It might be mere nostalgia on his part”€”though Jay, youngest son of automotive millionaire Roger Penske“€”has never seemed overly nostalgic. Or else he may think Miss Finke, described as “cutthroat” by some”€”and who famously said that today’s sitcoms should replace their pretty women with ugly ones“€”either needs reining in or some in-house competition. Certainly she is no mere gossip columnist like Louella Parsons or Hedda Hopper, nor does she have their fashion sense. Neither is she Army Archerd or scandal-ridden George Christy. Penske may plan to revitalize Variety by putting Nikki into its mix”€”or even at the helm”€”an outcome many fear in this town. But as Steve Randall opines, there may not be that much to fear: Even TMZ and Perez Hilton have been absorbed into the establishment.

Whether we like it or nor not, the entertainment media form a huge part of our national psyche. And many decisions are made on the basis of what “toppers” read in the trades”€”online or offline. For its many faults, Variety has been at least a nominal link with earlier and better days.

The transfer of news media online”€”including entertainment trade journals”€”must inevitably push our culture’s dumbing-down further in a weirdly symbiotic race to the bottom. Print journalists had to actually research stories and do real fact-checking. The deep temptation for all of us who write on the Net is to be sloppy. Where do we get our content? Often enough from elsewhere on the Web. This is not a problem for opinion-based writing, but it is lethal for solid journalism. To look purely to other blogs and official statements for information (it takes time to do even that) can slant or ruin a story.

It costs much more to maintain old-style journalists. The bottom line will dictate print journalism’s extinction. Eventually, the fire in Nikki Finke’s belly will be slaked by the rewards of conformity, and toppers will read what they want to read. “Boffo box office” shall go the way of the journal that spawned the phrase, and in time the movie industry will collapse as television continues merging with the Net.

In the same way that movies, television, and radio emerged from the wreck of vaudeville, so the Net is emerging as some weird, all-inclusive form of infotainment. The real question is not whether its content will be stupid, prurient, and soul-killing, since that seems foreordained; it will be whether it can generate money. Whatever form it takes, something under the name of Variety will be along for the ride. I hope there is something in it worth reading.



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