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It's Official: Jay Penske Finally Fires Nikki Finke, But Is She Free to Go Solo in January?

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood November 6, 2013 at 2:08PM

There was no containing Nikki Finke. The Deadline founder finally got her way. Following her last destructive media salvo--memorably describing her four years under media mogul Jay Penske as "slavery"--her boss fired her. She's free. Bring on NikkiFinke.com. But does Finke have a non-compete?
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Variety Building

Problem is, Finke measured her worth in dollars instead of growing her own company. "Some people might not have wanted to leave the kind of money I'm leaving on the table," she told Defamer, "but I got a lot of money and all the sale money..so this is just a relief."

Claudia Eller
Claudia Eller

Deadline was doomed when Penske bought Variety last year, and Finke knew it. She was deluded if she thought she could run such an established brand using her scorched-earth tactics. Penske did well hiring Claudia Eller as film editor. She's a well-respected tough take-no-prisoners veteran trade and LA Times reporter/editor who can work the system as a fair-minded journalist who not only knows how to yell but also to negotiate and to give and take. Finke has no clue how to do anything but charm and bully her way to wielding power through sheer force of personality. She's not an employee who works well with others. 

Finke changed the media landscape as a powerful force that dragged the other trades kicking and screaming into the digital future. But they took what she taught them and ran with the ball. Deadline does have to evolve, now, as the online daily scoop arm of what will now be its real parent--Variety. That's inevitable. For them to compete on the breaking news front makes no sense. Fleming and Andreeva are already well-known to Eller and TV editor Cynthia Littleton.

Finke reminds me of the voracious Harvey Weinstein. As long as he's in charge (with his brother Bob) of his own company, and stays focused on what he does best inside the movie realm, no one can beat him. But when Miramax was acquired by Disney and had to function inside a corporation, Weinstein was always agitating against the bosses who had the power to curtail his resources, say yes or no, keep him to the terms of his budget and contract. Finally, the Weinsteins had to get out, leaving their hard-won company name behind. They then sought to prove their ability to run multiple businesses and build their own corporate empire--disastrously. Eventually their investors forced them back into pursuing their true calling: making, acquiring and releasing movies--especially those geared toward awards season.

Likewise while Finke sees herself as a high-minded journalist and enjoyed managing a burgeoning website, she found her calling as an independent maverick with her own inimitable voice. A blogger. There is no shame in it. I cannot wait to see her go back to what she does best, writing when she feels like it, on her own terms. The industry can use a fearless reporter unafraid to call the powers to account. Let her at it. 

I hope Penske does not try to shut her up. It would cost him a lot of energy and money. On her own it's unlikely that she'll be able to command the ad sales as Deadline, which added other voices and profitable but soft awards content in order to buffer her toxicity. She won't be a Variety/Deadline competitor in that sense. She should do whatever she wants. She has fuck-you money. But when she makes her deal, both sides should be aware of what they're dealing with. Finke is best off entirely on her own, the way she was at LA Weekly, owning her site and calling her own shots. Anything else will lead to tears before bedtime. 

This article is related to: New Media, Nikki Finke, Hollywood, The Huffington Post, Hollywood Reporter, The Hollywood Reporter, Thompson on Hollywood


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