Is HBO's upcoming 'Tilda' series really a Nikki Finke biopic?
If you were wondering just how much "Tilda," the upcoming HBO series about a fanatically fearsome showbiz blogger, was about Nikki Finke, the fanatically fearsome Deadline.com showbiz blogger, you should check out this lively post from the Hollywood Reporter's Matthew Belloni, who managed to get hold of a draft of the pilot script, written by Bill Condon and Cynthia Mort.
So, is it really Nikki? Belloni doesn't mince words: "Let's put it this way, we humbly suggest HBO change the show's name to 'TOLDJA!' " He goes on to detail the many, and I do mean many, similarities between the character, named Tilda Watski, and Finke, who has appeared in a sizable mound of profiles in recent years, notably an especially long story in the New Yorker. Here are a few examples from Belloni's article:
"When Tilda takes time off, she tells her readers, 'I have a medical issue today so I'm not posting,' a breathless advisory that fans of Finke's website will certainly find familiar. At one point Tilda says, 'People think I'm mean but I'm not. I just write mean.' That mirrors an interview with the New York Times last year in which Finke said 'I'm not mean, I just write mean.' In the script, a sycophantic producer says, 'Tilda is a once-in-a-generation talent who sets the news agenda in this town.' In the New Yorker profile, former Variety publisher Charlie Koones says -- you guessed it -- Finke is a 'once-in-a-generation talent -- she sets the news agenda in town.'"
Belloni calls the script "sharp and funny," which is pretty much what we'd expect from Condon (who wrote "Chicago" and was the writer-director of "Dreamgirls") and Mort ("Tell Me You Love Me"). But the script also takes what seems like considerable dramatic license, depicting Tilda as a regular pot smoker who drinks wine all day and has sex (yikes!) with her IT guy. Nikki has been eerily silent on the subject -- she didn't respond to Belloni's request for a comment, or to mine. Unabashedly litigious, it wouldn't be a shocker to see her go after HBO. As Belloni points out, NBC's "Law and Order" has been sued before over false statements made about a fictional character with an identifiable real-life counterpart.
But then again, Nikki might be seduced by the fact that HBO has, in essence, created a series based on her larger-than-life exploits, regardless of whether the network takes some dramatic license. After all, not every journalistic tale can be as glowingly heroic as "All the President's Men." Is it really so terrible that she is portrayed as shamelessly furthering her sources' agendas, as in the scene where she yells at a producer: "Did I or did I not spin the whole Williamson debacle in your favor? Do you think I did that out of the goodness of my heart?"
At first, I thought that the series' portrait of Nikki might be a little bit mean, but then I remembered that back in the days when Nikki and I were still pals, she suddenly, without the slightest warning, wrote a nasty and vituperative post about one of my columns. We haven't spoken since. So as I was reading the Reporter piece, I found myself reacting like everyone else in Hollywood, where people take great relish in seeing their rivals and foes raked over the coals.
At least until I got to the part of the story that read: "Tilda battles an L.A. Times entertainment columnist consumed by his 'envy mixed with admiration' who 'hates having to chase Tilda on a story.' Could that be Finke's longtime LAT nemesis Patrick Goldstein?"
Hey, wait a darn minute! Now they're making fun of me too??? If that L.A. Times entertainment columnist turns out to have red hair and be a die-hard Chicago Cubs fan, I guess I'll have to take back all those nice things I said about Condon and Mort. It just goes to show that it's always easier to appreciate barbed satire when you have a safe distance from the targets under fire.
HBO apparently has already been in talks with Diane Keaton to star as Tilda, so I'm hoping that the network can find an equally gifted and alluring male star to play that LAT-columnist part. I would just remind the show's creators that when DreamWorks made a film about my fellow columnist Steve Lopez's relationship with a homeless musician, they hired Robert Downey Jr. to play Lopez, which is exactly the kind of wise casting decision I'm expecting from HBO. In other words, Jeff Garlin is a deal breaker!
Photo: Diane Keaton at the Los Angeles premiere of the 2008 film "Mad Money." Credit: Paul Buck / European Pressphoto Agency