Hollywood Confidential: How L.A. Weekly’s Nikki Finke Gives the Industry What it Deserves

She’s equal parts scourge and high-wire act

But if Hollywood doesn’t really do honesty it’s only fair to note Finke doesn’t really do irony, which makes her either really great or really terrible for covering the business. She takes Hollywood duplicity personally, and when you take your work so personally, it’s easy to miss the meat for the bone you’re gnawing on.

Sometimes, what makes her a pleasure to read also makes her dangerous to your health. The Industry figure Finke most suggests is Michael Moore—a street-sweeping attitude let loose on issues that require pinpoint accuracy. Like him, she’s so focused on her sense of mission, she can’t let details get in the way, especially if they don’t support the cause.

“These big media companies and Hollywood, and the big boys who run them are often one and the same, act like these places are their personal playgrounds,” Finke e-mails—typically, all in capital letters. “No other industry would put up with the lies and excesses. Where’s the responsibility?

“My attitude comes from a deeply personal place—my love-hate relationship with the power that my parents and my background tried to exert over me. And they’re not even the people who’ve tried to shut me down as a journalist. So I know what it feels like to be powerless.”

Finke often zeroes in on some foolishness she wants to rail about, and quickly everything turns into a black-and-white battle. There’s nothing of the shadow lands, and aren’t the moral shadow lands everything that Hollywood is about?

In the early ’90s, Finke left the Times to write a much anticipated book on Hollywood agents. That was when Mike Ovitz was at the apex of his power, and the book, it was believed, was going to be extremely damaging to his interests. Finke declines to go that far, but in describing the book’s fate, neither does she dispute it. Whatever occurred, she never delivered the book. It was a huge psychic blow.

The lost book deal was just the first of a set of troubles Finke experienced in the ’90s. She fell down stairs and was hospitalized. She was diagnosed with diabetes. Some journalists even started a whispering campaign, calling her editors and attacking her work. She was damaged goods in Los Angeles, so she began freelancing for New York, Details, and The New York Observer.

Bad health and ill will may account for some of her diminished stature in those years, but it’s also just harder for somebody like Finke to publish—far harder than it was in the ’70s. Pissing people off isn’t looked on as part of the job description the way it once was; it’s viewed as bad business. There’s no room here to name all the people Finke’s crossed. But from the time in the early ’90s when she got a bizarre series of robotic obscene phone calls through the unpleasantness with Ovitz down to the suit with Disney and the time earlier this year when New York Times reporter Todd Purdum, having been asked a few questions on the phone, called her a “cunt” and hung up—Finke has made a string of powerful enemies almost unrivaled in this town. “My friends have often joked that if I’m ever found murdered, they’ll never know who did it,” she says. “The list is too long.”

“You can toe the line, you can skirt the line, or you can say fuck the line,” says Finke. “Look, there’s a difference between screwing the line and screwing up. I have sources who have been my sources for the last, what, 17 years. They have never stopped being my sources. I like the movies, but I’m no fan. I don’t care what movies are about, I care about the people making the decisions. You give me a choice between interviewing Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, or Tom Cruise or interviewing the third executive on the lot at Paramount—I’ll take him. Because with him you will find out everything if you make him comfortable.”

This feature originally appeared in the September 2004 issue of Los Angeles magazine.