entertainment execs and flacks and consultants also had their way with the mag. (They were even laughing about it. When I asked one PR person what it took to convince Tad to take out whole portions of the article, the response was, “I swallowed.”) At Harvey Weinstein’s personal behest, his description of me as a “cunt” became “jerk”.

The story on Finke opens with an anecdote about Finke’s rival, Sharon Waxman (whom I profile in next week’s Journal), who launched The Wrap, a competitive entertainment news site that aspires to an industry-news takeover. But for now, Finke is getting all the press. And Friend’s one-liner about Waxman wasn’t very flattering: “Waxman covered Hollywood for the Times from 2003 to 2007; though her reporting occasioned a number of corrections, she is aggressively self-confident,” he wrote. The posturing of Finke and Waxman as rivals is somewhat valid—they’re both angling for scoop and desperately to beat each other to the breaking-news punch—but their enterprises are incredibly different. Finke is, by most measures, a single, powerful blogger and her site is just as notorious for news as it is for gossip and speculation. Waxman has put together an ambitious news project that aims to become the next Variety. IT is rumored the two were once friends, though now, they are bitter enemies—at least online, where they are free to berate each other at will.

Check back tomorrow for more on Finke’s debut in The New Yorker…

More Nikki Finke on Hollywood Jew:
Nikkie Finke sells Deadline Hollywood for $14 million
Turf Wars: Waxman and Finke duke it out

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