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The NYT Goes Way Off-Broadway and Other Big Hits 

WEB UPDATE: LAT moves off the mat, Baquet goes ballistic, Brando monkeys around, and Babs butters up

Thursday, Jul 8 2004
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The Los Angeles Times ain’t taking it lying down: Its management is fighting back from its talent losses to the NYT. Today, the newspaper named recently hired TV critic Carina Chocano as its new movie reviewer, and show-biz columnist Paul Brownfield to be Chocano’s replacement as TV critic. Meanwhile, Los Angeles magazine’s star writer Amy Wallace confirmed to L.A. Weekly that she is being considered for the key entertainment industry beat position vacated by the NYT-defecting Michael Cieply. The moves come just days after LAT managing editor Dean Baquet went ballistic upon learning that Cieply was next in line to be body snatched by the NYT.

Chocano’s job switch follows the LAT’s recent loss of film reviewer Manohla Dargis to The New York Times. In many ways, Chocano has the same pop-culture sensibility and edgy writing style as Dargis, which may well be one of the primary reasons why the LAT selected her. Also, Hollywood can breathe easy because Chocano has real-life movie experience: In 1997, she directed a short film, Samuel Beckett Orders Out, which was screened at the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival and elsewhere. As for Brownfeld, he joined the LAT as a TV reporter back in 1998, so he’s a beat veteran.

The LAT also stole away the well-regarded New York Observer features editor Maria Russo and gave her the new Calendar title of assistant entertainment editor for criticism. Russo will report to Calendar’s deputy entertainment editor Betsy Sharkey, who leads film coverage and helps oversee television reporting.

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Chocano was hired by the LAT in October 2003 after a tortuous and prolonged hunt to replace Pulitzer-winning television critic Howard Rosenberg. Candidate after candidate turned down the position. The paper even lost columnist Brian Lowry to Variety when he wasn’t offered the job. It got so bad that TV editor Jonathan Taylor had to camp out at the July meeting of the Television Critics’ Association and then begin interviews by saying, "We don’t want to get burned again. So we want to know that you’ll take the job before we offer it to you." Judging from that experience, if it was to fill the movie critic’s job quickly, and then the TV critic’s slot after that, the LAT knew it would have to look in-house for both candidates.

When the LAT first hired her, Chocano was an Entertainment Weekly staff writer and critic, and well known on the Internet as the TV critic at Salon.com. There, the former children’s-CD-ROM writer rode the reality-show wave to fame from 1999 to 2003. A 1990 Northwestern graduate with a B.A. in comparative literature, Chocano wrote Do You Love Me or Am I Just Paranoid?, a book published last year and billed as amusing relationship advice for the perpetually entangled, and contributed to a humor anthology, More Mirth of a Nation. Her work will appear in the forthcoming Border-Line Personalities: A New Generation of Latinas Dish on Sex, Sass and Cultural Shifting.

Kenny Turan will continue, an LAT memo said, as "our cinematic eminence."

Brownfield, a UCLA graduate, has long been a favorite of LAT deputy managing editor John Montorio, even before receiving the showplace "Here and Now" column. Returning to the TV beat, it’s assumed he’ll display his trademark humor. He’ll critique alongside former L.A. Weekly reviewer Robert Lloyd. Russo, a veteran New York City–based editor and writer, has a Ph.D. in English and comparative literature from Columbia.

"As you know, recent decisions by (soon-to-be-former) colleagues have left us with a couple of empty critical chairs. Where others might have seen only loss, we also saw an opportunity to create significant new showcases for two of our own most gifted writers and thinkers, and to augment our talent pool by recruiting for them an editor of equal brilliance," Montorio said in the announcement memo. "These appointments are the first in a series of initiatives designed to take our already strong entertainment coverage to even higher levels as the summer progresses."

There’s no anarchist facing execution, no convict escaping from prison and no journalist hiding in a desk — yet. But this Los Angeles Times vs. New York Times war is beginning to mimic that madcap classic about newspaper rivalry The Front Page. Given the defections of four superstar journalists in one week, LAT editors are understandably mad as hell at the NYT. Last week, cool, calm and collected LAT managing editor Dean Baquet threw a temper tantrum upon learning that entertainment industry editor-writer Michael Cieply was even considering a job offer from the NYT. So Cieply went on the lam to the L.A. Times’ famed Globe Lobby and paced around deciding his future.

What was all-out war went nuclear on Spring Street last Friday after the NYT pillaged Cieply to be its new movie editor, robbing the LAT business section of a prized byline. “It was just an absolutely great job. It was a life opportunity. And anybody in my spot in my life who didn’t look at that would be crazy,” Cieply told L.A. Weekly on Monday. (See our Web Exclusive.)

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