BUT HIS MOVIES ARE TERRIFIC: What sort of confirmation do journalists need on Harvey Weinstein’s bad behavior when the simple act of writing about him unleashes the very behavior they’re trying to suss out?

This story first appeared in the January 23, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

When Vanity Fair contributor Peter Biskind was working on “Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance and the Rise of Independent Film,” Weinstein first tried to bribe him.

According to the forward of Biskind’s book, Weinstein asked him, “Don’t you have a book idea that’s really close to your heart?” When Biskind innocently responded that he’d always wanted to write a book about the science of politics, Weinstein told him, “Great. We could sell a million copies! Forget about that other book.”

But Biskind didn’t forget about that other book and so a worried Weinstein did a couple of things. First, according to two sources who spoke with Biskind about the matter, a person close to Weinstein masqueraded as a source for Biskind, took copious notes on the book’s contents and brought them back to the Miramax boss. Then, according to another source, Weinstein turned to David Boies, the famous attorney who won the Microsoft anti-trust suit and repped Al Gore in the Florida presidential recount, and they appealed all the way up to Viacom boss Sumner Redstone and had a less-than-successful mogul-to-mogul talk.

It wouldn’t be the first time. According to a Condé Nast employee, Weinstein did the same thing when Ken Auletta was working on a profile of him for The New Yorker, that time dispatching Boies to meet with editor David Remnick. And when New York Post media columnist Keith Kelly was reporting on the turmoil at Talk Magazine, Weinstein tried to switch his focus by offering him a book deal to write a history of Irish Americans. Kelly declined the offer.

Other writers have taken the money and run.

We’d like a book deal, too — and please forgive Harvey. On Monday, he told the Los Angeles Times that all his bad behavior toward people had “only hurt [him]self” and blamed it on his…diabetes.

“My insulin would go up when I’d have sugar and it tickled my adrenaline gland,” he told the paper.

His spokesman, meanwhile, on Thursday disputed that the book’s contents were leaked to Weinstein by an informant, saying, “We wish. If someone had come back to us with info, we would have been able to respond directly to many of the easily refutable claims in it.”

Regarding the Kelly book, he said that Miramax is always looking for good ideas and that the success of the division shows it. And speaking of good ideas, guess who else has a book contract with Miramax? David Boies. — Jacob Bernstein

LIFESTYLES OF THE RICH AND ATHLETIC: It’s only January, but 2004 is truly the year of boys and their toys. Joining the growing pack of men’s shopping books, ESPN is poised to roll out a test issue of what would be its second magazine — espn360, a men’s lifestyle title that would more or less give young, rich athletes the In Style treatment.

ESPN will selectively bundle 500,000 copies of the first issue with the April 12 edition of its regular biweekly ESPN The Magazine. A second test is slated to run in the fall, with regular publication to follow if readers sufficiently embrace it.

ESPN tapped former Premiere editor Michael Solomon and former Talk publisher Lee Rosenbaum as consultants on the first issue. “Different tiers of this magazine will focus on the lifestyles of athletes off the playing field,” Solomon said. That might mean luscious spreads of Stephon Marbury’s house, but it could just as easily be a snowboarder’s pad or a NASCAR driver’s car.

ESPN The Magazine has built a rate base of 1.75 million by skewing sports toward a younger audience, and espn360’s readers, Rosenbaum said, “represent the fashion and style epicenter of their audience.”

Fashion advertising currently only contributes 10 percent of the flagship’s pages, but espn360’s audience should make advertisers feel right at home. “At 500,000, you are automatically on par with GQ and Esquire, or Details [like WWD, published by Fairchild Publications], and you now have a circulation and corresponding page rate that fits into the sensibilities of fashion advertisers,” Rosenbaum said.

If it works, don’t be surprised to see espn360 (The Show) appear on ESPN (The Network) in the very near future. “There’s no TV tie-in initially,” said Christopher Collins, publisher of ESPN The Magazine. “The plan is to see how this does, and if we get significant traction, you can count on seeing this done on TV.” — Greg Lindsay

GONE AGAIN: You know what happens to liars, don’t you? No, they don’t get cancer, no matter what Rosie O’Donnell says. But Gruner + Jahr USA chief executive Dan Brewster, who in Rosie’s mind no doubt fits that description, certainly did get fired Thursday in a move that surprised no one. His boss, G+J international division chief Axel Ganz, will run the U.S. company until a successor is found. Just to recap the highlights of Brewster’s three-and-a-half-year tenure:

  • Charged with growing the company, Brewster buys New Economy darling Fast Company for $342 million in December 2000. A month later it tanks, along with the rest of its competitors, who all knew big trouble was brewing at about the same time G+J was doing due diligence.
  • Stuck with McCall’s, the seventh of the Seven Sisters, Brewster hatches a plan: he’ll transform the dowdy women’s title into a contemporary, celebrity-driven magazine that will steal the thunder of O: the Oprah Magazine. All he needs is an uncontroversial, compliant partner with a TV show. Thus, Rosie is born.
  • Faced with plunging newsstand sales at YM, Fast Company and especially Rosie, G+J execs decide to inflate the official newsstand sales figures of all three, a fast one discovered last year when WWD simply read audits of G+J’s magazines. During the Rosie trial, Brewster’s rebuttal was essentially that everybody does it — an erroneous assumption that only angers his publishing peers.
  • In the wake of the embarrassing Rosie O’Donnell trial, Brewster is confronted by G+J’s publishers, who demand a scapegoat, sources close to the company said. In short order, he forces the company’s head of circulation, Diane Potter, to resign. She hires a lawyer, threatens to sue and G+J promptly settles, the sources said.

Yes, he’ll be a tough act to follow. — G. L.