Has Nikki Finke written her last “TOLDJA”?
The Hollywood journalist — known as much for her sharp tongue and mercurial personality as for her entertainment industry scoops — has cut ties with Deadline Hollywood, the popular website she started and later sold to Penske Media Corp.
Finke now plans to launch another site to chronicle the inner workings of show business. “Come for the cynicism, stay for the subversion” reads a teaser she posted for her new platform, to be called NikkiFinke.com. The promo shows a drop of blood dripping down the screen.
But Finke may face a legal fight with Penske Media and its chief, Jay Penske, before she can start battling Hollywood again.
In an interview, Finke said she is free and clear to start her own site to compete with Deadline Hollywood and Variety, the entertainment trade publication also owned by Penske Media.
“There is nothing legal to discuss,” Finke said, adding that there is no non-compete clause prohibiting her from launching another news operation. “Any suggestion to the contrary is by somebody who hasn’t read the contracts.”
Officially, Penske Media, which bought Deadline in 2009, isn’t commenting about Finke’s departure. A statement on the Deadline site posted Tuesday said, “Businesses evolve and change, and we’ve learned that no one is indispensable.”
A person close to Penske, who was unauthorized to speak publicly on personnel matters, reiterated a previous public statement that Finke is prohibited from creating a competitor to Deadline Hollywood before her contract was to expire at the end of 2016.
Finke said her relationship with Penske soured soon after he acquired Variety in 2012 and then, she said, reneged on a commitment to give her a role in overseeing the storied publication.
“He told me ... that it would be run under Deadline,” Finke said, adding that she learned otherwise in an interview Penske gave to the Los Angeles Times a year ago, which she called “the last straw.”
Variety, Finke charged, was also getting preferential treatment and more resources from Penske than Deadline Hollywood, putting the site at a competitive disadvantage.
“There were a lot of broken promises — contractual and verbal — which matter to me and didn’t seem to matter to him,” she said.
Although Finke is leaving, her catch phrase “TOLDJA” — which she crowed when a prediction turned out to be true — may stay behind.
“Penske trademarked ‘TOLDJA.’ I’m going to see if I can get it back,” Finke said. If she can’t, “I’ll come up with something else.”
Finke made her reputation with scathing commentaries about the entertainment business and executives she believed were messing up — or were favoring rival news outlets.
But over the last several months she started to appear much less frequently on the site. This last week, she didn’t even cover the weekend box office, one of her staples.
Although there is still plenty of news on Deadline Hollywood, some readers note that it has lost its bite. Finke agrees, saying she is leaving in part because she “didn’t want to witness Deadline Hollywood jumping the shark.”
“The site to me does not reflect how I think Hollywood should be covered,” Finke said, adding, “[Penske] bought it. He can run it anyway he wants.”
However, there are others in the industry grateful that Deadline has become less focused on picking fights with uncooperative executives and rival news outlets, and more on traditional showbiz reporting.
Finke does not yet have a financial backer for her new site, though offers are coming in. For now, she said, she will take her chances as a one-woman operation.
“I don’t know if people will read me. I don’t know if people in Hollywood will talk to me. I don’t care. I’m doing this for me,” she said, adding that, thanks to Penske, “I can afford to have the courage of my convictions.”
Follow Joe Flint on Twitter @JBFlint.