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Not Doing So 'Boffo,' 'Daily Variety' Drops Print Edition

Mar 22, 2013
Originally published on March 22, 2013 10:55 am

For eight decades, Daily Variety has been a Hollywood must-read for everyone from studio heads to actors looking for a big break. But the days of assistants running out to grab the "trades" are over: This week, the Los Angeles institution published its last daily edition.

Daily Variety will continue online — or on the "info-pike," as the magazine would say in its distinctive "slanguage" — and a print magazine will still appear on a weekly basis. The shift away from a daily reflects the fact that, like many other publications, Daily Variety has been buffeted by changing reader habits as well as major shifts in the industry it covers.

Neil Gabler, a cultural historian at the University of Southern California's Norman Lear Center, joins NPR's Renee Montagne to explain the importance of Variety, decode some of its slang and explain how the world of Hollywood news has transformed.


Interview Highlights

On why Daily Variety was so important in Hollywood

"Well, first of all Daily Variety was itself a product of technological change. Variety began as a weekly in 1905, and it covered primarily Broadway and vaudeville. But as the motion picture industry became more important, in 1933 Variety decided that it need a Los Angeles edition and a daily edition that spoke primarily to the motion picture industry. And it became one of the two basic sources of news for the motion picture industry, the other being The Hollywood Reporter. Every day, virtually every executive, every author — in fact every stagehand — would get their copy of Daily Variety and thumb through it to see what films were being put into production, what the grosses were, what executive was being fired. This was the place that everyone in Hollywood went for information."

On Daily Variety's unique lingo

"In the early days of Variety, there were all sorts of 'slanguages' that were used by the pape, and that eventually crept its way into the Hollywood daily version as well. Things like 'boffo' when a picture was doing well; or, you know, a director never directed a film, he 'lensed' a movie. No one ever signed a contract — they 'inked' a contract. These were the sorts of things that became legendary."

On what led Variety to stop daily publication, and how Hollywood is reacting

"The same thing, by the way, happened to The Hollywood Reporter, the chief rival of Variety. Several years back it also ceased its daily publication went to a weekly and went primarily online. But there's an old saying, that everybody has two businesses, his own business and show business. And I don't think that's ever been truer than over the past 20 years. You can find show business information everywhere. Once upon a time, if you wanted to know what a film grossed, you would have to go to Variety or to The Hollywood Reporter. There weren't grosses available anywhere else. Well now we all know that on Sunday night on our local news we get the film grosses for that weekend.

"I think there is sadness. ... I think there was this kind of ritual that almost everyone in Hollywood had gone through, where they'd grab their coffee and they'd grab their Daily Variety, and they'd sit there — probably looking for their own names. ... But I think now that ritual is gone. That's all gone, and now it's going to be part of nostalgia rather than part of routine."

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Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

OK. Let's catch up on a major transition for a Hollywood institution that goes back eight decades.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Here in Los Angeles, Daily Variety was a must-read for everyone from studio heads to actors looking for a big break.

INSKEEP: In the opening scene of Robert Altman's great movie satirizing Hollywood, "The Player," a lowly assistant is scolded to run and get the trades before her boss arrives on the studio lot.

MONTAGNE: Well, this week, one of those trades, as they're often called, Daily Variety, published its last edition. It will continue online along with a weekly printed magazine version. Like so many other dailys, Daily Variety has been buffeted by changing reader habits and, in this case, changes in the industry that it covers, which is Hollywood.

Neil Gabler is a cultural historian at the University of Southern California's Norman Lear Center. Good morning.

NEIL GABLER: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Tell us a bit about what this publication, Daily Variety, has meant to Hollywood over the years.

GABLER: Well, first of all, Daily Variety was itself a product of technological change. Variety began as a weekly in 1905, and it covered primarily Broadway and Vaudeville. But as the motion picture industry became more important, in 1933, Variety decided that it needed a Los Angeles edition and a daily edition that spoke primarily to the motion picture industry.

And it became one of the two basic sources of news for the motion picture industry, the other being The Hollywood Reporter. Every day, virtually every executive, every actor - in fact every, you know, stagehand - would get their copy of Daily Variety and thumb through it to see what films were being put into production, what the grosses were, what executive was being fired. This was the place that everyone in Hollywood went for information.

MONTAGNE: And of course, Daily Variety is famous for its own Hollywood lingo.

GABLER: In the early days of Variety, there were all sorts of slanguages that were used by the paper, and that eventually crept its way into the Hollywood daily version as well. Things like boffo when a picture was doing well; or, you know, a director never directed a film, he lensed a movie. No one ever signed a contract - they inked a contract. These were the sorts of things that became, you know, legendary.

MONTAGNE: So what changed? What are the key things that changed in the needs of all those people who used to live by Daily Variety that made it so that the daily is now, as of this week, online only?

GABLER: Yes. Well, the same thing, by the way, happened to The Hollywood Reporter, the chief rival of Variety. Several years back it also ceased its daily publication, went to a weekly and went primarily online. But there's an old say, that everybody has two businesses, his own business and show business.

And I don't think that's ever been truer than over the past 20 years. You can find show business information everywhere. Once upon a time, if you wanted to know what a film grossed, you would have to go to Variety or to The Hollywood Reporter. There weren't grosses available anywhere else. Well, now we all know that on Sunday night on our local news we get the film grosses for that weekend.

MONTAGNE: Is there nostalgia, now, about Daily Variety, the paper, the physical entity? Is there a sadness in Hollywood over the loss?

GABLER: I think there is sadness. Yes, I think there is. I think there was this kind of ritual that almost everyone in Hollywood had gone through, where they'd grab their coffee and they'd grab their Daily Variety, and they'd sit there - probably looking for their own names in the first case. But I think now that ritual is gone. That's all gone, and now it's going to be part of nostalgia rather than part of routine.

MONTAGNE: Thanks very much for talking with us.

GABLER: My pleasure. Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Neil Gabler is author of a biography on Walter Winchell called "Winchell: Gossip, Power, and the Culture of Celebrity." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.