I read with regret on Leonard Maltin’s Movie Crazy blog on Thursday that Variety,
the trade journal once known as “the Bible of show business,” fired Todd McCarthy on Monday, after thirty-one years, it sent shock waves through the film industry.
Like Maltin, I grew up reading the weekly edition of Variety (being a New Yorker, Daily Variety wasn’t an option); in the 1950s, before cinema studies became established, it was a wonderful source of information for a neophyte cinephile ; and it became an ambition of mine to write for it, which alas never came to pass. (I tried twice, once in New York in 1961 and in the 1990s, in Los Angeles, but had to settle for gigs with The Hollywood Reporter, which I very much enjoyed.)
Maltin correctly frames how Variety expanded beyond being a paper of record for films (and TV and theater) starting in the 1960s:
For many years the paper’s critiques were dispassionate, focusing mainly on a new release’s commercial prospects. This began to change in the 1960s and 70s with the acquisition of younger staffers who cared about the medium of film and knew their oats. Some of those writers moved on (voluntarily or otherwise) over the years, but Todd McCarthy remained, and became not only the paper’s senior film critic but its film review editor, assigning more than 1,000 reviews every year to a staff of savvy stringers who attended far-flung film festivals around the world.
While, as I’ve written about before, the demise of the full-time newspaper film critics is nothing new, but the news of McCarthy’s dismissal was especially shocking and was best reflected by the headline on Patrick Goldstein’s Los Angeles Times blog, which asks “What Were They Thinking?” He begins his piece by noting,
Variety’s decision to dump Todd McCarthy, the trade paper’s film critic for the last 31 years, has not gone without notice. In the last 36 hours, I’ve been deluged with phone calls and e-mails from industry insiders, who—with the exception of one director who’s still ticked off at McCarthy for giving his film a crummy review—have all been amazed and bewildered by the move, which now leaves Variety without a full-time film critic. I even had an industry mom take time out from heckling the umpires at our Little League game to register her astonishment. As one producer who called me Tuesday put it: “What were they thinking? Does the publisher really think we’re all reading the paper just to see our Oscar ads?”
I must admit I stopped reading Variety on a regular basis some time ago and only occasionally check the weekly edition at my local library. Like many others, I have increasingly turned to the internet for news, so I guess I’m part of the problem; in a real sense Variety is no longer what it used to be, but I do wish it luck in this brave new internet world.