Deadline Hollywood Editor-in-Chief Nikki Finke’s 8 Greatest Freakouts

Tricia Romano on how Nikki Finke, long feared in the entertainment industry, has become the story herself.

Photo illustration by Lauren Koester/Newsweek Daily Beast

If you read Hollywood’s fearsome dominatrix Nikki Finke’s Deadline Hollywood on a regular basis, you would be forgiven for thinking that Finke is in a perpetual state of rage, spending her days seething as she bangs away at her keyboard to demolish her perceived enemies.

Finke, who regularly breaks showbiz news, is the master of hyperbole. Subtlety is not her strongest suit. Her missives on Deadline.com have an ALL CAPS LOCK tenor, even when they are typed normally. TOLDJA!—her signature headline (which she actually bothered to trademark), used to gloat whenever a scoop of hers is proven correct—is straight out of a 10-year-old’s playbook. While we like to imagine that she spends her days sticking pins in voodoo dolls of Hollywood executives, the reality is probably less exciting. One thing’s for sure, though: the copy is never, ever dull.

It’d probably take less time to make a list of people who haven’t pissed Finke off than a list of her enemies, but the rumor, that Finke was either being fired from her own website, Deadline Hollywood (and denied by her boss Jay Penske), or that her contract was running out, led us on a trip down the memory lane of famous Finke freakouts.

Nikki Finke vs. Lynne Segall

In a post titled “What Really Happened With Lynne Segall,” in 2011, Finke excoriates her former colleague, who served as president and publisher at MMC Entertainment in a consulting role, and, in Finke’s eyes, meddled with Deadline way too much, trying to erase the unbreakable wall between ad and print. Though such a move is typical of publishers—like a drunk guy trying to slip it in without a condom, they always try—but according to Finke, Segall was the devil incarnate.

With typical delicacy she wrote, “Because, from Day One of her consultancy, I felt like I was battling the force of darkness at every turn.” Of course, Finke didn’t capitulate to such nonsense: “Each and every time, I told her to stick it where the sun don’t shine—at first politely, then much less so.”

There’s a joke somewhere about how you don’t want to see her when she’s angry. But, oh, never mind.

Nikki Finke vs. Bret Easton Ellis

Voracious tweeter Bret Easton Ellis let slip that he lived in the same West Hollywood building as the notoriously reclusive Finke, which made her seething mad, and she apparently threatened a lawsuit, which never materialized. She even reportedly roped in ICM, Ellis’s agency, trying to intimidate them into dropping him as a client. In a series of letters, she also allegedly threatened the employee’s children. The Hollywood Reporter wrote: “Sources who have seen the cease-and-desist letters say the letters also claim that Finke has told top ICM employees she would reveal their home addresses and where their children go to school.”

No wallflower himself, Ellis fought back, tweeting: “Anyone in the movie industry who fears they have to ‘watch out’ for Nikki Finke is a complete and total old-school fucking Hollywood loser.”

Finke responded with perhaps the worst thing she could possibly do: not writing about him by name, deleting all mentions of him as screenwriter in connection with The Canyons, the controversial Lindsay Lohan and James Deen vehicle. In her lengthy story about the film, she wrote: “The film was scripted by a controversial writer who for the purposes of Deadline, I’ll list under the nom de guerre Vol d’Emort.”

Nikki Finke vs. The New Yorker:

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After Tad Friend’s long—but fair—profile of her in The New Yorker ran in 2009, Finke, not one to take a straightforward profile lying down, ran a post hitting back, titled “Hollywood Manipulated The New Yorker.”

Her criticism was withering: she called it a “superficial clip job,” an “amusing caricature, only occasionally true but hardly insightful.”

The best part of the post (and by best, we mean worst) is when she brags about “bitchslapping” David Remnick, the venerable editor in chief: “Still, I’m relieved that The New Yorker didn’t lay a glove on me. I found Tad Friend, who covers Hollywood from Brooklyn, easy to manipulate, as was David Remnick, whom I enjoyed bitchslapping throughout but especially during the very slipshod factchecking process.”

Apparently, for Finke, an article is only successful if it demolishes and takes down the subject, instead of merely painting a portrait of them for a general readership.

Nikki Finke vs. the Trades, Variety and the Hollywood Reporter

Finke has operated independently of the two Hollywood trades, Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, which she views as soft mouthpieces for the industry, and has positioned herself as the “truth teller.” She has delighted in pointing out their foibles and weaknesses in posts that amount to little more than “neener, neener, neener.”

In a post titled: “Your (Un) Trustworthy Trades: THR GETS IT WRONG ABOUT AFTRA vs SAG TV Pilots, she gloats that the facts were wrong, and how only she could possibly save the day. We imagine her unfurling her cape dramatically as she types: “So, I decided to discover the truth.”

She has written disparagingly of Variety for years. A typical jab: “It’s no longer trusted by the Hollywood community. That’s what happens when a trade can’t report accurately by printing rumor as fact or spinning bullshit as news.”

But her most recent fight with The Hollywood Reporter was epic, ending with bitchy letters between the two entities (PDF) flying fast and furious. In a letter responding to The Hollywood Reporter’s lawyers, she began with: “You can stick this letter up your asses if you think you can intimidate me as a journalist who has spent months now reporting and preparing an article about The Hollywood Reporter which I plan to publish very soon.” And signed off with “Now get the fuck out of my face.”

(Full disclosure: I’ve written two pieces for The Hollywood Reporter).

Nikki Finke vs. Beautiful Comedic Actresses

During the 2012 Emmy live blog, after Julie Bowen of Modern Family won the award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series, Finke wrote, “Listen-up, Hollywood: Beautiful actresses are not funny. They don’t know how to do comedy… Only women who grew up ugly and stayed ugly, or through plastic surgery became beautiful, can pull off sitcoms or standups… Because it’s all about emotional pain and humiliation and rising above both by making people laugh with you instead of at you. So stop casting beautiful actresses when you should be giving ugly women a chance.”

Elizabeth Banks, a beautiful and funny actress, bravely fired back: “Wouldn’t it be great if older, more experienced women like Ms. Finke were kinder to her fellow females in the entertainment business?”

Nikki Finke vs. Les Moonves

When Finke’s column was published by the L.A. Weekly in 2004, Finke called for Moonves’s head, saying he should resign. Her piece is a colorful collection of insults, long on invective and heavy on the adjectives. Among them, Moonves is a “irredeemable creature of show biz,” “geezer,” and “improbably ignorant that he is the mogul equivalent of Homer Simpson expressing ‘D’oh!’”

Then she really hits him where it hurts, calling him “a show-biz insider who pals around only with others of the Industry rich and powerful; a bicoastal philistine who used to live in Brentwood mansion.” (If you live in L.A., you’ll understand.)

Nikki Finke vs. Her Boss, Jay Penske

Apparently, Finke has never heard the saying “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.” She reported the news that Variety had been bought by her own boss, Jay Penske*, with the same disdain she normally reserves for people who are not putting food on her table. It was, to say the least, awkward.

According to Waxman, Finke believed that she was going to be made the head of Variety, but when Penske named three top editors, instead, well, hell hath no fury like Nikki Finke scorned:

You can read the eye roll: “Variety announced today that it needs no fewer than 3 editors-in-chief to try to save the beleaguered trade which is moving to a once-a-week print edition instead of a daily.”

And she flat-out calls her own boss a liar.

“Rumors that Eller was heading to Variety began surfacing in January,” wrote Finke. “As recently as February 9th, I asked Penske and Eller to respond to them as soon as Eller began telling Hollywood openly that she was ”seriously considering” Penske’s job offer. (Penske lied to me. Eller declined to comment.)”

That set the stage for this week’s news that Penske was firing her (which they both denied).

*Full disclosure: For two months in 2009, I was employed by Penske’s company MMC as a consulting editor for the now-defunct Hollywood Life magazine.

Nikki Finke vs. Sharon Waxman and The Wrap

Now, this is a proper catfight. The two media honchos have squared off for years, bitterly and epically scratching each other’s eyes out over who reported things first and correctly—like the SAG strike news in 2008.

She has called Waxman’s site TheWrap, “TheCrap,” and Waxman has called Finke “desperate, and out of control.”

But it was the latest post on Waxman’s The Wrap that Finke was about to get canned that sent Finke into her current tizzy. From a post entitled, “Nikki Finke To Sharon Waxman: Just Stop It,” she wrote, “As it happens, I was napping in a different time zone when The Wrap crapped on me yet again Sunday night. Nothing new: the desperate Sharon Waxman and her revolving door staff have been writing inaccurately about me for years, and doing it to drive traffic to her failing website, and refusing to correct even the most blatant errors.”

Ooh, burn.

It wasn’t always thus. In 2003, Finke actually wrote a complimentary piece about Waxman being hired by The New York Times, “New York Times Names New Queen of Hollywood” back when L.A. Weekly ran her column, called “Deadline Hollywood.”

“As far as Hollywood coverage goes, Waxman could be characterized as a fair but tough reporter in an industry notorious for co-opting and manipulating journalists. Several moguls readily acknowledge that, in the beginning, she was relentless in trying time after time to arrange for get-to-know-you interviews with them. To her credit, she’s not known for being in the pocket of any particular Hollywood studio or executive.”

Finke… was nice? Now that’s shocking.