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From `it' read to has-been

Following an arc common in the industry it covered, Premiere, once a power player, will end print edition.

March 10, 2007|Robert W. Welkos | Times Staff Writer

Its stars were ruthless agents and powerful moguls, temperamental actors and megalomaniacal directors. It told stories of troubled productions and exploding box office to a readership of industry insiders, cineastes and a general public that seemed riveted by it all.

In its glory years -- from the late '80s to the mid-'90s -- nobody got Hollywood better than Premiere magazine.

But with the proliferation of entertainment coverage in the media -- including Entertainment Weekly, Us Weekly and paparazzo-driven celebrity websites -- Premiere lost its cachet.

So when it was announced this week by Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S. that Premiere would shut down its print operation (it will still have an online component), there was sadness and nostalgia, but not surprise.

Premiere reflected the industry it covered, an industry now in flux, uncertain of where it is headed, its flamboyance gradually being suffocated by corporate decisions over creative visions. The magazine chronicled the mushrooming influence of Michael Ovitz and Creative Artists Agency, the battles between Miramax's Harvey Weinstein and Disney's Michael Eisner, and larger-than-life Hollywood personalities such as producers Don Simpson, Brian Grazer and Joel Silver.

Today's entertainment media are obsessed with celebrity scandal. Who wants another profile on CAA when Britney Spears is shaving her head and Anna Nicole Smith is dead? Premiere's stable of writers went after different kinds of stories, unearthing nuggets about the men and women who make the movies, writing revealing accounts of visits to movie sets or runaway production budgets.

"Sometimes it does seem that that sort of excitement of the transforming power of movies has passed," said Howard Karren, who spent two lengthy stints at Premiere as an editor.

Launched in 1987, the monthly magazine, with offices in Los Angeles and New York, was originally published by Rupert Murdoch.

Its circulation had dropped some in recent years, from about 600,000 to 500,000.

Aggressive reporting

Peter Biskind, who spent a decade at Premiere as executive editor under founding editor Susan Lyne and went on to write bestselling books about Hollywood, such as "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls," said one of the reasons the magazine was so good in its early days was because "we weren't beholden to the studios. That gave us a lot of freedom to do hard-hitting, in-depth reporting."

"Somehow, when we were covering [the making of] 'Titanic,' it was a huge deal that the budget went north of $200 million," recalled Nancy Griffin, onetime deputy editor who is now West Coast editor of AARP the Magazine. "But now it seems like fatigue has set in. I heard recently that 'Spider-Man 3' cost a huge amount, but I don't know if anybody can get all exercised."

In a pre-Internet world, Premiere would often break stories. "It's amazing to imagine, but if a director was fired off a project or if something became an 'Alan Smithee' film [a term used to describe a director who has his name removed from the credits] ... you'd only read about it first in Premiere," said Chris Connelly, a former editor at Premiere who today works as a correspondent for ESPN and contributing correspondent for ABC's "20/20" and was last seen providing celebrity-laden red-carpet and backstage commentary at the Oscars.

Connelly credits Lyne with changing the way movie magazines wrote about the industry. Up to that point, movie magazines were designed for readers to imagine they were movie stars or dating movie stars. "The magazine came up with a fantasy zone that could be expanded. You could be the director, the development person, you could be the agent."

The Hollywood power list is now a popular staple at movie publications, but they copied it from Premiere. Being ranked on Premiere's annual power list was so coveted that publicists threw fits if their clients were left off -- or ranked too low. John H. Richardson, now a writer at large for Esquire, was on the team that compiled those early power lists at Premiere.

"The first couple of years it was a big deal," Richardson recalled. "It was hilarious because we would go around and meet every studio head and we'd buy them a ridiculous amount of sushi. We had lunch with Ovitz in his private little dining room at CAA at a time when [lunching with him] was supposed to make your head spin. And we'd lunch with Peter Guber in his private dining room at Sony attended by his personal chef. People would scramble to get on the power list. It got us tremendous access in terms of gossip and what is going on."

It's all about power

Things got so crazy that one time, Richardson recalled, "a very successful producer asked me, 'What would you do if somebody offered you $50,000 to be higher on the list?' "

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