Pulp Friction

Time was, Hollywood had two “trades” that covered all things entertainment. Now it has has four, and the competition for news, ads, and readers is down and dirty, 24 hours a day
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I could go on, but I won’t—except to acknowledge my own tangled history with everyone involved. Before taking a buyout last year, I spent decades writing about music, pop culture, and the movie business for the Los Angeles Times, with my last dozen years devoted to writing a column called The Big Picture. I knew Segall when she oversaw the Times’s lucrative Envelope awards section. She would shoot me exasperated e-mails whenever I’d ridicule Hollywood’s endless fascination with the Oscars. Most of her missives would begin with “Why do you have to be so-o-o-o-o-o negative?”

I first met Waxman when she was a Washington Post reporter and wrote what was perhaps the most devastating exposé ever of the hapless Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the group behind the Golden Globes. Since she left The New York Times to found The Wrap, she’s talked to me about writing for her (I haven’t). In 2010, when I was still at the Times, Janice Min, the new editorial director of THR, offered me a job just before she put out her first issue. After I’d left the Times, she had her managing editor ask me to write about DreamWorks Animation’s new deal at Fox. I passed only to find out later that DreamWorks chief Jeffrey Katzenberg himself had suggested me to Min. The only one of the four that hasn’t made a professional overture to me (or I to them) is Variety, which has taken more than a few potshots at me—and I’ll admit I’ve given as good as I’ve gotten. When the trade was being shopped around in the summer of 2012, I called it a “rusty relic” in print. Since then much has changed for the better, including the arrival of Eller as co-editor. She, too, was a colleague of mine at the Times, where she often scored more scoops in six months than most reporters do in a lifetime.

Finke and I have been friendly for years. In fact, when I got a job offer from Time magazine in 2007, she played the role of consigliere, advising me on how to negotiate a nice raise to stay at the Times. But when her Deadline site took off later that year during the Writers Guild of America strike, we had a falling-out. I’d been a staunch supporter of the WGA. Because Finke had built her traffic in part by painting every media outlet but her own—especially the trades and the L.A. Times—as tools of the studio bosses, she was invested in proving herself right. After I wrote a column advising the WGA not to boycott the upcoming Grammy Awards, she pounced, labeling it a “venomous screed” against the writers when it was anything but. We barely spoke until I left the Times, when she did an about-face and glowingly described my work as “thoughtful, knowledgeable and deeply sourced.” I figured that could mean only one thing: She wanted to hire me. She’s made me several job offers since, but nothing concrete ever materialized.

Of all the combatants in the trade wars, Finke is the most notorious—and, oddly, the least understood. She loathes her image as a cranky recluse, though it is well earned: She spends much of her time in Hawaii and, when in L.A., is never seen in public, not even at freebie industry screenings or Deadline’s own “The Contenders” events. (Gawker once offered $1,000 for a Finke photo, a reward no one collected.) Not long after we’d had a lengthy conversation about her image as a bag-ladyish hermit, I picked up the phone to hear Finke bellowing at me, “I HAVE NO CATS!” If Finke has a credo, it is that the best defense is a good offense. When I asked her to respond to a critical remark about her erratic behavior, for example, she fired off an e-mail to the person I’d named as my source, with the subject line: “YOU’VE SLANDERED ME TO PATRICK GOLDSTEIN. PREPARE TO BE SUED.”

For months, when it came to her future at Deadline, she would be feisty one moment, tearful and despondent the next, depending on the state of her War of the Roses-like relationship with the man who’d reportedly paid her millions for her site, Jay Penske. In Finke’s mind (which is prone to seeing even the grayest scenarios in stark black and white), Penske had been lavishing more attention on Variety than Deadline. So she kept threatening to pack up her marbles and go home.

As this story was going to press, Finke took to Twitter to announce that she was quitting Deadline and building a new site, NikkiFinke.com, which she would unveil in the coming year. She told me she was mulling offers from several potential investors, including one who wanted to plunk down $5 million-plus and give her a five-year contract. When I raised the fact that she was already under contract with Penske until 2016, she laughed and burst into song, crooning à la Taylor Swift, “We are never, ever, ever, getting back together again! ”


This feature appears in the December 2013 issue of Los Angeles magazine on newsstands now