Peter Bart Kicked Upstairs at Variety

After 20 years as Variety's editor in chief, Peter Bart was replaced with his deputy. Now the question is what the trade's cost-cutting corporate overlords will do to the paper.

It was Bart's longtime rival Tad Smith who shunted him aside and gave him another title ("vice president and editorial director").

The bad blood between the relatively young Reed Business Information CEO, based in New York, and Bart goes back at least eight years, to Amy Wallace's devastating 2001 profile of Bart for the debut issue of Los Angeles magazine. Wallace alleged "Hollywood's Information Man" had trafficked in racist and homophobic comments over the years, and that he was in business with his sources; this earned him a suspension.

Bart could have been fired, but his standing at the paper and influence in Hollywood gave him the upper hand, not only in the dustup over the Los Angeles article but in the years to come, when the paper faced pressure from Reed to cut costs in the manner of its hollowed-out rival the Hollywood Reporter.

Between the tanking economy and the rise of Web publishing, Hollywood studios have lately been less inclined to advertise. Bart, 76 and notoriously hostile to the online world, has seen his influence shrink with the paper. In January, Reed laid off 30 Variety staffers.

Reed abandoned an effort to sell itself in December, after nearly a year on the block.

Now that Bart is gone, it has placed his nominal successor Tim Gray under Group Publisher Neil Stiles — abandoning a tradition where the editor and publisher of Variety were coequal and, one might plausibly speculate, leaving the paper far more vulnerable to Smith's whims, in terms of restructuring generally (a more aggressive online strategy is expected for starters) and layoffs specifically.

A
s for Gray, he's already made one Web-savvy move: rushing news of Bart's departure onto Variety.com before Nikki Finke could post it to her widely-read website. His reward? Finke is already trafficking in speculation he's placeholder for someone else.