The Dark Legacy of Nikki Finke

Nikki Finke
Nikki Finke, founder of Deadline, passed away at age 68. Photo: Jen Rosenstein
Matthew Belloni
October 10, 2022

My last of probably hundreds of testy exchanges with Nikki Finke over the years occurred about a year ago, in my Twitter DMs, just as we were launching Puck. “You should return to lawyering,” she wrote me. “More money and steady work. Journalism is a dead profession.”

Not exactly in line with the image Finke cultivated during her seven years at as a journalistic crusader, the only person with balls big enough to stand up to the Hollywood moguls and speak truth—or her version of it—to the powerful. She had actually sent me many messages like that when I was editor of The Hollywood Reporter, cynical tirades about how nothing in media mattered and the only thing she was proud of was that she had convinced the car-racing heir Jay Penske to pay her more than $10 million for Deadline in 2009. Having since flamed out of the business that brought her fame and fortune, Finke’s posture in her final years, at least to me, was that it was all beneath her. During that last exchange, she continued: “Try to start out as a partner. Money = happiness. Trust me, I’m incredibly happy!”  

I doubted that. Everyone in Hollywood who was active during Finke’s reign—and it was a reign; she dominated the landscape from 2006 to 2013 in a way that is difficult to explain to those who didn’t experience it—has a Nikki story, and most of them are awful. She was awful. Screaming threats. 3 a.m. phone calls. Outright blackmail. I’m all for being super-aggressive on a story—but she’d try to destroy lives, to get agents and assistants fired if they wouldn’t do her bidding. She’d torment publicists with email subject lines like “today’s the day I ruin your career.” She once attempted to sabotage the book deal of a rival journalist I know, just because. She’d have her lawyer send frivolous and harassing letters, and in 2011 she convinced Penske to sue THR for $5 million over some website code we mistakenly used from a Penske site. (It settled.) Nobody does anything in Hollywood unless they’re afraid, she once told me. There’s an element of truth to that, and good journalists know how to exploit that fear, but Nikki took it to a destructive and selfish end.