The public mudslinging over Deadline.com's fate was already bad enough between Nikki Finke and her boss, Penske Media Corp. CEO Jay Penske. But now Finke's chief lieutenant has turned on her and aligned with Penske now that Finke's seemingly on the way out.
You can always tell something is bubbling with Finke when she starts lashing out. Sure enough, this week Finke's very public battle with Penske finally erupted. Finke declared she would depart Deadline, the website she founded and sold to Penske, as soon as "the lawyers to disentangle me from [PMC]," to start NikkiFinke.com. Since the summer, Finke has been trying to free her creation from Penke's grasp with no luck. Penske purchased Variety, an old Hollywood trade publication and Deadline rival, irking Finke. The dispute boiled over and Finke decided she needed to leave. The sharp-toothed blogger had two plans: purchase Deadline from Penske, or independently start her own website with new financial backing. The rub: Finke has a contract signed with PMC through 2016 and there's little chance Pense will let her walk away easily.
Her choice to go independent was only a few hours old when the supporting cast of characters in this drama drew lines were drawn in the sand and knives were curiously close to some backs. Mike Fleming Jr., who left Variety in 2010 for Deadline and is poised to take over the site should Finke actually exit, made his allegiance in this fight clear Friday night: "For the past few months, [Finke] has unfortunately turned an internal matter, her dissatisfaction, into a public spectacle," he writes.
Fleming goes on to completely throw Finke under the bus, saying he has no idea why her output diminished so much over the last five months or so. Finke rarely posts to Deadline anymore, except her weekly box office reports every weekend. According to Fleming, Finke told Deadline staff her poor output was caused by a rise in administrative tasks -- the regular cost of running a major website -- but: "None of us can figure out precisely what those were, and the company has seen to it that it has been removed," he says. Fleming explains the Deadline staff still wants "the old Nikki Finke back." But the current Deadline team has no intention of following her out the door. "If she doesn’t [return], we will survive, knowing in our hearts that she is miscast as the victim in this drama," Fleming says.
The lines have been drawn. Fleming is standing by Penske, recognizing he stands to inherit whatever is left of Deadline after this scorched earth battle concludes. "To release this post isn't just an insult, it's a brutal massacre in what is shaping up to be quite a bloody war," explains Defamer's Beejoli Shah. There will be no "I am Spartacus!" moment for Finke, her staff standing behind her as she fights the man. Instead, this is Jerry McGuire: one person walking out in a bluster clutching a fishbowl. To her credit, Finke took the high road after reading Fleming's post:
I love Mike. I love Nellie I love the DH team. But I'm fed up with Jay Penske ignoring our website's need for more resources and staff.— Nikki Finke (@NikkiFinke) October 26, 2013
Her classy move astonished everyone watching from home with mouths half open, popcorn in hand, and blankets over their feet. Finke isn't known for known for being the most polite person in Hollywood. Quite the opposite, in fact. With that in mind, Shah thinks Fleming made the wrong choice in this battle:
And really, this begs a larger question—one I can't believe I'm asking at 6:00 PM on a Friday, when I've already written about Finke all day—but where the fuck is Penske? He's known for conveniently hiding behind his lawyers and his human resources executive pretending to be a publicist, Lauren Gullion, but really. Fleming just aligned himself with a boss who is unwilling to speak for himself, choosing to be the yapping dog on Penske's clearly taut leash. Smart move! At least with Finke, he worked for someone that allowed him to have his own opinion, and respected him even when said opinion didn't align with hers.
The outspoken devil you know is a lot better than the quiet one who hides in the shadows.
Now Finke has to figure a way out of her contract with Penske while legally maintaining her right to build a new website that will compete directly with Deadline. That fight will be a difficult one for Finke to win. But as the attacks continue, the knives get bloodier and more bodies are left in this conflict's wake, eventually Penkse will have to step in.