By Chuck Ross
Memo to Deadline.com owner Jay Penske: If you’re going to go to war with Nikki Finke about issues surrounding the website she founded, your back is against the wall, your shirt-tail’s on fire and the bill collector’s at the door, as Dan Rather would say.
To continue with the Ratherisms, to fight her about Deadline.com you’ve got to have a slight hitch in your giddy-up.
You own the site, so, of course, in the end you can do with it what you please. But you won’t win a popularity contest against Finke. She and her legions of fans are closer than Lassie and Timmy.
End of the Ratherisms and end of memo.
Here’s what’s going on — in public, at least, as of this morning, Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013, at 8:28 a.m. PT. This latest dispute between Penske and Finke became public, as we previously reported, on Thursday, Oct. 24, when Finke said she was negotiating to leave Deadline. In one of her tweets on Thursday she wrote, “All that’s left is for the lawyers to disentangle me from Penske. I have no idea why he has fought so hard to keep me. I’ll be free soon.”
The situation escalated yesterday (Friday). In order, here are the tweets Finke posted yesterday. TVWeek’s comments are in brackets [ ]:
1) Penske has given the Deadline redesign to the same guy that redesigned Variety’s unreadable website. I’ve still had zero input.
2) Penske keeps sending me legal letters since I began giving interviews. Latest one this am demands I remove and retract my tweets.
[Most notably, Finke, who, reportedly, has been in Hawaii for some time, gave an interview to Brooks Barnes of The New York Times on Sept. 18, 2013, about her dispute with Penske.]
3) Earth To Penske: Hollywood tried and failed to intimidate me. Big Media tried and failed to intimidate me. I like to brawl, remember?
4) NIKKI FINKE LOCKED OUT OF DEADLINE
[All caps done by Finke on this tweet. This linked to a story Finke wrote on Deadline, which was odd because she tweets that she was locked out of the site. Finke wrote on Deadline: “I have been locked out of the Deadline Hollywood site after founding it 7 ¹/₂ years ago. So don’t expect any more box office. I also just tried to post an exclusive involving Jeff Robinov and Sony Pictures and GK Films’ Graham King and Dune Capital Management Steve Mnuchin but only the alert went through. What an extremely sad day.” [The Robinov story eventually was published on Deadline, but this post written by Finke that we’ve just quoted was later removed from the site.]
5) I have been locked out of the Deadline Hollywood website which I founded 7 1/2 years ago. Jay Penske gave the order. Not even the staff knew
6) So don’t expect any more box office from me. I also just tried to post an exclusive involving Jeff Robinov and Sony Pictures but couldn’t.
7) Robinov-Sony post was directed to Trash. Now, suddenly, the post has been restored. However my access inside Deadline admin greatly reduced.
8) I now only have very limited access inside the Deadline website’s admin after 7 1/2 years of full access. What a very sad day.
9) For weeks now Jay Penske pledged to me he would wage ‘nuclear war’ on me unless I obeyed him and stayed at Deadline. He started it Wednesday
10) I’m going to try to resume my box office story. But there’s all sorts of alerts showing that Tech staff are inside my story. Hmm.
11) I actually had to go to the Deadline website home page and see if I was still listed as Editor in Chief and Founder.
12) Interesting. I am no longer locked out of Deadline and my stories no longer going to Trash. I assume Penske now wants clean hands.
13) Fleming On Deadline’s Efforts To Restore Nikki Finke’s Game-Changing Writer Voice
[This tweet by Finke linked to a piece written by Deadline.com staffer Mike Fleming Jr. and posted at 5:28 p.m. PT yesterday. There is no explanation accompanying the story as to why it is written by Fleming and not Penske. In Deadline's "About Us" section Finke is listed as "General Manager, Editor in Chief and Founder of Deadline Hollywood." Fleming is listed as "Film Editor for Deadline Hollywood and is known for his industry relationships and his talent for breaking news. ... Mike has been with Deadline since 2010 after working at Variety for twenty years as a reporter, writer and columnist."
Fleming's piece begins “A little perspective on what is really going on with Deadline Hollywood founder Nikki Finke. For the past few months, she has unfortunately turned an internal matter, her dissatisfaction, into a public spectacle. While Nikki has been doing box-office from Hawaii for the last five months, the Deadline team that keeps this publication awash in scoops has continued to take the high ground and has absorbed these ridiculous barbs. Her latest flurry of dispatches warrants a response.”
Fleming then writes, “... Nikki has been restricted to filing and editing her own stories. Secondly, she has complained she is prevented from running Deadline stories on her personal Twitter feed, because she has too many followers. The truth is, she has built a Twitter following with a site that gives the appearance she writes every story on Deadline, when her output continues to diminish. That traffic belongs to Deadline’s Twitter feed. The reason for this and other changes is simple. We are trying to strip away the distractions and diversions that have gotten between her doing what she does best, which is filing provocative copy like the Jeff Robinov scoop earlier today.”
Fleming adds, “She says on Twitter that she can’t wait to tell the truth about Hollywood. Nobody ever wanted her to stop doing that here. We want the old Nikki Finke back. If she returns -- she is under contract until 2016 -- we will welcome her with open arms. If she doesn’t, we will survive, knowing in our hearts that she is miscast as the victim in this drama. … Penske invested his money and time to help her build this business, and ultimately make her a multi-millionaire ..."
[In a move that is likely unprecedented on Deadline.com, the company disables the mechanism that lets readers make comments about this Fleming story.]
14) Penske parent company now deleting comments to my stories. At least 93 comments in support of me have suddenly disappeared in minutes.
15) 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.
[In his story Fleming also writes, “Contrary to her assertion that we are reducing resources, we have plans to add staff as soon as next month.”]
So far, that’s what’s gone on, at least in public. As Drudge says, “Developing …”