What's going on with Nikki Finke and Deadline

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for hollywood-sign-oh-vdt.jpgIn the past week or so, Nikki Finke has disclosed on her new Hollywood website that Jay Penske, who bought her old Hollywood website, was trying to entice her back to Deadline and threatening legal action to block her from posting as a competitor. Then Michael Fleming and Peter Bart, the former Variety guys who now occupy Deadline, did an online conversation in which Fleming explained his side of why Finke will not work at Deadline again. And now IndieWire's Anne Thompson does her part to set the record straight about Finke, Fleming and Bart (and Penske.)

First, Fleming's take.

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.

From Thompson's blog post:

Get one thing straight. Peter Bart and Mike Fleming wouldn't have jobs right now if it weren't for Nikki Finke. Their recent back-and-forth on why Finke is no longer working at Deadline sticks in my craw. As you know, I disapprove of many of Finke's working methods, mostly her bullying, litigious, self-aggrandizing behavior. She not only made life miserable for anyone who dealt with her in Hollywood, but especially her co-workers, who refused to let her come back, even when Fleming argued for her return. That may be because he recognizes that he owes her a great deal. Basically Penske wanted to give her Peter Bart's current role at Variety--columnist with no portfolio. She wanted more.

Let's give Finke her due. Nikki Finke reinvented the Hollywood trades.


Nikki Finke is a transitional figure who is no longer in her prime.

In the end of course, while Finke moved the needle and paved the way for the current new model trades including Variety, THR and The Wrap -- online trade and film community Indiewire, my host site, was founded 18 years ago -- she was her own worst enemy. I kept expecting her to blow up or burn out and eventually she did. Can she build it all back up again at NikkiFinke.com? Not if she takes 36 hours off to deal with legal problems. Her 228,000 Twitter followers are a start. But in a much more competitive environment, as the trades have overtaken Deadline. She needs support staff and resources and advertising--Oscar ads came to Deadline with Pete Hammond--and a lot of energy to make it this time. And good will from the community. Is it there?

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