Variety Cuts Crix; Editor Says It’s For the Better; Ebert: “RIP, Schmucks”

It’s deja vu all over again: A noted publication lays off top talent, and a know-nothing editor spins it as something good for the readers.

Memo to Variety Group Editor David Gray: Lop off those who provide quality content for your publication, and your content suffers. D’oh! When content suffers, readers drop off. When readers leave, circulation drops, and advertisers bid adieu. When advertisers exit, your publication folds. What part of this downward-spiral scenario do you fail to understand?

The news: Variety on Monday got rid of chief film critic Todd McCarthy (photo, above) and chief theater critic David Rooney, along with longtime film critic Derek Alley, indie film reporter Sharon Swart and several employees responsible for copy editing and design. That’s according to a report in The Wrap.

How does the film industry’s longtime magazine of record expect to maintain that reputation when it takes these kinds of self-destructive actions?

The reaction from Roger Ebert: “”Variety fires Todd McCarthy and I cancel my subscription. He was my reason to read the paper. RIP, schmucks.”

Patrick Goldstein, writing in the Los Angeles Times: “It was inevitable that Variety would once again have to find ways to cut costs, though it was definitely a shock to see the paper get rid of its top critics, especially McCarthy, who after the death of Army Archerd and the departure of former editor Peter Bart is easily the most iconic presence at the paper. … Having been a recognizable force at Variety for decades, McCarthy represented a sizable voice of critical authority, often being the first critic to weigh in with a review of a major studio release or a much-anticipated film festival debut. … It’s sad to realize that even at Variety, the film industry’s most old-fashioned chronicler of events, criticism isn’t valued enough to keep one critic in a full-time position.”

And back to the BS I mentioned at the start of this post. According to Gray’s memo: “Today’s changes won’t be noticed by readers. Our goal is the same: To maintain, or improve, our quality coverage.”

Really? Which readers won’t notice? How will the departure of someone like McCarthy serve to improve coverage?

According to The Wrap, eight staffers were let go. McCarthy, the writer who had worked at Variety longer (31 years) than any other living staffer, was told on Monday that that would be his last day. (Apparently), no gold watch, no retirement party, no farewell cruise.

Classy, huh? It’s nearly as classy (and ungrateful) as how The Tampa Tribune treated longtime film critic Bob Ross, and how Creative Loafing (Tampa) treated longtime film critic Lance Goldenberg.

Gray’s defending-what-can’t-be-defended memo, continued: “We are not changing our review policy,” he added. “Last year we ran more than 1,200 film reviews. No other news outlet comes even close, and we will continue to be the leader in numbers and quality. It doesn’t make economic sense to have full-time reviewers, but Todd, Derek and Rooney have been asked to continue as freelancers.”

According to McCarthy, he’s not yet come to an agreement with Variety. Shame on the mag for firing hard-working, highly regarded critics, and then asking them to do the same work for far less pay and no benefits.

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And more sobering thoughts from Goldstein, on the continuing devaluation of film criticism:

“Virtually every survey has shown that younger audiences have zero interest in critics. They take their cues for what movies to see from their peers, making decisions based on the buzz they’ve heard on Facebook, Twitter or some other form of social networking.

…when you turn your chief reviewer into a freelancer, it certainly tells you, loud and clear, how little value the job has in today’s increasingly critic-unfriendly market.”

Oscar Talk: Awards Bounce? Not so Much

oscars3The Oscar bounce — the uptick in attendance when any particular movie lands Academy Awards nominations — once was the cart placed before the horse of movie productions.

That is, producers and studios routinely attached stars and directors to scripts merely in hopes of assembling a movie that would land awards attention, which in turn would lead to boffo box office, in Variety-speak.

As it turns out, the Oscar bounce is practically as obsolete as the payphone.

So says Los Angeles Times writer Patrick Goldstein, in a piece published today.

“The Academy Awards’ best picture nominees were announced Jan. 22, an event quickly commemorated by a blitzkrieg of expensive full-page ads in the trades, the New York Times and my newspaper, designed to use the cachet of a best picture nomination to nudge reluctant moviegoers into the theaters,” Goldstein writes.

“But at the time when the rest of the movie business is booming, the best picture nominees–with the obvious exception of the crowd-pleasing Slumdog Millionaire–are doing a slow fade. Only one of the five best picture nominees, The Reader, has made more of its overall box-office take after it earned a best picture nod.”

Downside for viewers, long term: Some high-quality productions, which might only have been given the green light because of their potential for grabbing Oscar attention, will now stay in development hell.

Upside for viewers, short term (as in this season): Oscar prospects have lengthened the on-screen life of an impressive group of films far more worthwhile than such February releases as the turgid The International and the execrable Friday the 13th.

So … see the good stuff while you still can.

Click here to read the rest of Goldstein’s story.