Seven years ago this week, my journalism career took a momentous turn.
I had dinner with Nikki
Finke in Santa Monica, Calif.
At the time, I didn’t
understand how significant this was going to be for my reputation. Actually, the back story of the interview is probably more interesting than our actual conversation from that evening.
You see, I was based in
New York, so Nikki’s breathless coverage of the Hollywood dealmaking scene was
not nothing special to the self-contained people who lived and worked in the shadow of Wall Street.
Further, I was a media
columnist for a website that focused on stock market, financial and industry
news. Nikki’s tales of show-business intrigue seemed more like Inside Baseball
to us than the stuff of legends.
That’s what Nikki had
become: a legend in her own time. She was one of those people who somehow had constructed a
bigger-than-life aura for herself in Los Angeles, a glorified entertainment
Now that she is back in the news, I thought this was a good time to share with you snapshots of my dinner with Nikki.
Many people were actually
afraid of her and spoke the name in undignified hushed tones. They fretted that
Nikki could hurt their careers by writing something undesirable or perhaps turn
her secret army of sources against them.
By mid-June 2006, when I came
calling on her, Nikki was the best-known Hollywood business writer. She
produced the most scoops, the most controversy and provocation at every turn. Everyone in LA, it seemed, had a special Nikki story.
She was important. This was kind of
journalist I wanted to profile. I’d met heavy hitters in New York and
Washington, people who dominated the media discussion in their cities – people
you wanted to know more about, if you happened to care at all about them.
One snag in my plan: Nikki
didn’t do interviews. Period.
That’s what she told me
when I called her to “take a meeting” (when in Rome…) with me. I was going to
be in LA for a few days on a personal matter but I fibbed and told her I was
coming out just to see her. That was true – my editor agreed to pay for me to
go if I could get an interview with Nikki Finke. He was excited by the
When I called, Nikki
demurred. She said she didn’t want to be profiled and that was that. When she
stayed on the phone to chat, though, I had a feeling that I could sway her.
Finally, after I injected some shameless flattery into our conversation she
suddenly reversed her course.
All right — ALL RIGHT!
she said. ”I’ll do it.”
It was as if Maria Callas
had given her approval.
I was thrilled – and I had a sneaking suspicion that
she was happy she said yes.
Again, I had no idea that this would turn out to be
such a coup. When I mentioned the upcoming interview to a few Hollywood
journalist/friends, their jaws all but dropped. I felt smart for pursuing it
and lucky that she said yes.
It appeared that more people wanted to know HOW I got her to talk with me than what she actually said during our interview.
The day before I was set
to leave NYC, though, she got the heebie-jeebies. She begged out of the
meeting, saying she just didn’t feel right about it. I wanted to shout and
break something in my apartment, but I kept my cool and talked her down. After
some pleading (by me) the interview was back on. Here are snapshots of what I can recall.
Nikki picked me up, right
on time, at my little hotel in Santa Monica and drove us to dinner at a small
restaurant whose name I sadly can’t recall.
I know you want red meat
details – what did she look like? What was she wearing? What kind of a car did
she drive? I don’t want to misrepresent her, or me, and take a stab at stuff I
can’t distinctly remember. So, you’ll have to skip the red meat this time.
We settled into a table
that gave us some privacy. Nikki, an icon on the page, was not well known
enough in person to elicit gasps from onlookers or even the spectacle of people craning
their necks to get a good look at her.
I had brought with me one
of those handy, long, legal yellow pads. I hadn’t written anything on it so I
had a lot of space. It was a very pleasant conversation. She was witty, charming and free with info about everyone in the town.
By the time Nikki and I finished talking hours later – as
the waiters were finishing the task of stacking chairs on tables at closing
time – she was still going strong. I had filled up most, if not all, of the notebook, and I was fairly certain I had acquired a case
of RSI by then.
But I was ecstatic. Nikki
had been chatty, to say the least, dishing dirt on the whole Hollywood scene
and filling in the blanks in her life with tremendous panache.
I went back to NYC and
wrote this piece about her http://www.marketwatch.com/story/nikki-finke-keeps-hollywood-honest
I thought it turned out
well. While I was asleep, I got a phone message from Nikki. The piece had been
published at 12:01 a.m. and apparently she was waiting for it to appear online.
She said initially that the profile was OK – I guess (again, this was a long
time ago so I’m not quoting what I don’t absolutely recall).
Then she called back in the
wee hours, NY time, to say she had had a change of heart and dressed me down —
like I was some flunky Hollywood studio head, no doubt. She was very angry, and
I was surprised by the radical shift in her tone.
I called her back and we
talked. Everything was OK.
Obviously, I’m leaving out
a lot of details, out of respect to her – and there are more colorful
treatments of Nikki available online for your perusal.
Now, I feel like I’ve let
you down, dear readers. Tell you what. Next time you see me, I’ll try to give you the good stuff.
MEDIA MATRIX QUESTION OF THE DAY: What’s your opinion of Nikki Finke?