There are some wisps of truth in Sharon Waxman's breathless Sunday announcement that Jay Penske has fired Nikki Finke from Deadline Hollywood. But Deadline owner Jay Penske told Waxman that her report was full of errors. And Deadline's Mike Fleming wrote an initial defense of Finke (which has since been revised) and posted a legal response.
UPDATE: Monday morning Finke weighed in. "Just stop it!" she exhorted Waxman. (The two former pals have been squabbling for years.) Finke supplies the transcript of her email exchange with UTA over losing a Deadline scoop to The Hollywood Reporter (which only made THR's and Gawker's day). As for Penske, Finke writes: "He knows I’m a bitch. That’s why he bought me."
As long as Deadline was making incredible amounts of money, Finke could write her own ticket. It still is. But so is Penske's beefed-up Variety, whose weekly print edition can score even more cash.
Finke has been unhappy since Penske purchased Variety but did not allow her any role there. (The acquisition deal reportedly included a clause that Finke would not work there for a year.) The real issue is Finke's Deadline contract with Penske Media, which comes up next year. It's not so much a question of Penske firing Finke. It's a question of his renewing her. If their talks break down and she leaves--she could take advantage of a window of opportunity this month, reports the LA Times, to leave a year ahead of time-- as I understand it the name Deadline goes with her. But the other Deadline employees are Penske's.
Penske and Finke did a good job of hiring Deadline's scoop reporters: Fleming and TV staffer Nellie Andreeva. Awards analysts Pete Hammond and business editor David Lieberman are also solid contributors. They have all been running with the ball.
But Finke is a pain in the ass for anyone to work with day in and day out, and Penske bears the brunt of that. He's an astute businessman. And she has made him money. The question is what she adds to the equation at this point if he can make money without her. I'm curious to see how this plays out.