I once saw her cry bitter tears to a source on the phone, hang up, and burst out laughing, cackling, “I’m so terrible!”
It was a hell of a way to do journalism.
For many years Nikki and I were the closest of friends. We spoke several times a day. She introduced me to the ins and outs of Hollywood when I was a newbie here in the late 1990s, and helped push my candidacy to become a Los Angeles correspondent for The New York Times, which I became in 2004.
But, as these things happened, the worm turned and Nikki became a powerful enemy, determined to kill me and more importantly, TheWrap’s demise after it launched in 2009. If that’s hard to understand, here is the context. In the early 2000s, Nikki found herself barred from high-profile outlets like Vanity Fair and the LA Times where she once wrote. Editors found her difficult to deal with, and she had made enemies of Michael Ovitz, Michael Eisner, and many other industry players who moved past her to push back against her aggressive coverage.
Instead, she wrote for the New York Post, which she sued after bowing to pressure over a Disney scoop in 2002 and fired (The Post settled the lawsuit) — then for LA Weekly, where her Deadline column was well read but barely paid the bills.
So Nikki had a massive chip on her shoulder that drove her infamous villain streak. She was angry at the turn her life was taking. She was exhausted from battling diabetes. Angry that she no longer has the attractive appearance of her youth while battling serious weight issues. Her life revolved around her, her cat and her computer, which she handled with vengeance.
And she thought she should have worked at the top of her field, considering her talent.
And then the Internet arrived. Nikki was made for the internet. It was as if she had spent the first 20 years of her career battling the constraints of traditional newsrooms, ignorant editors, immutable (frequently missed) print deadlines, and wasted tips on page six.
Finally, she could write at her own pace, be her own boss, and set her own agenda. Deadline Hollywood was born. The restraints that might have softened her tone, acted as a brake on the immediate writing of the last source she had spoken to, were also gone.
She wrote what she wanted, and while it wasn’t always accurate, it was always colorful, juicy, and very knowledgeable. All the tycoons and agency heads—especially Ari Emanuel—had her on speed dial and didn’t dare ignore her phone call. In the schadenfreude world of Hollywood, Nikki was a must read. And she felt every inch of that power.
His power plays and personal agenda have led scorched earth campaigns against (who knows why?) NBC’s Ben Silverman, Bravo’s Lauren Zalaznick, Universal’s Marc Shmuger, William Morris’ Jim Wiatt, Fox’s Tom Sherak, and AMPAS. and many others.
Here is an example of his hilarious writings on Silverman:
“I was sound asleep when the news that Ben Silverman, the gift he kept giving me for all his NBCU mistakes, was finally letting boss Jeff Zucker off the hook for a hiring decision which will go down in the annals of television entertainment as one of the worst. Sure, my phone started ringing at 6:08 a.m. PT. But I happily ignored it because I wanted my full 8 hours,” a- she wrote, adding a typical Tellja-so flourish in the late July article: “But here’s the thing: I knew On June 24, Ben was engaged in a desperate search for another job or financial support to leave NBC so he could look like he jumped before he was pushed.
No one meant like Nikki Finke.
At the same time, she threw herself into Deadline with obsessive devotion. During the Hollywood writers’ strike of 2007, she wrote constantly and tirelessly, without pretending to be impartial. She sided with the writers, and they loved her for it.
When I questioned her bias, she laughed.
Around 2007, while on leave, I decided to quit The Times and start TheWrap. Newspapers were laying off people en masse. Bloggers like Nikki roamed traditional newsrooms. I sought to defend professional journalism in the age of the Internet. Go faster, publish in real time, but insist on interim reports. Nikki’s style could never be mine, and I never intended it to be.
It didn’t matter. Nikki took my plan as a betrayal of our friendship and made me her sworn enemy for the first five years of TheWrap. We never spoke civilly again.
What followed was hard. She threatened those who collaborated with me — when Silverman and Zalaznick both appeared a decade ago at TheWrap’s trade conference, TheGrill, they committed the pity they knew Nikki would fight back. (She did.) Another studio head who was a top speaker early on gave her $50,000 in publicity as, essentially, silent money. She would call my editorial team and tell them what a horrible person I was. And she had spread the rumor that TheWrap was about to fold, multiple times.
We survived it all.
I knew Nikki was having a lot of trouble in her life. She was raised wealthy and privileged in New York and was smart as a whip. Her father rejected her when she declared her intention to become a journalist. In his world, girls had no careers. She was financially cut off. She remained defiant. But for many years, money was scarce.
Power was his drug. But after half a dozen years, the weight of his abusive tactics finally came crashing down on her. A final straw came when she threatened UTA executives after TheWrap leaked a story she believed to be hers. As fate would have it, I broke the story of the fallout from this push, in June 2013:
“Jay Penske, the CEO of Penske Media, which bought Deadline in 2009, told several senior Hollywood executives last week that he was firing Finke, complaining that she had crossed the line too often by sending emails. poison pen emails berating sources over the scoops she lost to competitors.
“She sent emails saying, ‘I’m going to fuck you,’ and Jay says he got it,” a senior executive said.
Nikki replied that it was not true and that she was going on a long-planned vacation.
But she never returned to the site she founded.
Almost a decade later, she leaves an unparalleled legacy. HBO might want to take another look.
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