Credits roll for Variety, Hollywood's daily bible
A sad landmark for newspaper that brought the world 'Wall St lays an egg'
Tim Walker is The Independent’s Los Angeles correspondent, covering entertainment and other concerns from the West Coast of the US. He was previously a features writer and the editor of the paper’s diary column. His first novel, Completion, is being published in January 2014.
Sunday 03 March 2013
It has been Hollywood's in-house newsletter for 80 years. Its influence permeates publishing across the English-speaking world. Yet, just like the movie business it covers, and the print business to which it belongs, Variety has had its fortunes altered dramatically by the advent of the internet. From 18 March, the title will cease publication of its daily broadsheet for the first time since 1933.
The 108-year-old weekly edition will remain, alongside regular special issues and a redesigned website. A paywall, erected in 2009, was removed on Friday. "Internally, we've been referring to the paywall dropping as 'the end of an error'," said Variety's owner, Jay Penske. "It was an interesting experiment that didn't work." Staff at the struggling publication must hope that the new arrangements prove more effectual.
Variety was once valued at more than $350m (£233m), but Mr Penske, the chairman and chief executive of Penske Media Corporation, bought the paper for a mere $25m in October 2012. In November, he fired almost a quarter of its employees. The title has suffered from the absence of advertising dollars, and from a surfeit of competition in print and online.
In 2010, its rival The Hollywood Reporter was successfully re-launched as a glossy weekly magazine. Meanwhile, movie news websites such as The Wrap and Variety's Penske Corporation stable mate, Deadline Hollywood, have proven more adept at attracting a digital audience. According to Comscore, Deadline received 2.3 million unique visitors in January, a 32 per cent year-on-year increase. Variety's online readership tumbled 28 per cent to 472,000 in the same period.
Deadline's editor-in-chief, Nikki Finke, did not pull any punches in her own report on the changes at Variety, referring to the paper's "humiliating loss of readership and influence and advertising", not to mention its "disastrous paywall". Ms Finke described the title's redesigned website as "generic", and its planned weekly magazine edition as "thumb-sucking". Unrepentant, she claimed, "my Deadline Hollywood pretty much put [Variety] out of business."
Variety was founded in New York in 1905 as a weekly publication covering the vaudeville scene. In January 1907, it published what are widely thought of as the first film reviews in history, of the French comedy short An Exciting Honeymoon, and the Edison company's embryonic short western The Life of a Cowboy.
That same year, Los Angeles welcomed its first film-makers and, by 1933, Variety had followed the movies to the West Coast, where it began publishing Daily Variety. Over the years, it became known for its glossary of Variety "slanguage", originating such words and phrases as "striptease," "sitcom", "biopic", "sex appeal" and "cliff-hanger".
Its editors also wrote some of the most celebrated headlines of the 20th century. Variety greeted the news of the stock market crash on Black Tuesday in 1929 with the famous words, "Wall Street lays an egg". In 1935, reporting on the negative reaction of rural audiences to movies about their way of life, the paper led its front page with the headline "Sticks nix hick pix".
The paper was granted a rare interview with Al Capone at his Chicago home in 1931, in which the notorious mobster revealed that he was often approached by movie studios to appear in their gangster movies, but he "snorted at most" of the offers. As news of the Russian Revolution reached Manhattan in 1917, the paper advised the vaudeville professionals among its subscribers to check before travelling whether their bookings in Moscow and St Petersburg had been cancelled.
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