Nikki Finke, the veteran entertainment journalist who founded Deadline in 2006 and helped grow it into a major player among Hollywood trades, died Sunday morning in Boca Raton, FL after a prolonged illness. She was 68.
The famously reclusive Finke founded her site as Deadline Hollywood Daily, the 24/7 Internet version of her long-running print column “Deadline Hollywood” for LA Weekly. She posted firsthand accounts of how she saw the entertainment business and was unfazed about dressing down its biggest players. Her often biting, acerbic posts called out wrongdoing and wrongdoers as she saw fit — making her a hero to many assistants and below-the-liners while irking many in the C-suites who were not used to anything less than praise.
They pretty much always took her calls, though.
Finke’s take-no-prisoners style angered many of showbiz’s top players and delighted others. She often scored huge exclusives, and when they were confirmed by comms teams or publicists, Finke would update her story using her signature “TOLDJA!”
Among Finke’s most famous — or infamous — assignments was her “live-snarking” of Hollywood awards shows including the Oscars, Emmys and Golden Globes. She applied warning labels to many of those live blogs, including, “Come for the cynicism … stay for the subversion” and “Not for the easily offended or ridiculously naive.” Indeed, no exec, star, producer or topic was safe then — or in any other Deadline post.
“At her best, Nikki Finke embodied the spirit of journalism, and was never afraid to tell the hard truths with an incisive style and an enigmatic spark. She was brash and true,” said Jay Penkse, founder, chairman and CEO of Penske Media Corporation, which acquired Finke’s blog in 2009. “It was never easy with Nikki, but she will always remain one of the most memorable people in my life.”
A Long Island, NY native, Finke’s pre-Deadline journalism career included positions around the world with some of the most powerful and influential media outlets: as an Associated Press foreign correspondent in Moscow and London, a Newsweek correspondent in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., and a Los Angeles Times staff writer covering entertainment and features. She was West Coast Editor and Hollywood columnist first for the New York Observer and then for New York Magazine. She also hosted an entertainment industry radio show on public radio in Southern California.
She joined LA Weekly as its “Deadline Hollywood” columnist in 2002, writing about the business, politics and culture of the media and entertainment industry. Finke launched Deadline Hollywood Daily in March 2006 as a quicker way to report breaking entertainment news than her weekly newspaper column and purchased the domain name for $14.
Dow Jones’ MarketWatch called Finke the Hollywood “must-read,” Los Angeles magazine said she was “essential reading for those who follow the industry, and New York Observer dubbed Finke “Media Mensch of the Year.”
Finke — and, by extension, Deadline — were cemented into Hollywood’s media consciousness for her blanket coverage of and myriad scoops about the 2007-08 writers strike.
After Deadline Hollywood was purchased in 2009 by Penske’s PMC (then known as Mail.com Media Corporation), Finke became its Editor-in-Chief and general manager. Deadline would go on to become the authoritative source for breaking news and insider analysis/commentary in the industry. PMC went on to control all three of Hollywood’s major trade publications: Deadline, Variety and THR.
In 2010, Finke ranked No. 79 of Forbes’ list of The World’s Most Powerful Women.”
That same year, HBO ordered Tilda, a pilot starring Diane Keaton as a Finke-like reclusive Hollywood blogger — which was conceived and written and developed without Finke’s knowledge or involvement. Also starring Elliot Page and Jason Patric, it was co-created by Bill Condon, who co-wrote the script and directed the pilot. He also exec produced alongside Alan Paol, Alexa Junge and John Hoffman. The pilot had a rocky production and post-production run marred by creative differences, and HBO ultimately passed on it in early 2011.
Finke sometimes butted heads with PMC founder and chairman Penske, and she left Deadline in 2013.
In 2015, Finke launched HollywoodDementia.com, a site dedicated to fictional tales about Hollywood (read an excerpt here). She entered into a first-look production deal with HBO for material from the site.
From 2011-21, she served as a judge for the Mirror Awards competition, which celebrate excellence in media industry reporting. The honors were bestowed by Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School for Public Communication.
An alum of Wellesley College, Finke long had been a benefactor for the school and spoke to its students over the years.
She is survived by a sister, Terry Finke Dreyfus; brother-in-law James Dreyfus; and nieces Sarah Greenhill and Diana Leighton.
Memorial services will be private.