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Lunch: Jeffrey Toobin, Hugh Dancy & An ’80s-Inspired Cornelia Guest

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— DIANE CLEHANE

The mood was downright festive today in Michael’s dining room as the usual suspects air kissed and glad handed their way to their regular perches. After all, it is the holidays, and the general consensus is it’s about time we set aside the prevailing gloom and doom and at least pretend that we’re optimistic about the coming year. GM Steve Millington, who reports that business has been brisk the last week or so, told me, “I think 2010 is going to be much better.” One diner offered this assessment upon hearing that prediction: “Well, it can’t get much worse.” Here’s hoping.

I was happy to run into author and CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin when I arrived, and we chatted about the steady stream of celebrities in hot water that have kept him on the air for the past few months. This week, he’s got a 10,000-word piece (yes, you read that right) in the latest issue of The New Yorker taking an in-depth look at Roman Polanski’s legal woes and the fascinating story behind both sides of the case. “I like covering complex cases,” he told me. “What he did to that girl was a lot worse than I thought, and what the legal system did to him was also a lot worse than I thought.” Jeff predicts Polanski will ultimately be brought back to the states and serve “some time” in prison. We’re running out to buy the issue today.

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Diane Clehane and Jeffrey Toobin (Credit: Andy Plesser)

I was joined for lunch today by my good friend Andy Amill, publisher of Weight Watchers magazine. Andy and I worked together in another life and had a lot of fun catching up and trading media war stories. While most of his peers are reeling from record losses this year, Andy is the rare magazine publisher who has something to celebrate as 2009 comes to what we hope is a merciful close.

While Andy told me he believes there are whole magazine categories that will cease to exist in print in the not so distant future (sorry, but his predictions are off the record), he believes the future will be bright for a select few when the dust settles. He says success lies with publications that are “targeted” and “speak directly” to readers about a particular “passion” by delivering “hard to get information they can’t get elsewhere.” Andy is clearly speaking from experience. Weight Watchers has had a banner year with subscription revenue hitting the $150 million mark and growth in advertising pages and circulation. The magazine also recently got the nod from retailing heavyweight Wal-Mart and scored prime display space at the checkout counter, which, I’m told, is critical to the success of any book looking to reach a mass market audience. And, the subscription-based Weight Watchers Online is the fastest growing part of the company, proving, says Andy, that consumers will pay for content if it’s something really worth buying.

Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:

1. Half of the ‘Imber Gang”: Dr. Gerald Imber, Jerry Della Femina and Andy Bergman

2. Casting agent Bonnie Timmermann and actor Hugh Dancy (Mr. Claire Danes)

3. John Sykes and two power gals we didn’t recognize.

4. Howard Rubenstein


5. Allen & Co.’s Stan Shuman

6. Attorney Michael Kassan

7. Andy Amill and yours truly

8. New York Social Diary‘s David Patrick Columbia and Cornelia Guest. We’re intrigued by the ’80s “it” girl’s reemergence on the lunch scene. Today she was rocking an all-black mini that she must have pulled from her wardrobe from the Studio 54 days. Whatever works, I guess.

9. Beverly Camhe with her son. Sorry we didn’t get a chance to meet!

10. Literary lioness Freddie Friedman and Larry Kramer, looking especially dapper.

11. Public relations maven Chris Taylor and Jennifer Kyle

12. Lucianne Goldberg, Bonnie Dudley and a distinguished looking fellow we didn’t recognize.

14. Michael J. Wolf

81. Lally Weymouth

15. Hotelier Saul Kerzner

17. Greater Talent Network’s president Don Epstein

18. Investigation Discovery’s head honcho Henry Schleiff

20. Hearst’s high priestess Ellen Levine (love the new ‘do!) and Anne Sutherland Fuchs (Long time no see!)

21. Penguin’s Victor Temkin

22. Ellen Schned of CBS’ college sports division and Insight Communications’ Michael Wilner

23. Producer Warren Adler

24. BeetTV’s Andy Plesser who kept busy taking pics of the scene.

25. Retailing legend Lillian Vernon. Love your catalog!

26. My good friend Myrna Blyth who just this morning got a Superstar of Social Media award from MIN. For the past year, Myrna has been working tirelessly as BettyConfidential.com’s editor-in-chief. With its best friend sensibility and smart, funny take on everything from the latest celebrity meltdown to parenting, the dish-y site is quickly becoming one of the hottest female-centric sites around. Congrats!

27. Bravado merchandise president and CEO Tom Bennett (Tony‘s son, in case you were wondering)

29. Financial TimesGreg Zorthian

30. CBS News’ Mary Noonan

Faces in the crowd: architectural designer and man-about-town David Biscaye of Biscaye Freres passed the time at the bar quietly sketching. I’ve been noticing this handsome gent at the bar for several Wednesdays now. When I saw him taking in the scene and scribbling in a notebook, it occurred to me I might have some competition, so I thought I’d go up and introduce myself. David, who couldn’t have been courtlier, explained he has been coming here for a while since some of his favorite eastside haunts, like La Goulue, have closed. He was even nice enough to show me some of his extraordinary sketches. On the way out the door, he slipped over to my table to gift me with a lovely little drawing of a knife on the bar rendered in exquisite detail. I was totally charmed. You just never know who you’re going to meet at Michael’s.

See you next week!

Please send comments and corrections to DianeClehane AT mediabistro Dot com and lunch at mediabistro DOT com.

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