The Hollywood trade newspaper wars have now begun– or really lurched into a new nuclear level. Penske Media Group, which owns Nikki Finke’s Deadline.com, has bought Variety. Now, see if you can follow this: Variety’s main competitor has been The Hollywood Reporter. Penske/Deadline is in the middle of suing The Hollywood Reporter for stealing its stories. There has already been vicious back and forth between the two entities. This morning, for example, THR has just reported the sale of Variety without mentioning Finke’s name. When THR’s owner, Guggenheim Partners, recently bought Dick Clark Productions–which produces the Golden Globes–Deadline pretty much ignored the story.
Welcome to a bizarre new world.
Sitting pretty on the Penske board is my old friend, Gerry Byrne, who commands a daily table at Michael’s. Years ago, it was Gerry who engineered Variety’s stunning comeback from the dead with Peter Bart as editor in chief. In the early 90s they revamped the Variety design and made the paper matter again. Eventually Gerry left Variety and sometime later became publisher of the Hollywood Reporter when it was owned by Nielsen. When the Guggenheim people came in, Byrne was sidelined. He left when his contract was up, and joined up with Penske.
A subplot: Michael Fleming, who for two decades reported scoops for Variety, left them and moved to Deadline.com a couple of years ago.
Now Variety is in the hands of Penske/Deadline. Nikki Finke hasn’t been seen in public in years and does not go out. She refuses to be photographed. Michael Fleming also works from home, and doesn’t attend many events, although he’s not actually reclusive. He just likes to stay home on Long Island.
Finke is so crazed about her address being known she recently got into a huge spat with writer Brett Easton Ellis, who Tweeted that he discovered she was living in his building in West Hollywood.
Meantime, Variety has very capable editors–Tim Gray, Stephen Gaydos, etc. In the last few days, they’ve hosted events in Hollywood and in the Hamptons. Gray and Gaydos are generally the “faces” of Variety. They know Byrne. So they could continue to do that, especially if Byrne becomes publisher of Variety again.
But things are murky. How will Variety/Penske/Deadline report on the Golden Globes and all the other award shows now produced/owned by Dick Clark aka Guggenheim/Hollywood Reporter? Hey–how will THR report on show its parent owns? I doubt THR will be very investigative about the cranky Hollywood Foreign Press Association that makes millions from the Globes.
And now Jay Penske is a major player in Hollywood. The race car driver son of billionaire Roger Penske–known for his yellow moving trucks- is a pretty nice guy. He had an incident in Nantucket this summer, true. But otherwise he’s well liked. To navigate these waters he will need Gerry Byrne. There will be a lot of heads turning at Michael’s today and a lot of hand shaking and hugging.
Wait: one more irony, and not to be ignored. Penske also owns Hollywood Life, a successful website run by Bonnie Fuller, former editor of US Magazine. Bonnie turned US into a powerhouse before falling out with Jann Wenner over money. She was succeeded at US by Janice Min, who is now the editor of– wait for it–The Hollywood Reporter. Maybe Jay Penske makes Bonnie Fuller editor of Variety. Game on!