Showbiz Newz Warz

Not a game! Not a simulation! An amazing real-life battle between titans of the showbiz news industry. Hey, if you thought inter-network-and-studio-warfare was ugly, get a load of what goes on between the sites that cover the battle:

Bart & Fleming: Why Nikki Finke Won’t Be Coming Back
by Peter Bart & Mike Fleming Jr

Peter Bart and Mike Fleming Jr. worked together for two decades at Daily Variety. In this weekly Sunday column, two old friends get together and grind their axes on the movie business.

Bart: You and I have lived through a few journalistic zigs and zags in our years atVariety, and we were always candid with each other in analyzing risks and rewards. Variety was started by the Silverman family but the dynasty ran out of sizzle and sold control. Deadline was started by Nikki Finke but she never managed to create a dynasty before running out of sizzle. So the question is this: Where do you take Deadline from here?

Fleming: I think we built something exceptional with her. That said, a few people have asked me, ‘Why, when it looked like she might come back, did she start a site that is crapping all over you?’ I might as well begin there. The testiness that existed since her acrimonious exit aside, I got it in my head that enough time had passed and I wanted her back. I leaned on Jay Penske to end arbitration proceedings to make it happen, and he did just that. Here was my thinking. I like her. Even though we never met in person during our time together at Deadline, we had a lot of fun. When she and Jay hired me from Variety, they changed my life. My only goal was to get three kids through college without having to sell my house, and that effort is looking good. Since taking over, I have been able to extend a hand to several people I grew up with at Variety, and they’ve been great hires. I wanted to do the same with Nikki. My feeling was, when you reach the top after an unprecedented climb up a mountain like she did with Deadline, what’s wrong with staying to enjoy the view? I also thought a measured dose of her fire would complement the mix Nellie Andreeva and I have now.

Bart: Seems understandable. So why are you now known on her site as Mike Pflegming?

Fleming: She got impatient with the progress of those negotiations and lit a match to the whole thing. I got past that kind of name calling in third grade, but the shots she took at you, Anita Busch and Jay Penske, they were unacceptable. Most of my staff didn’t want her back: she could be blistering as a manager; they were demoralized by the endless late night e-mails about Jay and Variety; and some can’t forgive last fall’s events or the whispers our ad people heard about back-channel calls urging studios to boycott Oscar season. Most execs I queried also felt bringing her back was perilous. We can ignore her bullying tactics if she’s on the outside, they said, but bring her back and the same arm-twisting cycle plays out all over again. Frankly, some talent belongs in a band, but she’s a better solo act. After disparaging us, she still sent e-mails to Penske asking to return. Maybe she thought she’d helped her leverage, but it was the opposite. Jay paid her so generously in success, still pays her health care and allows her to stay in a million-dollar corporate apartment at heavy discount. This, after she unfairly vilified him last fall. She has started all over again. Our profit margins and ads are strong and we are a consistent supplier of accurate, breaking news. The decision makers in town–the elite reading audience we monetize—has embraced Deadline as their destination site. We are doing fine, so who needs the drama? This will all end shortly in arbitration. I felt I was this close to bringing her back, but now it won’t happen. Best of luck to her.

Bart: I would argue that the original Deadline style, which was excellently suited to the turbulence of the Writers’ Strike, is no longer relevant to today’s market.

Read it all – especially the not-so-subtle threat in the last paragraph to those who might tip off Deadline’s Honorable Opponent and Founder. Shades of Walter Winchell!

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