Nikki Finke of Deadline Was the Ultimate Hollywood Disruptor.
The most influential actors in Hollywood shook in fear when the late Hollywood journalist called, as the telephone was her preferred method of communication. This is due to the fact that she was capable of writing anything, and there was no one to contact if you disagreed with what she had written. Even though we were friendly over the years, I had to find out the hard way. We had lunch at Hugo’s, shared a storage unit, and spent hours together in her West Hollywood apartment as I tried in vain to get her to press “send” on her brilliant CAA chapter for Premiere Magazine. The chapter was supposed to run in two subsequent issues, but it was never published.
Nor did her much-touted book ever be published, as publishers hired co-writers in vain; but, Finke’s insightful agency reporting ultimately made its way onto Deadline over the course of many years. And Finke was present (by phone) in a meeting that took place in 2005 in which David Poland, Jeffrey Wells, and I discussed the prospect of launching a website.
We were all aware that online coverage of Hollywood would one day replace print journalism (we understood that print was going the way of the dinosaur), but we were never able to collaborate on this project.
Each one of us did carve out a niche for yourself online: I started the first blog at the Hollywood Reporter called Risky Biz, which was based on my previous column Risky Business that I wrote for LA Weekly. MovieCityNews was started by Poland, Hollywood Elsewhere was formed by Wells, and LA Weekly’s online Deadline Hollywood column was produced by Finke. (When I left THR to work for Variety, they refused to allow me take it with me, which is what led to the creation of Thompson on Hollywood.)
When Finke called me, all of this history became meaningless and unimportant. While I was driving on the motorway, I stupidly answered the phone and she started screaming in my ear, which completely threw me off. She yelled at him, “Did you publish a quote without first obtaining permission from Ron Meyer?”
Finke’s standard operating procedure at Deadline — first at LA Weekly, and later at the Deadline Hollywood Daily site acquired in 2009 by Jay Penske, whose PMC owns IndieWire — was to act as a mouthpiece for the influential figures in the Hollywood entertainment industry. They used her as a weapon against their rivals and bribed her with nefarious tidbits in the belief that if they fed her enough red meat, she would never betray them. They sent her after their rivals.
In this particular instance, I provoked the ire of the head of Universal studios by writing a column for the Hollywood Reporter on a weekly basis regarding the decision that his trusted subordinate Stacey Snider made in 2006 to join Steven Spielberg.
Meyer was upset with his comment because he believed that we had a strong relationship (which we had), and I made him look like he was lacking in strength. Therefore, he informed Finke that he was prohibiting my presence at the Universal studio, including at any screenings, parties, or meetings. In the event that I was discovered at the studio, I would be led off the premises immediately.
According to Finke’s frantic story, a studio head had never previously done something like this to a journalist. She immediately went on vacation after posting this at the very top of her online Weekly column, and she was gone for several weeks. Because of this, it remained at the very top of her feed until she came back, and no new stories were added to take its position. There was nobody that could be called.
The Finke therapy was administered to everyone in Hollywood. She was a talented journalist who easily impressed magazine and newspaper editors with her insider knowledge; she cultivated power players and visibly inflated when they returned her calls and took her seriously; however, she suffered from a severe case of writer’s block. She was a gifted journalist who easily impressed magazine and newspaper editors with her insider knowledge.
During the time that I worked at Entertainment Weekly, coworkers would place bets on how long she would remain employed there (her brief tenure is not listed on her Wikipedia page). When I used to write a Hollywood column for New York magazine, the stories about how editors would try to force stuff out of her hands became urban legends. They heard that in order to meet the deadline, they had to write down the story as she read it to them over the phone.
However, the fact that she was in charge of her own content at Deadline put an end to all of her concerns of being seen. Finke took great pleasure in posting scoops and fundamentally altered the way business is conducted in Hollywood.
Variety and The Hollywood Reporter were still caught in the vice of selling lucrative print advertisements, which put them at a disadvantage in comparison to the other Hollywood publications. They were not aware of the rapid pace at which online news reporting occurs. The Hollywood Reporter and Variety were left in the dust by Deadline in the old competitive fight for celebrity casting and new project news. Deadline came out on top.
Finke frequently was the first to break news, especially during the 2008 Writers Guild strike, which made her a must-read every day. However, Deadline jumped ahead in the scoop department in 2010 when Finke stole Variety’s top breaking news reporter, Mike Fleming. This allowed Deadline to gain a competitive advantage. Together with Nellie Andreeva, a former TV editor at THR, he is currently in charge of running the site. (It is ironic that Variety editor Peter Bart, who had to wear red every day during Finke’s reign of terror, now writes a column for Deadline.)