Will Nikki Finke sue HBO over this 'Tilda' script?

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Will Nikki Finke sue HBO over this 'Tilda' script?

Wed Apr 21, 2010 @ 02:07PM PST

By Matthew Belloni

EXCLUSIVE: When THR first reported that HBO was developing "Tilda," a pilot about a no-holds-barred showbiz blogger, we wondered whether the real no-holds-barred showbiz blogger Nikki Finke might have a legal beef with it. Depends on the script, our expert concluded, and whether the average viewer would believe that the Tilda character too closely resembles a specific person.  

We've now read a draft of the pilot by Bill Condon and Cynthia Mort and — well, let's put it this way, we humbly suggest HBO change the show's name to "TOLDJA!"

Finke,nikki Finke's trademarked catchphrase isn't anywhere in the script, dated Feb. 1 and labeled "First Draft." But anyone familiar with Finke and her antics will have no trouble recognizing this acid-tongued blogger. 

Here's the setup: Tilda Watski is the most feared woman in Hollywood because her website, The Daily Circus (header: "Founder and Editor Tilda Watski"), takes aim at the town's most powerful moguls. When a lecherous studio exec is caught drunk on video bashing movie stars ("No actor in Hollywood is worth more than a million dollars, unless he speaks Na'vi and has blue skin," he says), an assistant tips off Tilda, who then jumps into action, badgering sources until she lands her story -- and the exec is kicked to the curb.

It's a sharp, funny script, though even with Diane Keaton reportedly in talks to star, we can't imagine why anyone outside the industry would be amused by how the showbiz journalism sausage gets made. On the accessibility scale, "Tilda" makes "Entourage" look like "Hannah Montana."

How close is Tilda to Nikki? We don't know Finke personally (we had one cordial conversation a few years ago, and she didn't return our call/email requesting comment for this post), but Condon and Mort appear to have closely read this New Yorker profile from last year. Finke, according to that story, is 55 with long, blonde hair and a demeanor that is said to alternate between charming and monstrous. She's described as a one-time debutante with some health issues who was fired from the New York Post in 2002 and prefers not to leave her house because, the story says, "she finds it uncomfortable to run into the people she has vilified." Finke hasn't been publicly photographed in a few years (despite Gawker offering $1,000 for a recent pic to replace the shot above). And at one point in her career, she had to sell her Honda Accord for half its value to pay her bills.

The Condon/Mort script describes Tilda as "50ish" with "long blonde hair, the last vestige of the prep school girl she once was," and a demeanor that alternates between charming and monstrous ("I'd fire you because you're a pathetic douche bag who fucks assistants and then replaces them," she barks at the studio exec). She has emotional issues and is agoraphobic (her groceries are being delivered in one scene), preferring to stay inside because "I just find it uncomfortable to run into the people I write about," she says. There hasn't been a picture taken of Tilda for years. Oh, and she was fired from Newsweek and once had to sell her car to pay back taxes.

Legally speaking, the character traits that aren't similar to Finke might actually be more problematic for HBO's legal department than those that are. If viewers believe Tilda Watski is a thinly veiled Nikki Finke, depicting her as a pothead and boozer could bolster potential claims for so-called "libel-in-fiction." NBC's "Law & Order" has been sued before over false statements made about a fictional character with an identifiable real-life counterpart. Finke also probably won't like that the script characterizes Tilda's reporting tactics as, shall we say, less than ethical. She threatens people and unabashedly promotes her sources' agendas, at one point yelling at a producer: "Goddamit, Hayden -- 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?" 

These concerns could be moot, of course, if HBO obtains Finke's life rights. The network first cleared the Ari Gold character with WME's Ari Emanuel before moving forward with "Entourage." But at least for now, the net says it isn't working with Finke. 

'“We don’t have a deal with anyone regarding rights as the script is a fictional composite and is not based on any one person," HBO tells us. "As always, the script will undergo our customary rigorous review before it goes into production.”

Finke has to be smart enough to realize that a TV show based at least in part on her would help expose her unique brand of journalism to a much wider audience, right? Then again, she has a history of suing people and threatening to sue people. If this project moves forward, we wouldn't be surprised if Finke goes public with her displeasure. 

But would she sue? Maybe Nikki should ask herself, what would Tilda do?   

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The Hollywood Reporter, Esq. blog focuses on how the entertainment and media industries are impacted and influenced by the law. It is edited by Matthew Belloni with contributions from veteran legal reporter Eriq Gardner and others. Before joining The Hollywood Reporter, Belloni was a lawyer at an entertainment litigation firm in Los Angeles. He writes a column for THR devoted to entertainment law. Gardner is a New York-based writer and legal journalist. Send tips or comments to [email protected]

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