Tina Goes Cheek to Cheek With Miramax

On July 13, Tina Brown, budding intellectual-property mogul, took time from taking meetings to take a call on her cell phone. She was downtown, in Miramax country, and her mood was something approaching delirium. “I’m in the TriBeCa Grill having a meeting with the acquisitions staff,” she chirped. “I’m exhilarated by my change- exhilarated . I’m having a fantastic time. I’ve never had such dynamic meetings in my entire 19 years of being an editor in chief. The meetings are so exciting right now.”

“I’m learning a lot, I’m learning a lot,” Ms. Brown continued. “I guess when you’re learning you’re excited and refreshed. It’s a very exciting thing. I could always be excited by the journalistic exchange, but now I’m getting exchanges on every kind of level-I move from the journalistic to the business back to the logistical. I’m involved in so many talks at the moment.” Ms. Brown sounded as if she was about to lose it.

What about the rumor that you’ll never start a magazine and the new venture will be pared down into a run-of-the-mill development office? “That is total nonsense,” Ms. Brown said. “The magazine is the core excitement here … It certainly will not get in the way. It’s the cultural search engine which is going to drive the company!”

Is Ms. Brown prepared to part with the Condé Nast editor’s sense of entitlement and run a tight ship? “It’s a very terrific financial box in which to complete a structure,” she said, sounding a bit more serious. “That’s fine; I completely understand that. Ron [Galotti] and I are going to work with the Miramax financial people to create a business plan that will be ready by the fall, and in that business plan will be the budget, and in that budget we will live inside.”

Ms. Brown’s departure from The New Yorker is being touted as “the end of glitz” by some old school New Yorker staff members, and that epithet might well describe Ms. Brown’s new life as an entrepreneur. Her next big project: traipsing around Manhattan in search of a cheap office.

“We’re looking for space, Ron and I,” she said. “We’re keeping our feelers out.”

Uptown in Ms. Brown’s old office, David Remnick, The New Yorker ‘s new editor, was holding his first editorial meeting. Mr. Remnick assumed his position at the tail end of one of the magazine world’s most peculiar weeks in recent memory. It ended where it began, on the 17th floor of The New Yorker ‘s West 43rd Street offices, in an open space the magazine’s staff members call “the piazza.” It was there on the morning of July 8 that Ms. Brown broke the news to her slack-jawed staff that she was leaving the magazine. And it was there at 11 A.M. on July 12 that Advance Publications chairman S.I. Newhouse Jr., 70 and as sphinxlike as ever, shuffled in front of roughly 100 staff members and confirmed the improbable news that Mr. Remnick was getting the job.

The staff knew how close they’d come to getting an outsider; by the late morning meeting, most had heard that the evening before, Mr. Newhouse had left Slate editor Michael Kinsley at the altar, and many had read Mr. Kinsley’s extraordinary e-mail account of their fizzled courtship. In fact, only a day before, Mr. Kinsley told Off the Record, he’d had a conversation with Mr. Newhouse in which “we talked about breaking the news to Remnick and begging him not to leave.” Instead, for the second time in recent memory, Mr. Kinsley, who managed to talk himself out of taking the editor’s job at New York in 1992 (and later regretted it deeply), was left twisting in the wind due to his own indecision.

When the huzzahs for the new editor died down, Mr. Remnick, with Mr. Newhouse and Ms. Brown at his side, didn’t go into great detail about what he had in mind but promised to bring “hilarity” to the magazine. Mr. Remnick mingled with his colleagues for a few minutes before heading up to the 18th-floor business offices to give an afternoon of interviews, and to face the pressure of moving from being the scrutinizer to the scrutinized. “There’s a pull between wanting to be absolutely honest and not wanting to say something that would absurdly and wrongly piss off a colleague,” he said. Asked if he was nervous about the transition, Mr. Remnick said, “Oh yeah.”

Mr. Newhouse was eager to take credit for his popular choice, telling The Observer that he chose Mr. Remnick “based on my discussions with him and my own instinct about his ability and his leadership.” But the truth is, Mr. Newhouse nearly blew it. Early in his search, he told one Condé Nast staff member that he wasn’t considering Mr. Remnick because he didn’t want a magazine that was too “Washington think tank.” Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter, who had already passed on the job and barely knows Mr. Remnick, urged Mr. Newhouse to consider the writer, according to one source, and acted as a liaison between the two men, facilitating Mr. Remnick’s appointment. (Mr. Remnick confirmed the account.)

Mr. Remnick was a popular selection in part because he possesses a rare mixture of youth and gravitas. Where Ms. Brown has shown herself fascinated by celebrity, power and what might broadly be labeled as “personas,” the 39-year-old Mr. Remnick has proven himself more concerned with his subject’s interiors than their status. His pieces are typically empathetic and concerned, at least tangentially, with questions of morality. While Mr. Remnick said his New Yorker will aspire to “an absolute devotion to the reader and at the very same time an absolute devotion to a range of artists and writers doing their best work,” he said he also wants a magazine with “a moral and literary center.”

When asked about the core values of her New Yorker , Ms. Brown framed her response in terms of appearance and decorum. “I suppose the conviction of a guiding sensibility which informed taste and choice … I think that’s what I bring to the table.”

What ended happily for Mr. Newhouse began as a meltdown nearly a week before. Mr. Newhouse was unprepared for Ms. Brown’s resignation, which she delivered in person on July 8 in his office at Condé Nast headquarters at 350 Madison Avenue. Mr. Newhouse’s deputies were away-editorial director James Truman was in Greece on vacation (and didn’t come back) and Condé Nast president Steve Florio was on a sailboat somewhere in Long Island Sound. Mr. Florio quickly returned to port and helicoptered in to deal with a departure he had not seen coming.

Ms. Brown handled the announcement with the same kind of micromanaging zeal she displayed as an editor. On the evening of July 7, she faxed a close circle of editors and writers, asking them to attend a morning meeting about the magazine’s “Next” issue. The following morning, after her meeting with Mr. Newhouse, she gathered her inner circle-editors Hendrik Hertzberg, Dorothy Wickenden, Deborah Garrison and Mr. Remnick, among others-and told them the meeting was really about what was “next” for her: a post at Miramax Films as a partner with co-chairman Harvey Weinstein and Vogue publisher Ron Galotti in a vertically integrated intellectual-property pipeline involving a magazine, book publishing, television and film production.

Ms. Brown then gathered the staff and gave a nice speech about her time at the magazine-she called it “waking Sleeping Beauty” but perhaps a better title would be “will to power”-and thanked everyone. Editors Susan Morrison, Lee Aitken and Deborah Garrison wept. Staff writer Jeffrey Toobin, a fountain of hyperbolic pronouncements on his editor’s departure, described the reaction as one of “astonishment and horror.”

Even before Ms. Brown had finished her remarks, a reporter from the Tina-obsessed New York Times was calling to confirm her departure. The Times ‘ coverage typified New York’s ambivalence toward Ms. Brown: The paper flabbergasted many by running the news of her departure on the front page above the fold and surprised none with an editorial that derided “the Brownian personality, which held that the creation of buzz was the highest good.”

The reasons for Ms. Brown’s departure are by now well chronicled: She was weary of the day-to-day operation of her magazine and was equally weary of taking the heat for the failures on the magazine’s business side, which continues to lose roughly $11 million a year on flat advertising sales. Ms. Brown and her editorial staff did not like the idea of being merged into the glossy ranks of their corporate parent, Condé Nast.

In the last few months, Ms. Brown was being pursued aggressively by Walt Disney Company chairman Michael Eisner, CBS executives who wanted her to produce a weeknight version of 60 Minutes , and USA Networks chairman Barry Diller. Working against all of these pressures was Ms. Brown’s most-favored-editor status with Mr. Newhouse. But even that relationship had grown complicated, according to a source close to Ms. Brown, since last December, when Ms. Brown’s husband Harold Evans left Random House. Soon after, Random House was sold to the German conglomerate Bertelsmann A.G., in part, a source close to Mr. Newhouse told Off the Record at the time, because great hopes of melding the book publishing enterprise with Condé Nast’s magazine business never panned out. As the source put it, Mr. Newhouse had come to the realization that “synergy is crap.”

Ironically, it is in the name of synergy that Ms. Brown is moving to Miramax, gaining her motivation in part from her mother’s death, after a long battle with cancer, on July 2. “She told me, ‘In my mother’s death, I saw the death of a human body and nothing left after that,'” said a close associate of Ms. Brown’s. “It can have a dangerously clarifying effect.”

Indeed, it may explain why some of Ms. Brown’s colleagues at the magazine get the feeling that she has quit something rather than really started something. Perhaps no one was more surprised by the news of Ms. Brown’s move than Mr. Eisner. Mr. Weinstein said he told his boss about the deal only after it was inked. Mr. Eisner had, in a sense, written himself out of the conversation back in 1997 when he approved the idea of a Miramax-sponsored magazine, based on a prototype put together by, among others, writer Lynn Hirschberg and current ESPN Total Sports publisher John Skipper. Mr. Weinstein never greenlighted the project, called Bluff , after Ms. Hirschberg’s dog, but armed with Mr. Eisner’s permission, he never abandoned the idea of starting his own magazine. Mr. Weinstein gave the project another code name-“Max,” this time after his father. It was under the banner of “Max” that Mr. Weinstein developed some innovative marketing ideas for his magazine-like listing the names of subscribers on the back pages to give the readership a clubby feel-some of which may be used in the new venture. But Mr. Weinstein said his new partner would be making those decisions.

“I’m not sitting around telling Quentin Tarantino what shot to take,” said Mr. Weinstein. “I can’t meddle and I’m not going to scream … Tina has editorial creative control.”

Only hours after learning of Ms. Brown’s departure, Mr. Newhouse and Mr. Florio paid a visit to the fourth-floor office of Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter, where they met with Mr. Carter and Vanity Fair publisher Mitchell Fox. The interior of Mr. Carter’s office is plainly visible from the adjacent building of 360 Madison Avenue, home of such Condé Nast titles as Bride’s , Allure and Condé Nast Traveler ; as the editorial sweepstakes for The New Yorker started to heat up, staff members in 360 Madison suddenly found themselves literally with a window into the discussions. A Condé Nast source confirms what staff members next door say they picked up from the subtle semaphore between Mr. Carter and Mr. Newhouse-Mr. Carter declined the New Yorker job. It was also in that room, said a source familiar with the discussions, that Mr. Carter broached the topic of Mr. Remnick.

On the morning of July 9, Mr. Newhouse’s assistant, Ann Marcus, began making calls to possible candidates for Ms. Brown’s job, contacting Smart Money editor Steve Swartz, Observer editor Peter Kaplan, former U.S. News & World Report editor James Fallows and Mr. Kinsley. When Mr. Carter reported back that Mr. Remnick was indeed interested in the job, he got a call, too. That afternoon, Mr. Newhouse met with a steady stream of candidates. The Observer ‘s Mr. Kaplan made his way to the 14th floor and had a half-hour talk with Mr. Newhouse. Mr. Remnick sat down with Mr. Newhouse that afternoon as well. Mr. Newhouse’s office provided a surreal backdrop for the discussions about the august magazine and the fateful career choices being dangled before the candidates; it’s decorated with dozens of old cartoon prints-Popeye and Krazy Kat.

That same day, the rumor mill again began to rev when Ms. Brown, Mr. Weinstein and Mr. Galotti had lunch at the Four Seasons with Hachette Filipacchi chief executive David Pecker. A stand-alone magazine like the one Mr. Weinstein and Ms. Brown have in mind could save a lot of money on production costs if it partnered and shared infrastructure with a large publisher like, say, Hachette. Did the very public lunch foreshadow such a deal?

Mr. Weinstein denied any specific deal was in the works. “That lunch was all about saying, ‘Isn’t life wonderful?'” However, Mr. Weinstein acknowledged, “strategic partners are coming in all shapes and sizes.”

In fact, nothing about the new company suggests that it might be so well thought-out as to have any such deals lined up. A colleague of Ms. Brown who has discussed the venture told Off the Record, “She’s remarkably clueless about how it would work.”

Mr. Weinstein said he thought such criticism was unfair, even as he confirmed that his venture is in its nascent stages: “We’ve got to go into the kitchen and work on the recipe. We just don’t want to reveal the recipe.”

On the evening of July 9, Ms. Brown threw a party for her staff at her Sutton Place apartment. She organized her guest list on the English model, with two distinct classes: Editors and esteemed writers were to arrive at 8 P.M., regular writers and staff at 9:30 P.M. There was one unfamiliar face at the party, a young woman lurking about the tight-knit group of editors and writers and speaking to no one. New Yorker fiction editor Bill Buford finally asked the young woman who she was. Amy Waldman, a Times metro reporter. Mr. Buford politely asked the reporter to leave and told Ms. Brown about the incident. Perhaps feeling a little giddy about her career change-colleagues say she seems to be relishing the opportunity to be more open-Ms. Brown did something very un-Tina-like: She found Ms. Waldman standing out on 57th Street and asked her to come back at 10 P.M. for dessert.

On July 10, Mr. Newhouse called Mr. Remnick back for another hour of conversation about the magazine, and he put a call in to Mr. Kinsley, inviting him to New York for what would be the strangest interlude in the search for Ms. Brown’s replacement. Mr. Kinsley had been offered the job but made a fateful error; he asked Mr. Newhouse to give him 48 hours to make up his mind, a move that suggests he did not quite appreciate the pressure Mr. Newhouse was under to find a new editor. Despite Mr. Newhouse’s displeasure, the two men continued to negotiate over the next day, and Mr. Newhouse invited Mr. Kinsley to Sunday dinner at Sette Mezzo.

Mr. Kinsley showed up for dinner on Sunday night in his hiking boots. But Mr. Newhouse had already begun to have second thoughts. The meal concluded around 9 P.M. and the two men shook hands. “We talked about what time I should come to the staff meeting,” Mr. Kinsley said, adding that the two men discussed how to deal with Mr. Remnick. “I was operating under the assumption that this was going to happen unless something unusual occurred,” he continued. “I had no idea how unusual this would be.”

Mr. Kinsley returned to the New York Palace Hotel, and found a message from Mr. Newhouse waiting for him. According to the now famous e – mail Mr. Kinsley wrote on the events, Mr. Newhouse rescinded the offer.

“I got off the phone and said, ‘I have to write this down,'” Mr. Kinsley told Off the Record. He fired off an e-mail recounting the experience, and sent it to a few dozen friends. By the next morning, Mr. Kinsley had probably reached more readers than he would have as editor of The New Yorker . Still, he bristled at the suggestion he’d faltered by not closing the deal. “I didn’t leave it at all open,” he said. “I’m glad to have found out what a weirdo he was in time.”

While Mr. Newhouse and Mr. Kinsley were going back and forth, the ever-studious Mr. Remnick spent his weekend producing a 3,000-word assessment of The New Yorker , which he dutifully faxed to Mr. Newhouse’s office on Monday morning. Mr. Newhouse didn’t need Mr. Remnick’s memo to make up his mind. “I made the decision before reading the memo,” Mr. Newhouse said. “It was really my intuition.”

But even as Mr. Remnick received nearly unanimous praise from his colleagues, a strange force was percolating beneath the interoffice social fabric of the magazine-the pull of the cult of Tina. Several staff members acknowledge they’ve spoken to Ms. Brown about job opportunities with her new venture, and some have taken to sending her detailed faxes about how she could better run the business. Those likely to go with Ms. Brown include her spokesman Maurie Perl, managing editor Pamela Maffei McCarthy and editorial director David Kuhn. But Ms. Brown said it’s unlikely she’ll be poaching too many of her New Yorker scribes. “I don’t want to take aboard literary lions,” she said. “I want to grow some very exciting new voices and mix those with a couple of mainstay big talents.” Ms. Brown said she will have some staff writers, “but not as many as at The New Yorker ,” and issued this editorial edict: “May the best idea win.”