What in crissakes are those people at that paper thinking? “You have got to be kidding me,” one studio exec said to me. “Mediocrity central,” said another. “He’s a nice guy, but he knows so little about the business.” And other studio bigwigs who regularly deal with the media don’t even know who he is. (Hey, when the majors themselves are clueless about the guy, well, that says everything.) Following Elizabeth Guider’s naming as the new editor of The Hollywood Reporter (see my LA Weekly column with new and expanded content), the Los Angeles Times’ new hire of Tim Swanson as film editor is yet another unimpressive choice.
To be fair, when Lorne Manly took over in January as Movie Editor of The New York Times, I also said that move really floored me. Manly was by no means a Hollywood expert, though at the NYT he had, from time to time, edited and even co-bylined some showbiz industry stories. Completing the quartet, Tim Gray was a well-known Variety commodity before he was elevated to editor. But Swanson, on the other hand, became known for his “lite” approach to editorial that purposely avoids all heavy lifting when it comes to serious Hollywood coverage. People tell me he “washed out” at Variety. As West Coast bureau chief of Premiere magazine, his main task was administrative: wrangling celebrities for puff pieces and ensuring other articles never ruffled any power player’s plumage. Besides, top editor Peter Herbst treated Swanson like a glorified go-fer. (I had to laugh when I saw Anne Thompson’s blog this AM calling Swanson “a great choice”: I vividly recall her verbally flaming him for his youth and inexperience and ambition when he replaced her in that Premiere job. Oh, how the worm turns.) At Portfolio, Swanson’s online blog is noteworthy only because it has yet to make news even once. Here was a perfect showcase for Swanson to strut his stuff: instead, he’s been another unmemorable aggregator of others’ showbiz news. But he never admitted his own conflict of interest when he gushed on the site about HBO’s Entourage (though everyone knows it jumped the shark) while penning the official book on the show with HBO’s blessing.
At the LA Times, Swanson will be reporting to over-taxed Entertainment Editor Betsy Sharkey as well as overseeing the movie staff including two ex-Premiere vets who left the mag well before his ascension there, Rachel Abramowitz and John Horn. Swanson was smart how he finagled the coveted gig for himself: he phoned or met with Calendar movie writers and schmoozed them. I’ve heard that Horn wound up strongly recommending Swanson for the job both before and after Swanson was interviewed. “He said all the right things,” one source told me. “I was very impressed by everything he said he wants to do and everything he said we need to do.” Another insider explained to me, “Nikki, don’t beat him up. He’s young, energetic and smart. You have to give him a chance to do his job. You can’t prejudge him.”
Still, it’s fair to look at what someone has done before, and use that as a predictor of what he’ll do when he starts in September. Then again, Calendar’s film editor slot has long been vacant, meaning no one seemed to miss it. And a lot of it is administrative, like working with Hollywood to decide which actor or director will be stroked on the cover of Sunday Calendar, or ceding more studio turf to the Business section. So what does all this mean? More of the same lightweight Hollywood coverage for the foreseeable future. It’s good news for moviemakers who won’t have to worry that Calendar will make trouble for them, and bad news for Los Angelenos who won’t have any new reason to read the paper’s showbiz coverage.