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Quendrith Johnson


Quendrith Johnson is filmfestivals.com Los Angeles Correspondent covering everything happening in film in Hollywood... Well, the most interesting things, anyway.
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Tribute: Nobody TOLDJA Nikki Finke would die at only 68

By Quendrith Johnson, Los Angeles Correspondent

When Nikki Finke died on Sunday, Oct. 9, 2022, it was the Hunter’s Moon, a full moon in Hollywood. 

That’s all Nikki, who died at 68, was, a hunter of scoops. With that famous TOLDJA word she coined, for the revenge reveal after the fact. Yes, okay, she was a journalist by trade, show biz news analyst, ground-breaking digital media pioneer founder of Deadline, now owned by Jay Penske’s PMC. But that’s not the whole story. 

Gone at the relatively young age of 68, after a “lengthy illness” in Boca Raton, Florida, Nikki Finke  by herself, ripped up the floorboards of Hollywood media journalism and terrified TPTB (those in the real halls of power). Now you’re afraid #NikkiFinke will just be forgotten as a #JayPenske acquisition, with all the hashtags included.

You'd have to put #NikkiFinke in the lineage of Liz Smith of NY Post’s “Page Six,” and Hollywood vintage media mavens Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons, maybe chattering classic Adela Rogers St. John or the “gossip columnist” Sheilah Graham, a British gossiper in whose Hollywood house F. Scott Fitzgerald died in 1940? But she was more important to creating change in media than any of the above. Nikki Finke was a riderless workhorse who should not be forgotten for upending Hollywood  coverage.

 

DeadlineHollywoodDaily dot com changed everything, period. Finke ate executives for lunch, yes, but she also picked up the check for creativity and innovation when #Hollywood lagged behind in the digital space. As a woman she chewed 'em up and took names, don't forget the guts IRL.

 

Bylined Nikki Finke bit down hard on #hollywood, yet she was a beacon for women who covered this Town when access, money, mainly went to male reviewers, reporters, researchers - you name it - in Editorial. Men got paid, women got invited, that was the norm. Nikki threw out that playbook, ps.

The New Hollywood playbook Finke created by herself?

 

This Town’s digital acceptance of online power, despite the fear that the streamers (Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu) would eventually topple TPTB (the powers that be) in the Business. I mean, before Nikki came along, you had a thick tier of executives on high who did not even answer their own emails. Filmed content was the new buzzword for movies, and by the mid-2000’s a shaking rumble came through media-entertainment with Arianna Huffington’s “Huffington Post” which sought to unseat traditional print media outlets, and HuffPo did in 2005. But not before Nikki Finke scoffed at Arianna, who ultimately won the day when she made bank. Nikki’s decision to launch the next year, in 2006, could arguably have been based on HuffPo’s runaway success.

 

 

There would be no The Wrap without DeadlineHollywoodDaily (DHD) first. Arianna had national and political news, but Nikki led the way in Show Business, and extracted a promise (as the lore goes, please don’t sue) from another journalist, Sharon Waxman, not to follow suit?

Then comes Waxman’s The Wrap, and all hell breaks loose with Nikki, who frankly loved to sue and or threaten to sue on reflex, on hot heels after Sharon… now The Wrap calls Finke "scourge" in death? Shameful.

Look at all these women running the insider baseball of Show Business in their own ventures, remarkable, and fleeting - just like every other profession when the money comes in. Just like all the female screenwriters, from Frances Marion to Lenore Coffee and Anita Loos who were blown right off the screenplay credit when the money came in talkies.

But we digress, this is a tribute to the marvel that was Nikki Finke, whose life ended among different palm trees in another coastal town, across the continent last Sunday.

 

Finke (1953-2022), a graduate of Wellesley when it was still Wellesley, worked for AP, had a real career as a journalist/reporter. You would not have predicted that she would make her mark in a lightweight world like “Tinseltown” after flirting with geopolitics on the world stage of ‘important’ journalism. But there was a void in Hollywood coverage. It was reporting mostly, or chummy back room friendly winks from Army Archerd over at Variety. Nobody was breaking down the numbers, calling out box office padding on a Monday, or figuring out the shell game of rotating executives under scrutiny or strictly incompetent suits in Show Biz who managed to fail upward (read: her Jeff Zucker rants). 

 

Nikki was a hell-on-wheels nightmare for some, yet a mentor and community builder bar none in a crucible of a fragmented New Hollywood to come. She made those ridiculous “Most Powerful Women” lists, and by 2009 sold her venture DeadlineHollywoodDaily, which began as an LA Weekly feature in 2006.

Here's the bad thing about hitting the clouds as a writer, meaning dying that is, like Nikki Finke did recently?

 

Way worse writers than you will write your obit... post comments about you in the social media age, take shots at your legacy.

In fact, the Huffington Post, with whom Nikki had lost the battle of will with Founder Arianna Huffington, ran the wrong photo for her obit.

That's Tina Brown, ex-Vanity Fair editor, who rose to fame on the back of then HRH Princess Diana and invented flashy junkfood journalism.

Indiewire, with female founder roots, did it best, called Nikki Finke a "Digital Pioneer" (kudos).

 

Scott Feinberg at The Hollywood Reporter let the bile slip with his shock reaction that not more people had come out of the woodwork to peck at her carcass, editorially. Feinberg tweeted that she “viciously” destroyed lives and careers “or tried to,” which in context may have been warranted in some cases.

 

She wasn't just vicious, she wasn't always vicious. Nikki Finke got caught up in showbiz, punch drunk with power maybe, but it wasn't personal. No, it wasn't nice to see a woman let it rip like all the boys in the blogs, back rooms, big yachts, from LA to Cannes, from rapists to raconteurs? Nikki made a mark.

 

She built a digital persona. 

 

Oh, and all that crap about her “being a recluse” - once even a cash bounty for photos of her. Fake Nikki Finke websites?

Nikki Finke just was so done with dealing with the crap and image and rumor mongers - and even the “Bright Lights, Big City” writer who outed her for living in the same building. 

 

She was more Sue Mengers, emphasis on the sue part, than a red carpet butterfly.

 

Her power was in her exclusivity, reclusively and noting the history of show ponies who ended up in the glue factory after Hollywood. They used to say you were Nobody in this Town until Nikki Finke threatened to sue you.

 

David Poland, a writer who knew her as well as anybody, ripped deceased Nikki Finke (ouch) in his blog, saying she “never hired people” - wait up, she did hire people, did encourage writers (and singe them), but also created a digital community, made people outside Hollywood (fans and even lookie-loo’s) feel like they had a place to gather during the strike, feel a part of a systemless studio era in the emerging New Hollywood, sided with them.

 

TMZ runs nothing about Nikki Finke? They did in the old days, when she was a powerhouse of insider information about new releases, even if she got it ‘almost’ right.

 

Yes, she did get hoaxed, and yes, she did pioneer the UPDATED: trope to correct or rework a lead, which is now an industry standard in media as the old “Correction” has vanished with the newspaper offline editions. Just seems like Nikki Finke’s death is more relevant than the junk-fodder up there daily on TMZ? (A friend from years back tweets that the “recent college grads” at TMZ on a Sunday are scrambling, not knowing who she is, which is a sad commentary, as she paved the way for digital media outlets having street cred.)

 

“At her best, Nikki Finke  embodied the spirit of journalism, and was never afraid to tell the hard truths with an incisive style and an enigmatic spark... It was never easy with Nikki, but she will always remain one of the most memorable ppl in my life." That’s a slightly edited Jay Penske quote.

 

He had to say something, never mind the lawsuits, Nikki going ballistic, the 10-year gag order, the quashing of Nikki Finke dot com as a rival, and the eventual retreat into Hollywood Dementia, her Hollywood “fiction” site comeback venture, which ended in 2019, but still lives online.

Nikki Finke could make you feel like a star when she liked something you wrote, IRL, and tweeted it out... (which she did for a few of my stories for her last venture Hollywood Dementia). She had the best illustrations, here the son Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Mary Pickford. She pushed you to be better, go further and, for me, that means now writing a script based on my work for her, “Mary Pickford’s Lost Diary.”

 

Final thoughts on Nikki Finke?

 

She pioneered, literally owned Live-Snarking, real-time Oscar coverage. Yet AMPAS pulled her credentials at one point? Nikki created her own Oscar mystique, even made all the more relatable with the snark, which was for the people, the fans, the masses, all of us.

 

The alive Nikki Finke would probably scoff at anyone (me) shedding tears at her death, but there it is. She was legendary to me, even her brass heart.

 

What will Hollywood entertainment journalism be without Nikki Finke? All tail and no zinger...

 

You were nobody in this Town until you got sued by Nikki Finke, they used to say... RIP, rest in power.

 

So ends the Era of Nikki Finke.

 

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About Quendrith Johnson

Johnson Quendrith

LA Correspondent for filmfestivals.com


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