By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
PUBLISHER JOHN KILCULLEN KEPT SAYING for months and months he was looking for a “big, big name” to be The Hollywood Reporter’s new editor, a personality whose mere presence could stop the death rattle of the morale-challenged show-biz daily after a string of staff bloodbaths and betrayals. He even delusionally told job candidates he wanted someone “along the lines of Ken Auletta,” The New Yorker’s CEO pornmeister.
Kilcullen wasn’t joking. But it does seem like a mockery of the process that he’s now hired Elizabeth Guider, a spectacularly unimpressive choice who was passed over and demoted at Variety. (And Kilcullen inexplicably needed to hire not one but two high-priced executive search firms to choose an editor who was right under his nose.) In summary, this looks to be far less of a get and more like an also-ran.
What’s even more amusing about Guider’s selection is that she helped to worsen THR’s death rattle. While a Variety soldier, she regularly trashed the rival trade at every public opportunity, like at one USC entertainment-industry confab composed of show-biz journalists from the Los Angeles Times and the trades. “Everyone was surprised by the verbal grenades and utter contempt she had for The Hollywood Reporter.And it is all on camera,”an eyewitness recalled.“Good thing the trades don’t do TV ads.” Another insider told me, “Elizabeth over the years was particularly outspoken in her competitive feelings about THR. So this really is the loyal general switching armies.”
Guider’s selection continues the increasing “Variety-zation” of THR. It began with parent company Nielsen Business Media’s hiring of Variety publishing bigwig Gerry Byrne as a consultant, as well as Variety veterans Eric Mika as senior VP and publishing director, and Rose Einstein in the role of VP and associate publisher. How sad that the Reporter refuses to aim higher. But this is more of what I and everyone else have come to expect from the cultlike trades who ferociously guard their insularity and rarely allow new blood to infiltrate.
“It’s basically the same five people at the top. All they do is migrate from one trade to another and back again,” one vet of the trade wars remarked. Back in the trenches is Byrne, who retired as group vice president of Variety and Daily Variety after 11 years in that post and is now a so-called senior adviser to Nielsen, THR’s owner. “He’s the secret power with no official title calling the shots,” an insider described. I’m told it was Byrne’s behind-the-scenes handiwork that helped recruit the Reporter’s recent trio of ex-Variety reinforcements.
Among the 40 or so candidates for editor on Kilcullen’s original list was one-time THR editor Alex Ben Block (eager for another go-round), New York Times Hollywood correspondent Sharon Waxman (who had no editing experience), NYT movie editor turned Hollywood correspondent Michael Cieply (anxious to leverage the gig), THR freelancer Stephen Galloway (in search of a higher-profile slot), Los Angeles Times business writer Claudia Eller (older, wiser and uninterested in shaking up her career), ex-Variety staffer turned blogger Tom Tapp, and L.A. Times senior Calendar editor Lennie LaGuire (who appeared to be the leading candidate after she took the recent Times buyout).
But Kilcullen made clear to everyone inside the biz that he was looking for a softball editor to maintain the status quo, which consists of reporters never asking pesky questions of the paper’s advertisers and always running press releases exactly as written. As a result, Guider is not the firebrand sort to even try to retool the trades’ legendary type of journalism, which perpetuates show-biz spin and lies in order to prop up Hollywood’s most powerful.
Of course, Guider is not without her defenders who say she’s liked and respected. “At least she’s a mature woman who really knows the business, so I can’t argue with her selection,” one insider told me. “She’s a good journalist and a good human being.” But others maintain she’s an editorial lightweight despite her many years of experience, and claim her profile at Variety, while once high, had been lowered recently. She was long loyal to Peter Bart (he liked to call her by the nickname “Guido” while staffers called her “Blanche,” after Blanche DuBois, because of her Southern accent), and she often acted as his newsroom spy. Yet in 2005 Bart named a successor — and passed over her in favor of Tim Gray for Variety’s editor. Guider also moved off the important in-the-line-of-fire job of executive editor to the amorphous out-of-the-line-of-fire position of editor at large.
Guider’s expertise in the international arena, especially in overseas TV markets, is what sold her to The Hollywood Reporter, which yearns to be the international trade. Indeed, the PR announcement said she was hired to lead strategic editorial direction globally. But why? As one trade insider told me, “Of international, which they keep making such a huge deal about, there is little ad revenue and a lot of expense outside of the Cannes and Venice film festivals and MIP [the TV world conference and market]. Europeans do not buy the kind of advertising that is run out of this market. Different mindset: It’s like pulling teeth, and they all want deals.”