Nikki Finke: A First Timer’s Guide to The Feared Consigliere of Hollywood
Do you know who Nikki Finke is? She is someone I have never met, never seen; I don’t even know anyone who has met her. But before I wrote this article I thought to myself, ‘if I write this essay in a critical tone will I draw the ire of Finke?’ It’s probably the most absurd thought I have ever had and I quickly dismissed it, especially considering I’m a blogger in my early 20’s, at a very low level of the film industry, on a different continent. But that shows just how feared Finke’s empire is.
A New York girl, fifty-nine-year-old Finke is herself a journalist who covers the entertainment industry. Working for newspapers in New York, Los Angeles and Washington, it wasn’t until later in her career whilst working for the Los Angeles Times that Finke began reporting on the industry, eventually becoming the West Coast editor for The New York Observer.
But it was from her column Deadline Hollywood in LA Weekly and the subsequent Deadline blog that Finke’s notoriety grew. Finke launched the blog in 2006 from her apartment in West L.A – and quickly became a force to be reckoned with. In 2009, The New Yorker quoted one studio executive, a passage that has stuck with Finke’s reputation:
“She’s very, very, very accurate, extraordinarily so—you have a supposedly private conversation with two other people, and it’s on her site within an hour.”
It wasn’t just Finke’s accuracy and speed of reporting that brought her to the attention of the industry. Finke went out of her way to vilify and attack those who appeared to get in her way – it would become very clear who Finke did and didn’t like in the industry. As Variety’s former publisher Charlie Koones words it: “everyone want[s] Nikki to be on their side” (The New Yorker, 2009). Finke’s favourite headline “Toldja!” was reserved for reports she predicted, a literal ‘told-you-so’ to those who doubted her. Finke reportedly hates liars and people that hide the truth – probably an indicator she should stay away from the film industry.
Countless people and establishments have drawn Finke’s wrath. Hollywood executives such as (the notoriously in need of anger management) Harvey Weinstein have rang the offices of Finke to apologize – something I’m sure less than ten people in Hollywood have ever heard. When Less Than Zero author Bret Easton Ellis announced that Finke lived in his building she threatened a lawsuit. Easton replied “anyone…who fears they have to ‘watch out’ for Nikki Finke is a complete and total old-school fucking Hollywood loser”. The Hollywood Reporter’s lawyers sent her boss a cease-and-desist notice regarding her “harassment of THR staff” suggesting her “behavior appears to be an escalation of a past pattern and practice…[which] has crossed the line from unpleasant to unlawful”. Finke responded publicly, telling them to “get the fuck out of my face”. It appears you’re only on Nikki’s side until she decides you aren’t, and then you better run for cover.
Finke’s reporting became so notable that she sold Deadline in 2009 for over $10 million to Jay Penske, owner of Penske Media Corporation (he also bought Variety in 2012.) Since then, Deadline has expanded from its business reporting, to developing sister sites MovieLine (which covers reviews and other more typical entertainment magazine topics) and TVLine (the television equivalent of MovieLine).
HBO’s 2011 pilot Tilda starring Diane Keaton and Ellen Page highlights the absurdity of the Finke persona, featuring Keaton as a feared but reclusive Hollywood blogger. (Reclusive is an apt word to describe Finke – the picture featured with this article is the only recent, confirmed photograph of Finke, and there is no date accompanying it. You can image search Finke for hours, but I doubt you will find anything else.) The pilot, which ultimately failed, was produced without Finke’s involvement, though she was quite obviously the model for Keaton’s character.
This week, rumours flew that Penske had fired Finke from Deadline – and of course Finke replied “right now I am not going to discuss my Deadline Hollywood contract or my relationship with my boss Jay Penske. Why? Because I don’t have to.” Penske Media has denied the report. If it isn’t clear to Hollywood yet, Finke is playing her own game, and she doesn’t have to play by the rules of yours. I think Finke has to be admired for her pioneering reporting, she has certainly revolutionized the entertainment news industry. Since Finke, news has to be fast, relevant and ‘new’. Her personality? I’ll leave that for you to be the judge.
The aforementioned New Yorker article also quotes former New York editor Jeremy Gerard, with a quote that is perhaps the easiest to define Finke: “Nikki doesn’t care about content—she’s interested in power, and in who’s doing what to whom to achieve power, maintain power, and expand power” (2009). I feel certain that Finke’s exploration of power is far from done.
What do you think? Leave a comment.