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Deadline Update: Why HBO Turned Down Keaton's Tilda, Finke vs. Academy and The Wrap

by Anne Thompson
March 11, 2011 2:46 AM
2 Comments
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Thompson on Hollywood

You know that Nikki Finke was not happy when the HBO series Tilda bit the dust; Deadline announced the show's demise the Friday before the Oscars; the news was swiftly buried by Oscar weekend posts. While most HBO watchers probably don't care, many entertainment industry insiders and press were eagerly anticipating this half-hour comedy starring Diane Keaton as a power-hungry reclusive blogger loosely based on Finke (she was to be paid a modest fee but did not consult on the series). Ellen Page co-starred as her assistant, while Jason Patric played her arch-nemesis. Many had hoped that the behind-the-scenes Hollywood show would replace HBO's Entourage, whose final, 8th season runs this summer.

Word inside HBO is that programming president Michael Lombardo and his lieutenant Sue Nagel were at odds over the original pilot, which was co-written by series originator Bill Condon (Dreamgirls) and Cynthia Mort (HBO's Tell Me You Love Me). She was to be the series show-runner, with Condon directing the pilot. But after starting out well, the two eventually fell apart, and HBO stuck with Condon as solo show-runner as Mort moved on, even though Condon was directing Twilight: Breaking Dawn. HBO brought in Alan Poul (Six Feet Under), Alexa Junge (Sex and the City, United States of Tara) and John Hoffman as exec producers and screenwriter Michael Tolkin (The Player) to write two more episodes, which were never shot. That's because HBO's Lombardo and Nagel were never able to see their way to green-lighting the show, which is now deep-sixed for good. It is highly unlikely that HBO would ever give up the show so that another network could make it work. Nor will there be another Finke-inspired show at HBO, as Deadline suggested. That's spin.

Thompson on Hollywood

As written, the character Tilda was a sweeter, more vulnerable version of Finke, who is neither a complete recluse (she goes out and travels, though not to industry functions) nor a drug user. (Nor was she in that photo in The Daily.) Volatile, dramatic, feared and power-mongering she is.

Trying to curry favor with Finke, the Academy gave her some intel about the Oscar show days before the rest of the press, which got the timelines of the show's events only minutes before the broadcast. They even gave Finke a series of videotaped screenwriter interviews to run on her site. They had hoped to use Finke, who some in the Academy call "she who shall not be named." She bit the hand that fed her by naming the show's surprise guests (Billy Crystal, Alec Baldwin) days before the Oscars, along with the entire timeline--a total suspense spoiler.

The Academy should have known better than to try and leak controlled amounts of self-serving information to Finke--when given the opportunity, she ran with the ball. She rewarded Academy president Tom Sherak's season-long efforts to appease the chronic Oscar snarker by calling the show a "snorefest." Academy exec Ric Robertson punished Deadline's Mike Fleming by taking away his backstage press credential, while Deadline's Oscar columnist Pete Hammond attended the Oscar show and Governors' Ball. The Academy had no issue with the Oscar-friendly awards pundit, who was hired by AMPAS as a writer for their November Governors' Awards and made it possible for Finke to sell many Oscar ads, both online and in print Oscar specials.

And why did Finke, the week before the Oscars, go on the warpath against old rival Sharon Waxman, hitting her with a cease and desist letter, when The Wrap is neither a traffic threat (that would be The Hollywood Reporter), nor does it break more news (no one beats Fleming)? Among other staff departures, slimmed-down The Wrap recently lost two key players, news bloodhound Jeffrey Sneider and editor Josh Dickey, to Variety. Waxman briefly hired Hollywood litigator Bert Fields to fire a letter back at Finke.

It remains to be seen what legal strategy could ever protect original content on the web, which no matter how hard to create and confirm, is no longer original the second it is posted. What point is there in spending money on original content, when everyone can "steal" it? That's the question confounding all journalists, large and small.

Waxman says that she probably set off Finke, who does not like to be proven wrong in public, on February 7 by pointing out her early prediction that Arianna Huffington was doomed to fail. And Finke's piece was timed to break just ahead of The Wrap's pre-Oscar party. Deadline sources say that Finke was standing up for her writers Fleming and Nellie Andreeva's complaints that The Wrap was systematically lifting their hard-won scoops without linking back or giving credit. There's no question that The Wrap--and multiple sites on the web--engage in this practice, though Waxman denies it. The trades often track and report stories at the same time, which then break all at once.

Traffic and bragging rights belong to those who break first, which Deadline often does. Finke has no interest in aggregating news. Deadline breaks news, that's it. And when they don't, Finke neither shares credit nor links. She just plows ahead. Deadline is known to run "exclusive" on their headlines even when they get the same press release as everyone else--but get it up first. All news sites should give credit where it's due. Waxman herself has waged war against content farms like the unforgivable Newser, which rewrites others' reporting under their own bylines, with barely visible "source" links on the side. Even Variety (which gave up traffic-chasing when it went behind a pay wall) went after small aggregator Film News Briefs, which does proffer proper links. Now Variety is posting its own breaking news blog Showblitz--outside the paywall--designed to encourage linking. Breaking news drives more traffic than anything else. Cock of the walk inside Hollywood used to be dominant Variety, which rues the day that it lost Fleming. Now it's Deadline.

Nor will we ever read Cari Beauchamp's trade wars story in Vanity Fair, which editor Graydon Carter spiked from the Hollywood issue. That was partly because he didn't need it; but Beauchamp didn't like the Waxman vs. Finke catfight illustration, and just as the issue was closing, Carter lacked patience for dealing with Finke on the warpath. The blogger has adeptly micromanaged her large-than-life image via phone calls, emails and threatened lawsuits, landing friendly profiles in the New York Times and The New Yorker. The Myth of Finke lives, with or without Tilda.

[Jaime Hernandez illustration of Finke courtesy The New Yorker.]

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More: Awards, Stuck In Love, Oscars, Bloggers

2 Comments

  • BD | March 11, 2011 4:56 AMReply

    The studios are probably laughing that the script review & preview screening wars from the old Harry Knowles days (which may have cost them money) have now devolved into press release wars (which doesn't cost them a dime).

    Nikki Finke may be a Rottweiler. But she's a Rottweiler tied up and fenced in in their backyard.

    And the day she becomes a problem they won't think twice about putting her down.

  • GL | March 11, 2011 3:50 AMReply

    This woman sounds horrible. Incredible, and mesmerizing, but still horrible. I wonder what the pilot looked like. Oh my, and the money spent to carry actors such as Keaton and Page.

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