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Peter Bart's controversial reign is ending at Variety

April 07, 2009|John Horn and Claudia Eller

Bart tried to bring Variety into the 21st century, but some of the steps failed. eV, a monthly launched in the early 1990s to cover digital media, was crushed by the dot-com implosion, the very business it attempted to chronicle.

Thanks to the profusion of facile Internet reporters and newsy entertainment websites and the collapse of studio and network advertising, Bart was unable to reinvent the publication again. Gradually, what looked cutting edge only a few years earlier had a musty, almost lumbering feel to it. Reed put the publishing group that includes Variety up for sale late last year.

Bart said he was ready for a show business sequel.

"I'm not exactly 45," said Bart, who will keep his Variety office. "My deal was that at the 20-year point, I could hop to another role that didn't include running the day-to-day paper and I could opt to continue writing."

Like any powerful industry figure, Bart, who for two decades worked as a top studio executive at Paramount Pictures, Lorimar Film Co. and MGM/United Artists, had nearly as many detractors as supporters.

Writers and editors privately complained that he would sometimes rewrite or soften their stories, especially if the article were critical of his closest business friends, which included Miramax Films co-founder Harvey Weinstein and former Sony Pictures chief Peter Guber, with whom Bart cohosted a television show for six years.

Reporters and editors said Bart believed job insecurity could prompt more competition and better work. "It was a really, really amazing place to work," Fleming said. "He was an explosive guy, very unpredictable. And he certainly was willing to pick fights with people."

Variety film reviewer Joseph McBride trashed the 1992 Paramount film "Patriot Games," calling it "fascistic" and "blatantly anti-Irish." In protest, Paramount yanked its advertising from Variety, and Bart wrote an unusual note to the studio apologizing and vowing that McBride would not review any more of its movies. McBride left the paper.

In a devastating 2001 profile for Los Angeles Magazine, Bart found himself on the hot seat. In the article, Bart made a series of inflammatory statements that were interpreted as racist, sexist and homophobic. He also may have misled reporter Amy Wallace about whether he was writing a screenplay on the side, which would have violated Variety's conflict-of-interest rules. Bart was suspended for three weeks without pay for his comments.

Bart will continue to write a Variety column and post blog entries.

"He will serve as Variety's ambassador to the world," Tad Smith, chief executive of Reed Business, said in an e-mail to Reed employees, "and will surely alienate a portion of it in his continued witty and insightful writing."


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