In the small world of the Hollywood trades, Tuesday began with the former L.A. Times advertising exec Lynne Segall quitting MMC to become publisher and senior VP of The Hollywood Reporter. She had spent two decades at THR previously, and this was a chance to develop the business side of the resurgent Reporter. Her jump got people's attention for another reason. Segall (left) was leaving after less than a year [fixed] with MMC, the Jay Penske company that hired her after she was fired by the Times. Penske, of course, pays Nikki Finke to edit Deadline.com. Later on Tuesday Finke weighed in with 1,300 words, writing that from the day Segall came in "I felt like I was battling the force of darkness at every turn."
As soon as Lynne arrived, she began trying to break down the wall I'd carefully and deliberately erected between Deadline's editorial product and my parent company's advertising department.
Almost immediately, she tried to stop me from criticizing Jeff Zucker and NBC Universal because he'd ordered his TV and movie operations not to advertise on Deadline (something I hadn't even been aware of because of the wall I'd erected) and because she held out hope of chasing NBC's very lucrative "Fall Tune-In" dollars. I repeatedly told her not to interfere with my editorial control. I found out later to my shock and dismay that she'd taken it upon herself to assure NBC that she could get me to lay off Zucker if only NBC Universal would start advertising.
After this initial push and pushback between us, Segall began to realize that I was no pushover. And it made her very, very unhappy. I truly don't think she'd ever worked before with an editor-in-chief who'd said 'No' to her priority of placing the almighty ad dollar above editorial ethics. Again and again, she'd ask me to tone down honest stories I'd already written. Or she'd find out from the marketplace about honest stories I intended to write and ask me to spike them. Or she'd go behind my back to my staff and try to assign coverage of specific advertisers.
Each and every time, I told her to stick it where the sun don't shine -- at first politely, then much less so.
Finke accuses Segall of more unethical practices, and of enticing potential advertisers with print versions of Deadline that Finke had not agreed to produce. The pressure of doing those print pubs, says Finke, afflicted her with "exhaustion and worsened insulin-dependent diabetes." Given the way Finke mistreats people — and the dozen phone calls she has put in to KCRW and UCLA in recent years trying to make personal trouble for me [I keep waiting for my barber to say, "Nikki called screaming and wants you fired"] — it may be surprising to say but she has a point about the meddling. Good for her to stand up to it. If her tale is true.
Segall, at Finke's rival The Wrap, denied talking to Finke about Zucker after joining MMC, and said Finke was completely on board with the print issues. "Deadlines are hard for her," Segall said. David Poland at Movie City News says everyone in Hollywood warned Segall about taking the job and reports she knew within a month that it was a mistake to try working with Finke. Others, most notably trade veterans Michael Fleming and Nellie Andreeva, have worked alongside Finke for awhile now. But Poland says the game may be changing for them all, in part because of THR.
The core of Finke/Fleming/Andreeva is not under threat from being fired — though some might be dreaming of exit strategies. But Penske has a bit of a problem on his hands. While Deadline remains a media darling of sorts, the Finke brand continues to be watered down by the domination of the site by her top two employees and her own inability to remain exciting/horrifying on a regular basis.
In other words, they wanted to be a trade. They are a trade now. And fewer and fewer people care. Meanwhile, The Hollywood Reporter has pushed a higher-class version of the button that made Nikki famous...
There is another problem for MMC. They have shown that two trade reporters and one obsessive screamer is all you really need to be “a trade” in this town. So others have come. And more will come. It ain’t brain surgery… it’s a Rolodex of familiar names and a willingness to write their stories up as the trades have done for years. Transcription more than reporting.
Fleming and Andreeva, Poland says, have power now because Deadline "joins a long list of also-rans instantly if either of them leaves. And make no mistake, there are a lot of people who will be happy to feed on Nikki’s venomous carcass the second she seems vulnerable...Penske would probably have a healthier business model spinning FlemDreeva off, with some support, to a trade business and putting Nikki back into the daily screeching business." On reflection, Poland has even harsher words for Finke.
Anne Thompson at IndieWire, meanwhile, is easier on both Segall and Finke, but agrees MMC's Penske is approaching a crossroads: "With Segall on board, Deadline has done very well, but Segall, Michael Speier, and others have fallen by the wayside as Finke demands to be in charge, to create an online trade with bite. That makes for compelling reading, but many forces are working to make Deadline implode. Keeping that delicate balance will continue to be Penske’s challenge."