By Dom Serafini
Have you noticed how the TV trade media never comment on each other in print? This brings to mind my first meeting with Bob Oswaks, who today is at Sony Pictures Television, but was then, in 1980, with Tandem/TAT. I was international editor of (now-deceased) TV/Radio Age. As soon as I started to trash the competing publication, the also deceased TV World, he forcefully stopped me in my tracks. Apparently this no-no was an unwritten rule in Hollywood. After that lesson, I never commented about our competition, either in spoken word or in print.
Now, exactly 27 years after that initial encounter with Bob, the urge to comment on a recent trade publication episode that reverberated throughout Hollywood is too strong to ignore, and for that, Bob’s forgiveness is begged. Being the first comment among the trades, however, it will be kind and considerate and rather gentle for this feature’s expectations.
The episode that triggered this groundbreaking editorial milestone concerns the hiring of Elizabeth Guider as The Hollywood Reporter’s new editor-in-chief: something that received plenty of general press ink in Hollywood, especially in the L.A. Weekly, but not in the trades.
So, if The New York Times can comment in print about its main competitor, the Wall Street Journal, why can’t VideoAge comment on a trade story that is fascinating the industry?
While serving in several editorial capacities at Variety, Guider became popular, respected and well-liked; both with the readers and the trade magazine sector itself. At the most one could say she’s a bit too touchy (for example, never call her Liz!), but that’s the extent of it, considering that I’ve know her since before she joined Variety full-time in 1989 after a stint in Rome, Italy. Guider has always been a Southern belle (she’s from New Orleans) with a European flavor and a good journalist with a great intellectual mind (with a Ph.D. in Renaissance Studies).
This is why it was startling that a negative review about her would appear in any publication. But that’s exactly what happened with the L.A.Weekly’s reporter Nikki Finke, who posted several negative comments on her Deadline Hollywood Daily (DHD) blog, with statements such as: “Is she a get or just an also-ran?” and “she’s an editorial lightweight.”
More personal tidbits were also revealed, such as the fact that Variety’s top editor, that veteran of veterans Peter Bart, used to call her “Guido,” possibly a nickname for Guid-er, but most likely related to the fact that she speaks perfect Italian.
The setting for more interesting things to come began to take shape when Holland-based VNU, THR’s publishing company, was acquired a few years ago by venture capitalists and renamed Nielsen Business Media (NBM).
Meanwhile at Variety, Guider moved from a number-three position on the masthead in 2006, as an executive editor, to number nine in 2007, as an editor-at-large. Clearly, things weren’t working well for Elizabeth.
According to the L.A. Weekly’s Finke, the masterminds of Guider’s defection were former Variety duo, Gerry Byrne (who became a NBM consultant) and Eric Mika, now THR’s publishing director. The explanation given is that THR wants to beef up its international standing, which, together with Variety, has reportedly not been a source of much profit lately, especially in the TV sector.
The fact that Variety wasn’t doing well internationally was something that Mika mentioned to me at MIP-TV in April when he went over to NBM. However, after sliding to THR, he didn’t even bother to reply to a congratulatory note. Similarly, at THR my esteemed Elizabeth did not return phone calls after an initial e-mail exchange.
This doesn’t surprise me, considering that years ago THR’s former publisher asked the company’s lawyer to send me a warning note in response to my request to stop poking at VideoAge’s services to the industry.
In order to better understand why the L.A. Weekly became so vociferous against Guider, I asked the article’s author, Finke, if the story was assigned to her or she pitched it to her editors. I also wanted to find out if she ever met Guider, to which she declined to further comment beyond her DHD/L.A. Weekly postings and columns.
My take on the whole thing is that, unfortunately and by nobody’s fault, the international business for those two large trades will never be meaningful under their current business models. First, because the industry’s marketing and promotion revolves around trade shows, and these events have their own peculiarities. Second, because there are too many trade publications. Perusing MIPCOM’s and the AFM’s trade bins it’s easy to see the incredibly large number of trade rags. Most of them are totally useless in the general sense, but some exhibitors prefer to spread very little money among many tiny titles than concentrate their marketing money among a few strong titles. Third, both THR and Variety are received at most offices (either for free or, as in my case, for the fee I feel like donating). Therefore, there are no incentives to pick them up at trade shows.
Naturally, there could be a solution to their international problems, and I’m pretty sure that the BMG (Byrne-Mika-Guider) will come up with it.