Americans follow Hollywood. Ask people on the street on Monday and they’ll tell you which film ranked number one in box office revenue that weekend, whether Marg Helgenberger was returning or departing CSI, and how they knew who would win the best male actor Oscar.
But Hollywood is more than entertainment or escape. Deadline.com (www.deadline.com), a website launched in 2006 by well respected journalist Nikki Finke, treats Hollywood as a business. It offers the latest scoops on which shows are being green-lighted or cut, who’s in and who’s out, and which films are likely to rocket to the top of the charts or quickly land on DVD.
Showing how timely it wants to be, Deadline changes daily depending on what’s newsworthy. For example, one day in January 2012 its chief headings were “All News,” “Film News,” “TV News,” “Trailers,” “Movie Awards,” and “Sundance.” But after the end of the Sundance Festival, where independent films are showcased for major studios for acquisition, and the Oscars, SAG awards, and Golden Globes conclude, its focus shifts to other topical stories.
Deadline attracts two major audiences: insiders who work in Hollywood, New York, and elsewhere for film and TV production, marketing, distribution, and public relations companies, and, to a lesser extent, everyone else who follows show business avidly. Some people want to be the first on the block or at the water cooler to know which films and TV shows are hot or on the verge of cancellation.
Deadline focuses on the major news of TV and film, particularly targeting personnel changes that drive production companies in Hollywood and New York. Since many Hollywood executives have less job stability than baseball managers with a losing record, the site provides endless news flashes of who’s been hired and who’s been dismissed at the major studios and production companies.
For example, in early 2012 Deadline reported that Lisa Erspamer, who was EVP of production at Oprah Winfrey’s cable network OWN had been ousted and replaced on an interim basis by Rita Mullin, who continues as SVP at Discovery Fit and Health. Deadline noted that ratings at OWN were lower than that of Discovery Health, which it had replaced on cable networks. The article also described OWN as a troubled cable network because of its anemic ratings, cancelled shows, and lack of hits.
Deadline also reported that the film Mirror Mirror, an update of the Snow White fairy tale, which stars Julia Roberts, Arnie Hammer, and Lily Collins, postponed its release two weeks until the end of March. Mirror Mirror now opens during spring break and Easter holiday, and again, insiders who work at Hollywood marketing firms need to know this information as does the public who wants to know Hollywood buzz.
To whet readers’ appetite for box-office news, it runs a top 10 list of that week’s highest grossing films on its home page. It also includes a number of trailers so viewers can get a first look at about-to-be-released films.
Besides TV and film, Deadline also covers Broadway and theatre. For example, it was one of the first publications to report that singer Raven-Symone was replacing Patina Miller as the lead in the Broadway musical Sister Act, based on the film starring Whoopi Goldberg.
Deadline competes with Variety (www.variety.com) and Hollywood Reporter (www.hollywoodreporter.com), the two dominant trade publications. While Deadline and Variety’s websites are free to the public, Hollywood Reporter is subscription only and costs a minimum of $99 a year to gain access.
What differentiates Deadline from its competitors are the contacts, Rolodex, and zeal of Nikki Finke. Finke, who had been a staff writer at the Los Angeles Times and columnist for New York magazine and New York Observer, is known as working harder and longer and having the best insider sources on the Hollywood beat. In fact, Elle magazine named her one of the 25 most influential women in Hollywood, quite an honor for an investigative reporter.
The tone of most Deadline articles is factual, straightforward, and no-nonsense. Nor does it include many feature articles--the site doesn’t want to compete with the profiles written in film magazines or newspapers. It avoids fluff in an industry where unless articles are very upbeat, Hollywood cancels access to the stars. When was the last time you read a critical profile of a Hollywood insider?
But when Finke pens an exclusive, she often employs the first person. For example, in early 2012 she broke the story that Paula Abdul and two other judges won’t be returning to Simon Cowell’s The X Factor. Finke wrote, “I understand from sources that none of the three left on their own accord and that it was ‘cleaning house day’ at the so-so rated reality series.”
If a reader is looking for in-depth analysis or deep exploration of trends in show business, Deadline isn’t the place to obtain it. Deadline, as its name implies, specializes in quick, targeted updates. It functions like an all-news radio station, and very-inside Hollywood.
Gary M. Stern is a freelance writer based in New York City.