Mentioning the name “Nikki Finke” in a conversation yields exactly two possibilities. The first is that people will immediately launch into a dozen stories they’ve heard about the infamous Hollywood reporter. The other is that people will give you a blank look and say they have no idea who that is.
Welcome to the disconnect between the entertainment industry and the rest of the world, but it’s a true fact: The average person living outside of Los Angeles might not know or care about Nikki Finke. But Hollywood sure does.
The gist: Nikki Finke is a very influential, ruthless entertainment industry blogger, the kind who is as obsessively covered by the media as she extensively covers the behind-the-scenes of showbiz herself. The most commonly used word to describe her always involves “fear.” (New Yorker: “Why Hollywood fears Nikki Finke.” Forbes: “Hollywood’s most-feared reporter.” New York Times: “A Hollywood Blogger Feared by Executives.”)
Part of Finke’s infamy is that she’s not afraid to get extremely personal, often posing long, nasty screeds about executives and showbiz types on her site, along with juicy rumors. Another is that she never appears in public; Gawker once offered a $1,000 reward for anyone who could find a recent photo.
Now, the story of Nikki Finke is about to take another turn. Finke, who ran her own Web site Deadline Hollywood before she parted ways with her site’s owner in a very public legal battle last fall, is scheduled to launch a new Web site on Thursday, NikkiFinke.com. She’s been mostly off the grid for seven months as part of a non-compete clause. Her Twitter feed promoted the site and promised: “There. Will. Be. Showbiz. Blood.”
“Let those wimpy Hollywood websites do glossy or garish or rewrite press releases or post stenography instead of sturm und drang,” Finke said in her first blog post on the new site (which as of Thursday afternoon, seemed to be only working for a few people). “I’m all about this town’s gritty reality exposed through the harsh glare of my reporting. And if you don’t want to read about what’s really going on in Hollywood, then for crissakes don’t click here.”
So how did she get to be so, well, feared? Finke, formerly an entertainment reporter for the Los Angeles Times, New York Post and L.A. Weekly, launched her blog in 2006. About five years ago, it was bought by media mogul Jay Penske for millions. Finke expanded the staff and became a fierce competitor for other Hollywood Web sites.
She quickly became known for her scoops and breaking news stories (always accompanying items that she had called weeks earlier with the headline “TOLDJA!”) about everything from the minutiae of Hollywood agencies to long, detailed, weekend box office reports. As veteran Hollywood agent Gavin Polone wrote in a column for Vulture back when Finke was still at Deadline, if you worked in entertainment, the first thing you would do every morning was check Finke’s site.
The most important thing for Finke was to always be first with the news. Because of her relentless pursuit of news, and the fact that that she would be very angry if a source didn’t go to her before anyone else, she often was first. You never wanted to find yourself on Finke’s bad side, or you might just see a lengthy takedown on her Web site. Eventually, that led to publicists and executive being so frightened that they did as she said. Polone wrote in Vulture:
[The] transformation from a one-woman blog to a full trade publication has given Nikki more clout and established her as the most influential deliverer of news and opinions about the entertainment industry. Studio executives, creative types, and producers now scurry to get her the first info on their developing projects; numerous times I have heard these Hollywood players saying, “Can you get Nikki to run this?” or “How should we spin this with Nikki?” or “We better give this to Nikki first or she’ll kill us.”
Indeed, part of the reason for Finke’s scary persona is that she has never shied away from blasting Hollywood executives, is fine with name-calling and is happy to print every detail of hirings, firings and other gossip. And people can’t get enough of it. As Tad Friend wrote in his New Yorker profile of Finke:
Finke portrays many of the town’s leaders as jackasses who golf at exclusive preserves, elbow underlings aside to hog the spotlight, downsize those underlings while lining their own pockets, and generally besmirch the fabric of civilization…Charles and James Dolan, who own Cablevision, are a “clown parade”; and Sumner Redstone, the chairman of Viacom, is a “crazy old coot.”
There has always been lots of backlash about Finke’s vindictive style, which many have decried as bullying. Gawker calls her a “Reclusive Hollywood rage-blogger” and investigated the times she’s taken down or rewritten posts without any note that her first information was wrong. Gawker frequently writes about what it calls “her peculiar brand of journalistic thuggery.” In Polone’s Vulture column (“Apocalypse Nikki: Polone Challenges the Power of the Vengeful Finke”), he urged people to stop checking Finke’s site and sending her tips:
Part of the reason that Nikki has continued to act in such an uncivil and threatening manner is that her conduct is reinforced by those in Hollywood who, terrified, choose a path of appeasement rather than confront or ignore her. The most fascinating element of the Nikki story is that people in this industry fear her and invest power in her. She has no real power: She can’t fire anyone at the studios, and she can’t influence the audience of films or TV.
And yet, Finke is back to her old games with her new site. In a lengthy first post titled “Why I Started NikkiFinke.com” (in which she says she’s back after “7 soul-crushing months” of her non-compete clause with Deadline), she promises her new venture is “not for the easily offended or ridiculously naïve.”
In true form, she goes after her former Web site and all of her Hollywood trade competitors.
I want to be your cruel and quirky alternative to Deadlame and Valiety and The Hollywood Unreported and TheCrap. To zig when others zag. To tell you the hard truths about Hollywood which its publicity machine works overtime to ensure you never read. To instill a sense of us-against-them community that’s missing when only the rich-and-famous matter to the media.
Again: If you have no connection to the entertainment industry, you probably don’t care. But if you do, or are remotely curious about the weird world of Hollywood insiders, it’s hard to look away.