Nikki Finke, founder of Deadline Hollywood (who was later booted from her own site), is back at a new address, NikkiFinke.com, after what she describes as “7 soul-crushing months” of sitting out her non-compete agreement with Deadline.
“I’m old. I’m beat up,” she writes. “I’ve been used for target practice by every moron with a byline. But this morning I’m excited and scared and most importantly back to writing more than 140-character Tweets.”
After slamming all the big Tinseltown trades with the childish nicknames she’s famous for (“Deadlame and Valiety and The Hollywood Unreported and TheCrap”), Finke lays out a populist, us versus them Mission Statement that promises she’ll be a “cruel and quirky alternative” who represents…
the once successful who now can’t get a job. For the above- and below-the-line loyalists who know they’re getting screwed. For the least powerful who want to expose the most powerful. For anybody working in Hollywood afraid of layoffs ordered by too-well-compensated CEOs, sick of nonstop nepotism and cronyism that reward the untalented, frustrated by agents, managers and execs who act like assholes to coddle talent who think they’re gods.
With nearly three decades of Hollywood reporting backing her up, Finke’s sources combined with a willingness to go hard after the powerful (though she has been accused of protecting the powerful she likes), made Finke, for a time at least, the most powerful journalist in Hollywood — a real player and one who couldn’t be controlled with niceties or swag bags.
That ride turned almost on a dime, though, in 2009 after Finke agreed to sell Deadline to billionaire Jay Penske. She went from owner to employee, and it was all downhill from there. Deadline is now as friendly to Hollywood as Entertainment Weekly.
And the Finke-Penske divorce was as legendarily bitter as you would expect any break-up with Nikki Finke to be.
The question isn’t if this experience defanged Finke, or took some of the vinegar out of her. No one believes that. The question is whether or not Finke’s sources (likely cultivated through fear, charm, or a combination of both), will get back in line.
Regardless of her intentions, attitude, or past, Finke knows she will rise (again) or fall (again) based solely on her ability to recreate what made Deadline the almost-slayer of the Iconic Variety and Hollywood Reporter: scoops — scoops first, fast, and foremost.
Even when the deal was done in 2009, I always suspected that Penske had a Machiavellian plan to do to Finke what Warren Betty had done to legendary film critic Pauline Kael. In 1979, Kael was 60 and at the height of her powers. The erratic and temperamental award-winner could make or break careers, films, and studio execs with a single essay. With the promise of being able to shape the art-form she was so passionate about, Beatty lured her to the darkside with a lucrative job as a studio consultant.
She took it.
She didn’t last a year.
But when Kael returned to film writing, her power had diminished considerably. No one feared her anymore. Kael would never again be what she was. Thanks to Beatty’s brilliantly devious play, many a Hollywood player slept better — until Finke came along.
Now we’re going to find out if Nikki Finke can become Nikki Finke again.
Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC