Off the Record

Robin Pogrebin, who covers theater for The New York Times, mistakenly slammed a door on the fingers of a hit Broadway comedy-and freaked some anxious actors and producers-when she wrote in her June 3 Tony Awards recap that actress Katie Finneran “won for best featured actress in a play for her performance in the farce Noises Off, which has closed.”

Noises Off , however, was and is very much alive. Michael Frayn’s showbiz romp, currently playing at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre with stars Peter Gallagher and Patti LuPone, is one of the handful of Broadway shows to have recouped its investment this season.

Members of the Noises Off cast and crew were more than irked at The Times ‘ Tony-time boo-boo, worrying that the blunder might hurt ticket sales.

“A mistake on the status of a show on that level is certainly a major one,” said Michael Hartman, a publicist for Noises Off, who said the show’s box office had received calls from concerned ticketholders anxious to confirm that the show was still running.

Noises Off actress Robin Weigert said a friend who read the Times Tony piece wrote her an e-mail on Monday morning apologizing for “missing my show.” Ms. Weigert added that her concerned grandfather was the next one to tell her of the Times error.

Ms. Weigert said that she was particularly dismayed because she “wanted the sentence that said that Katie won to be a celebratory one, and instead it was like, ‘Uh oh.'”

The premature Noises Off closing was the talk of the All That Chat! Internet message board on June 3. “I can’t imagine the absolute panic happening with the production of NOISES OFF,” one person wrote. “Wondering how the NYT will rectify this. Free full page ad?”

Ms. Weigert agreed, saying that “one ad to the contrary would rectify the situation.”

On Tuesday, The Times ran a correction, six items down, on page A2: “An article yesterday about this year’s Tony Awards referred incorrectly to the Broadway run of Noises Off , for which Kate Finneran won the award as best featured actress. The play is running at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre; it was not closed.”

But that wasn’t enough to satisfy the Noises Off brigade. Mr. Hartman said the show was “grateful for the correction,” but hoped the correct information about Noises Off’ s vitality “will get to the readers in the arts pages.”

That doesn’t appear likely. Asked about Mr. Hartman’s wish that the correct information find its way to the arts pages, Times spokesman Toby Usnik responded, “We take the position that page A2 is a highly prominent place in the paper, where readers have been conditioned to look for corrections. Other places in the paper would be less prominent and predictable, therefore easily overlooked. We have no plans to reprint this correction.”

John Darnton, culture editor for The Times, said, “All we can do is what we did, which was to rush a correction into today’s paper …. I’ve never heard of an ad being given out by the paper after a mistake.”

Mr. Darnton said that in his 36 years at The Times , he has, “believe it or not, seen worse mistakes than this”-including one in an Iran-contra piece in 1987 that led to a rare page 1 correction, and a recipe for duck that failed to instruct readers to kill the duck.

“This one is obviously more serious [than the duck],” said Mr. Darnton. “But basically we did what we did, and it’s kind of doubly bad because it’s such a good production and a good show written by a good playwright.”

Mr. Darnton did point out that Noises Off is “a play about mistakes in the theater. So maybe it’s contagious.”

But Ms. Pogrebin blamed herself alone for the goof, saying: “I made a mistake, and I regret it. It was nothing but human error.”

-Rebecca Traister

The New York Times is honing in on VH1’s territory, it appears. According to sources at The Times , Bernard Weinraub is currently at work on an extensive, year-long project about iconic rock ‘n’ rollers. In the vein of, say, Behind the Music , Mr. Weinraub will profile the likes of Chuck Berry and Mick Jagger for the paper. Sources said Mr. Weinraub could turn the Times project into a book or television vehicle should the opportunity arise.

One Times source said the series was a “pet project” of Times executive editor Howell Raines, and that it had been offered first to former Arts & Leisure editor and onetime rock critic John Rockwell, who turned it down. Mr. Raines was unavailable for comment, but a spokesperson for The Times said, “We’re still in the exploratory stages of deciding whether to do such a series-a kind of oral history, among other things-and what its scope might be, as well as who might be involved.

“The idea grows out of our awareness that some of the pioneers of rock are getting older,” the spokesperson continued, “and may not be around much longer to share their reminiscences and insights about the origins of a musical movement that influenced our society deeply. If we do it, we’re likely to treat it as a multimedia project, involving our print, broadcast and online outlets.”

Mr. Weinraub is away from his office in Los Angeles until June 9 and did not return messages seeking comment. Times culture editor John Darnton declined to comment on Mr. Weinraub’s project, saying, “It’s not quite ready to talk about.”

Mr. Rockwell said he was unaware that Mr. Weinraub had taken up the Times rock-history project.

Asked about his own decision to turn it down, Mr. Rockwell said, “It was months ago. That doesn’t mean I rejected it out of hand. I used to be the rock critic, and I didn’t feel like mining my past.”

Meanwhile, it appears that Mr. Weinraub has already gotten down to business. In his May 13 Web page update, tongue-wiggling Kiss front man Gene Simmons wrote, “NEW YORK TIMES writer Bernard Weintraub [ sic ] came over to talk about ‘icons’ in music for a future article in the newspaper.”

Mr. Simmons, when told of the scope of the project, said: “It’s a great idea.” When informed that he misspelled Mr. Weinraub’s name on his Web site, Mr. Simmons said, “Doesn’t matter. He’ll survive.”

-Sridhar Pappu

After ambling after ambler-in-chief George W. Bush, The New York Times ‘ Frank Bruni is headed to Rome. A former White House correspondent who’s worked for The New York Times Magazine since October 2001, the 37-year-old Mr. Bruni is set to become the Rome bureau chief, replacing the departing Melinda Henneberger, who quit to write a book.

Mr. Bruni, the author of the book Ambling Into History: The Unlikely Odyssey of George W. Bush , said his decision to cross the Atlantic was a difficult one. He said he loved working for Times Magazine editor Adam Moss, but felt if he was ever going to take on an assignment on the foreign desk, it would be now.

The Times ‘ deputy Washington bureau editor, John Broder, said that Mr. Bruni-who is both Italian and Catholic-is a good fit for the Rome job, which includes the Vatican beat. Mr. Bruni also co-authored a book in 1993 called A Gospel of Shame: Children, Sexual Abuse, and the Catholic Church .

Said Mr. Broder: “He’s uniquely qualified to cover this-the end of one papacy, the beginning of another one, the ongoing crisis in the church with priestly pedophilia.”

However, when Mr. Bruni was asked if he felt pedophilia and papal succession would be the two signature stories of his new beat, he said: “I look at the ebb and flow of the [pedophilia] story right now and, factoring that in, I doubt very much whether the story will play out hugely over the next four years.”

As for the Pope, Mr. Bruni said, “A logical person would guess that there could be a succession. But of course, we don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s not something that I based taking the job on-that I’d get to write about the next Pope. I certainly don’t wish a quick demise to this Pope.”

As for language issues, Mr. Bruni said that while he took three years of Italian, he’s taking a crash course five times a week. “I’m a few ticks away from proficiency, and about three to six months away from fluency.”

A spokesperson for the paper confirmed Mr. Bruni’s appointment, but said that executive editor Howell Raines was unavailable for comment.


For those fans of The New York Times who couldn’t attend, or who simply couldn’t get enough of The Times ‘ Arts & Leisure Weekend, the paper’s Web site is now offering downloadable clips from its Critics’ Choice conversations-for a price.

For $5.95, you can watch Janet Maslin yapping with Casino and Raging Bull director Martin Scorsese, or The Daily Show ‘s Jon Stewart and Peter Jennings discussing “Irreverence in the Age of Reverence” with Times television critic Julie Salamon. You can see 74 minutes of Times crosswords editor Will Shortz discussing his “insights on the rules and remarkable history of the game.”

The whole package of six Arts & Leisure Weekend clips can be yours, not for $39.95, not for $29.95-but for the very low cost of $19.95.

When asked for a comment on sales, a Times spokesperson said, “We’re pleased with the products we’re offering, and with the response.”


Laddies of the world, get ready! Keith Blanchard, editor in chief of Dennis Publishing’s swaggering Gen-Y machismo title Maxim , is coming out with a novel in February from Simon & Schuster.

Called The Deed , the book, Mr. Blanchard said, tells the story of a man living in modern New York, trying to solve both the mysteries of a woman and an ancient secret that holds the key to his inheritance. Mr. Blanchard said he began working on the novel about eight years ago and finished up final edits a couple of months back.

When informed of the book’s very un- Maxim- esque premise, Off the Record asked Mr. Blanchard how he thought the book would play with his other readers.

“I think they’ll like it,” Mr. Blanchard said. “There’s an element of romantic comedy in it. That’s not very Maxim, but the main character’s a regular Maxim -style guy. He’s young, fairly affluent, who’s not exactly thrilled about his career, looking for answers.”

Um, is there sex?

“There’s a little bit of sex,” Mr. Blanchard said. “There’s one solid sex scene and a whole lot of canoodling.”


Since 1999, Baltimore writer Jennifer Mendelsohn had written “Keeping Tabs,” a plucky, biweekly poke at such publications as The Star and The National Enquirer , for Slate , Microsoft’s online bastion for punditry and inside-the-Beltway shenanigans. Then, on May 20, she received a call from her new boss, editor Jacob Weisberg.

“He called to say he had bad news,” Ms. Mendelsohn said. “I thought he was going to tell me I wasn’t getting my raise.”

As it turned out, Mr. Weisberg was canning the column. When asked about the matter, Mr. Weisberg said, “I just didn’t like it that much. It was a clever idea for a good while, but after several years, the idea of looking at weekly tabloids and pointing out how absurd they were just seemed old.”

The canceling of Ms. Mendelsohn’s column was just one of a couple of moves that Mr. Weisberg has made since he officially took the reins of the Bill Gates–funded paperless magazine from Michael Kinsley in late April. Having bested deputy Jack Shafer in a bake-off for the reins of the magazine, Mr. Weisberg said he’s trying to grow Slate ‘s audience beyond chin-scratching wonks.

” Slate is a general-interest magazine,” Mr. Weisberg said. “I wanted Slate to have a more general emphasis. Slate ‘s foundation is on politics and policy. But I’m hoping to reach out beyond that.”

In particular, Mr. Weisberg said, Slate needed to beef up its coverage of music and television. To solve the latter problem, he brought in Harper’s senior editor Virginia Heffernan to write about television on a regular basis.

“Our TV coverage had been sporadic over the years,” Mr. Weisberg explained. “I thought it was important to have a regular presence there. So far, I think the column’s been a perfect marriage of subject and author.”

When asked when he might be satisfied with Slate , Mr. Weisberg said, “I don’t think I’d be satisfied in a year. But maybe that’s a reasonable benchmark. I think it’s very reasonable to think you can change something like Slate the way you want in a year.”

As for the unemployed tabloid reporter, Ms. Mendelsohn was reflective.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d have a job working for Microsoft, writing about the tabloids,” Ms. Mendelsohn said. “It was the greatest, most interesting job in the world. I’m sad to see it end.”


As told to Off the Record

‘He’s certainly not smiling. It’s an expression of strength. It’s just a natural, straight-on, direct expression. It’s deadpan and direct, the way he is. Tough and strong.’-the photographer Mary Ellen Mark, on her portrait of Times executive editor Howell Raines in the June 10 New Yorker. Off the Record