PENTHOUSE OF CARDS: Marty Staff has bailed out of his gig as Penthouse’s licensing czar, largely because there’s not much left to bail out on. The magazine and its various entities — including licensing arm PH Brand Management — entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy last month, putting all of Staff’s nascent licensing deals in deep freeze. His biggest responsibility had been overseeing an upscale chain of strip clubs, so maybe it’s not surprising that the ex-ceo of Hugo Boss North America would rather be back in the hunt to buy a men’s fashion business. “I really miss men’s wear,” he said. “I’m aggressively pursuing deals and I’m optimistic about an acquisition shortly.” — Greg Lindsay and Thomas Cunningham
CELEBRITY SMACKDOWN: It was getting to be quite the snooze in the media world — Ron Galotti out at Condé Nast for being over-ambitious and browbeating advertisers; the new era of The New York Times, in which staffers sing “Kumbaya” before they flood the zone. Can’t someone come and rescue New York media from actually becoming a friendly industry to work in?
Well, early next month, Rosie O’Donnell just may.
In what has become an amazingly high-stakes poker game (who makes it to court these days?) the former queen of nice appears to actually be headed to trial with Gruner + Jahr for round two in the showdown of last season.
The trial date, WWD has learned, will be set on Tuesday, with a start expected to come in early October — right as O’Donnell’s Broadway show, “Taboo,” hits.
Gruner + Jahr had no comment. O’Donnell said she was looking forward to the free publicity. “I will be giving away free ‘Taboo’ stuff daily on the court steps,” she told WWD. “I can’t wait. It’s going to be more fun than ‘The Practice.’”
It’s going to be really nasty. They’re contesting that she walked away from her contractual obligation to the company when she shuttered their joint venture, Rosie magazine, and that, prior to that, she made it impossible to run after she announced she was a lesbian and, they said, became an “überbitch.” The haircut probably didn’t help. She’s charging that they and their chief executive officer, Dan Brewster, are worse, having not only bullied her into changing editors but also into misrepresenting her newsstand sales numbers in order to prevent her from exercising an escape clause in her contract. Each side’s indignation is made worse by the fact that neither is entirely off base in its arguments: Gruner + Jahr did, in fact, play it a little loose with her newsstand sales, while O’Donnell did, ahem, get a little difficult. — Jacob Bernstein
NY TIMES LOVE LETTER OF THE DAY: The position was clearly important. But the love letter New York Times executive editor Bill Keller sent out as an internal memo was a little much. The first 150 words were about the “religion” that metro editor Jonathan Landman inspires in his staff and then, finally, the news: he was being promoted to assistant managing editor, enterprise, a role in which he will be responsible for “generating and overseeing cross-desk projects, organizing long-term coverage of big running stories and working with individual desks to make sure they are equipped to generate high-powered enterprise of their own.” Come on boys. Everyone knows you like one another. And with Howell Raines gone, you can express it all day long and not in a memo.
The move, by the way, is not the only major announcement in the works at the Times. According to sources, New York Times Book Review editor Chip McGrath has expressed an interest in stepping down as the editor of the New York Times Book Review. His expected departure from the role is actually voluntary. According to several sources in and close to The Times, he would like to devote his attention at The Times to writing and Adam Moss will conduct a search for his replacement. McGrath, who’s been the book review editor since 1995, could not be reached at press time. The move, should it happen, is not expected for several weeks — perhaps as early as November — and a replacement is not believed to have been found. But certainly he’ll get a love letter, too. — J.B.
COSMETIC SURGERY: Three years into the bust, business magazines have finally been drained of every last ounce of Nineties verve. Ad pages are down double digits at the big books; overall, circulation is flat, and readers are putting them back on the newsstand (Fast Company’s newsstand sales fell 55 percent to just 12,000 in the first six months). So, naturally, the editors are trying to put the best face on the situation.
Businessweek today will unveil its first redesign in 20 years, and last week Time Inc. dispatched Real Simple’s creative director, Robert Newman, to oversee the design at Fortune (although a spokeswoman said he won’t be instituting a redesign). And Gruner + Jahr’s Fast Company has had a mercurial look for months while new editor John Byrne tries to rally the readership. But how much good is a facelift, really, when newsstand sales are a tiny piece of each magazine’s circulation? (2.5 percent, in Businessweek’s case.)
“These magazines fairly leapt off the racks during the bubble because people bought them like the daily racing form,” said Business 2.0 editor Josh Quittner, whose magazine adopted a new look last year. “The pros were all terribly burned by the business press and they feel victimized by it. They feel like they were sold a false bill of goods. All business magazines went through this terrific soul searching — ‘Who are we, really?’ — which manifested itself in redesigns. You’re saying to your reader, ‘Come back and give another look. We know you read us before, and we pissed you off a little bit, but come back.’”
Businessweek editor Stephen Shepard doesn’t buy that, and said his redesign was just prompted by a general urge to freshen up the look. — G.L.