Oscar time! Stop the presses! Hollywood: When the Academy Award movie nominations come in, the trade press' gravy train rolls, and Daily Variety exercises its unique style.

Sun Journal

February 11, 1997|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

HOLLYWOOD -- It may be the middle of February, but here it's Christmas time.

The nominees for Oscars are to be announced today, which means there are only 41 voting days until the Academy Awards. So this is the high season for the reporters and editors at the Daily Variety, the trade newspaper whose beat is Hollywood.

"Oscar day is L.A.'s unofficial national holiday, Los Angeles' holiest day, and we cover it with that in mind," says Jonathan Taylor, Daily Variety's editor. "We are a small-town paper, covering a small town that happens to be plopped in the middle of a huge city and that is enormously powerful."

With that in mind, studios will fill the pages of Daily Variety with color advertisements promoting their nominated films to the approximately 6,000 Academy voters. The publicity doesn't come cheap: A full-page, four-color ad in Daily Variety costs about $7,500.

"They're widely read by that core group of people that vote, the Oscar voters," Taylor says. "Which is why these companies spend the thousands and thousands and thousands that they do."

The tabloid, published five days a week, has a relatively small circulation: just 27,693, according to the most recent figures of the Audit Bureau of Circulations. But numbers don't begin to describe its influence in the entertainment industry.

Variety readers include studio executives, the bankers who provide financing to the studios, actors, their agents, the theater owners who show the movies and the TV programmers who buy the bulk of Hollywood's products. Average reader's income? $301,330, and nearly one in three readers is a millionaire. Average home value? $737,280.

"The people who matter in the entertainment and media business -- this is their first read of the day," Taylor says.

Across town, Robert J. Dowling, editor and publisher of the Hollywood Reporter, takes issue. The Reporter, founded in 1930, is three years older than Daily Variety but has long played second banana. But it has been closing in on Daily Variety.

"I would say we've taken a lead position on editorial for years," Dowling says of his paper's in-depth features, charts, graphs and analyses. "I think we are the leaders in editorial innovation, and I think it's been recognized in this business."

The Reporter, he adds, carries 2,000 more advertising pages a year than Daily Variety. "We do what we do, they do what they do. The market is what decides."

Taylor insists it's Daily Variety that prevails. "They're a fine paper. They do some good work," he says of the Reporter. "But I think they're clearly Avis to our Hertz, if not National rent-a-car to our Hertz."

"It's a Bible out here," says Norman Corwin, who teaches journalism at the University of Southern California. "When I was a young writer, director, and producer at CBS in the '40s into the '50s, their recognition of my work was very valuable to me, because if you get a good review in Variety, the whole trade knows about it."

Daily Variety is the younger sibling of Variety, a weekly newspaper founded in 1905 by Sime Silverman, who left his job as a disgruntled show business reporter on a New York paper. It began by covering Tin Pan Alley, vaudeville and legitimate theater.

As the movie business began to boom, Daily Variety came into being to cover Hollywood. "The papers were owned jointly, but they were kind of feuding cousins. Very competitive with each other, very competitive with everybody else," Taylor says.

The Silverman family owned the two papers until 1989, when they were sold to the Cahners Publishing Co., a company that specialized in trade and business publications. Cahners then was purchased by Reed Elsevier, an Anglo-Dutch media conglomerate. The new corporate owners modernized the newsroom and brought in new blood.

Part of the new blood was Peter Bart, a former New York Times reporter who had spent more than two decades as a movie executive. His job as publisher was to revamp the papers. Weekly Variety moved from New York to Los Angeles, and the staffs of the two papers were combined.

Daily Variety has gained fame for its headlines. A 1939 story about rural communities disliking films about them appeared under this headline: "Sticks Nix Hick Pix." The 1929 stock market crash prompted an article that was headlined: "Wall Street Lays an Egg."

Daily Variety continues to use abbreviations and slang -- "slanguage," staff members say -- throughout the paper. "B.O." is box office. A movie that is a b.o. hit is "boffo." A director is a "helmer"; an agent a "ten percenter"; a "d.p." is a director of photography, who is the person who supervises the "lensing," or filming. A network, such as CBS, is a "web." A small network, such as UPN, is a "weblet."

"I think the idea is those who need to know get it, and those who don't get it we don't care about anyway," Taylor says.

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