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Posts Tagged ‘Joan Hamburg’

Lunch: Johnny Weir Is “Not From Mars,” Nate Berkus Readies Transformations

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— DIANE CLEHANE

You just never know who’s going to turn up at Michael’s, and I’ve learned to expect the unexpected during my weekly lunches. That’s just what I got when U.S Olympic figure skater Johnny Weir and his agent Tara Modlin showed up to join Rob Weisbach, uber agent and former president and CEO of Miramax Books, at Table One. I loved every minute of the drama on and off the ice at this year’s games, so I just had to go over and introduce myself to Johnny.

The usually flamboyant and outspoken star, who was wearing a red ruffled sweater, black pants and flat boots, was downright subdued as I offered my congratulations on his Olympic performance but perked up when I asked if the trio might be discussing a possible book. “Yes, I want to do a book. I write a blog for my Web site and I’d like to write about a lot of the things that happen behind the scenes in figure skating,” Johnny told me. “I’ve got a cool background. I’d like people to know I’m not from Mars.” I also asked the sixth place finisher to weigh in on silver medalist Yevgeny Plushenko‘s controversial remarks about Evan Lysacek winning the gold medal without doing a quadruple jump. “I’m good friends with Yevgeny and his comments were taken out of context,” says Johnny. “He’s Russian. English is his second language.” So there you have it; it was all just a simple misunderstanding.

Speaking of books, I was joined today by literary agent Fredi Friedman who helms her own agency and has an impressively diverse list of clients including hedge fund king (and former Morgan Stanley honcho) Barton Biggs, Pat Buchanan, Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, and her Republican counterpart Kellyanne Conway. “I go from one side of the aisle to the other!” says Fredi.

We were deep in conversation when Today show producer Marc Victor stopped by to introduce us to Oprah‘s favorite design guru, Nate Berkus. His new syndicated show, Nate Berkus (catchy title!) is set to premiere in September on NBC. Nate tells me he’s branching out from home makeovers. The show will air as a lead-in to Ellen DeGeneres‘ chatfest and will include a variety of different segments. “I’ll be doing some design, but I’ll also be doing interviews and focusing on the idea of transformations.” You might recall Oprah has sent Nate to several viewers’ homes for missions that go beyond a bathroom gone bad. One of my favorite recent episodes had Nate making over a woman who wanted him to glam her up and take her to her 25th high school reunion. “It’s tricky terrain when you’re picking out clothes for someone,” says Nate, who will also “have a presence” on Oprah’s OWN network when it launches. But he came through with flying colors and is now confident enough to give it a go on his own show. “We’re going to be focusing on transformations.”

Fredi, who is always thinking about new book ideas, told Nate he really had something there. “You should do a book!” she said. “Maybe I will,” Nate replied with a smile as he said his good-byes. “Thanks for the feedback!” At Michael’s, lunch is never just about lunch. But you knew that, didn’t you?

Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:

1. Rob Weisbach, Johnny Weir, and Tara Modlin

2. Today show producer Marc Victor (long time, no See!), Nate Berkus, and Nate’s agent Kristen Giese

3. ‘Mayor’ Joe Armstrong, Ed Victor, and his gorgeous wife, Carol.

4. Jean Doumanian with two gents, including producer Jerry Frankel.

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Lunch: Joan Collins Holds Court at Table One, Plus Barbara Walters & Vernon Jordan

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— DIANE CLEHANE

The dining room at Michael’s was buzzing as boldface names settled in to plot their next big move and dish over their Cobb salads. We overhead plenty of chatter about the David Letterman and 48 Hours Mystery producer Robert “Joe” Halderman scandal — sorry, but it’s all off the record. The one thing everyone agrees on is that this tawdry tale is far from over. “There’s got to be a lot more to it,” said one flack. “This is going to be interesting if and when it gets to court.”

I was lunching today with Jason Allen Ashlock, who I first met a while back when he was toiling at The Marianne Strong Literary Agency. In January of this year, Jason struck out on his own and opened Movable Type Literary Group with his partner Meredith Dawson. Things have been going great guns for Jason despite the less than fortuitous timing for launching his business. “It was completely accidental, but because it was counter intuitive, I was able to meet with people and houses that would have otherwise been more difficult to get to, if for no other reason than they wanted to find out what I was doing,” says Jason.

So far, he’s inked 17 deals for his authors this year. Just last week he landed first-time author Adrienne Arieff a deal with Random House to publish her memoir, The Sacred Thread, which chronicles her decision to use a foreign gestational surrogate in India. Arieff decided to move in with the woman who was carrying her child, and the book chronicles their fascinating and unique bond. Jason also got that strangely fascinating husband and wife team of The Real Housewives of New York City, Alex McCord and Simon van Kempen, a deal from Sterling & Ross to pen their upcoming parenting tome, Little Kids, Big City due in March of next year. He brought me a copy of Robert Rave‘s novel Spin, which tells the tale of a wide-eyed publicist who finds himself working for one of Manhattan’s most notorious divas. Robert, by the way, once worked for Lizzie Grubman. We’re sure that’s just a coincidence.

I asked Jason what he thought of the news that Tina Brown will be doing ebooks in association with her website, The Daily Beast. “Tina has said books are the new magazines. I worry about that. Look what’s happening to magazines,” Jason reasoned. “As books become more ‘temporary,’ we lose what they are most useful for: authority. Books that take time, that are well researched, and edited offer a comprehensive point of view on a subject that you can’t get from a magazine article or on the Internet. Publishers can’t just be printers.”

Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:

1. Producer Francine LeFrak with a bunch of ‘suits’ and surprise guests Joan Collins with her much younger husband Percy Gibson. Our favorite ’80s TV villainess was doing her best Alexis Carrington by sporting a leopard print cowboy hat.

2. Peter Brown with a distinguished looking fellow we didn’t recognize.

3. ‘Mayor’ Joe Armstrong with Men’s Health honcho David Zinczenko (Long time, no see!). Joe is just back from a humanitarian mission to Cuba where he helped deliver supplies to several orphanages. “These kids really need a lot of help,” says Joe of the heartbreaking poverty he witnessed first-hand. He came brandishing a cane today because of some back trouble as a result of — we’re not kidding — laughing too hard at a fellow Texan’s joke recently. Here’s hoping you’re on the mend soon.

4. We would have loved to have been a fly on the wall for this one: Barbara Walters and Vernon Jordan. I noticed that several times during lunch this intriguing duo had their heads together and seemed to be amused at something or another as they observed the noontime crowd. One can only imagine.

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Lunch: Barry Diller (on a Vespa!), Harvey Weinstein & Judge Judy

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— DIANE CLEHANE

Maybe it was because it finally stopped raining for five minutes, but the power-lunchers were out in force today at Michael’s. There was a crowd gathering in the lounge before noon waiting for tables. Of course, most of the regulars breezed in at their appointed hours, making sure they had plenty of time for glad-handing before settling in for some serious dish. Harvey Weinstein and Barry Diller did their fair share of hand shaking before getting down to business at separate tables.

I was lunching today with public relations powerhouse Lisa Linden and Tom O’Brien, president and general manager of WNBC. Tom had plenty to talk about, since these days it seems you can’t go anywhere without an NBC star beaming out from a TV set in a growing number of spots. Look for that to continue, says Tom. With the newscasts on WNBC-TV, the fledgling lifestyle channel New York Nonstop (now in 5 million homes), NBCNewYork.com and Taxi TV (in 5,500 cabs and growing), “We have the ability to get our content out across multiple platforms and reach people at any time of the day,” says Tom. Now the network has gone underground with their latest digital out-of-home effort, NBC in Transit, with video of news and NBC Universal entertainment programming broadcast on PATH trains between NYC and New Jersey. “We’re excited about this new way to reach an audience who isn’t waiting for news. It’s another great way for keeping people informed.” Coming soon: more televisions on the platform in Newark. Stay tuned…

I told Tom I have a particular soft spot for those adorable spots with Jimmy Fallon and that cuddly bear cub that seem to be playing in every taxi I’m in. “He’s doing very well,” reports Tom, who says Conan O’Brien‘s new show is set to debut June 1 and there will be an announcement about Jay Leno‘s new primetime show in two weeks. We’re all ears…

Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:

1. The ‘Imber Gang’: Dr. Gerald Imber, Jerry Della Femina, Michael Kramer and Andy Bergman

2. My new pal Susan Silver, Abby Ellin of The New York Times and Judy Twersky

3. Andrew Stein and a mystery gent…

4. Barry Diller and an unidentified young fellow. Here’s a fun fact: Barry is a mogul on the move. I happened to catch him suiting up for a quick getaway after lunch as he slipped into a windbreaker and donned a helmet and sunglasses before revving up his Vespa and disappearing into midtown traffic.

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