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Posts Tagged ‘Nick Verbitsky’

Joe Kernen, Andrew Ross Sorkin and the Skinny on Jessica Simpson’s New Role at Weight Watchers

LunchAtMichaelsNeither rain nor snow (not yet anyway) or a meltdown on Metro North’s Connecticut line (don’t ask!) can keep us from our appointed rounds on Wednesdays at Michael’s. Who else would tell you which talking heads (Star Jones, Joe Kernen, Andrew Ross Sorkin) were holding court in the dining room while pointing out the random sighting of a former beauty queen and even some titled ladies and lords? (Read on and you’ll find out.) We, not of the town car set, braved a very crowded train from Westchester (Note to fellow passengers: garlic on your breakfast isn’t a good thing!) to bring you all the earth-shattering goings on at 55th and Fifth today so you can eat at your desk while searching for Internet spoilers on Sunday’s series finale of Breaking Bad.

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Andy Amill and Diane Clehane

I was joined today by my intrepid Greenwich neighbor Andy Amill, VP of Media Sales at Weight Watchers. I’ve been a lifetime member of Weight Watchers since my days heading up Danskin’s PR department (just try having to wear spandex to work) and wanted to get the skinny on all the incredible innovations the company has implemented over the past year. Have you seen Jennifer Hudson lately? Exactly. Andy tells me that Jennifer has been “an inspiration” to Weight Watcher members. The dynamic multi-media campaign featuring the brand ambassador which launched in 2010 has helped attract plenty of new members. I am also fascinated by the technology behind the company’s barcode scanner app, which members can download to their smart phones. It lets the user zap the UPC of thousands of products in the supermarket and instantaneously get the Weight Watchers PointsPlus value. What will they think of next?

When I mentioned that the Weight Watchers center where I attend meetings had undergone a pretty dramatic makeover a few months back, Andy explained that many stores have been redesigned in the past few years with a contemporary look and feel. “They’re all uniform so members can find a center anywhere and they all look the same,” he tells me. “It really helps them stay connected.” Read more

Joanna Coles, Wendy Williams and the Inside Story on the New JFK Book

LunchAtMichaelsForget about having to dig out a coat for the first time this season to ward off this morning’s chilly temps, the real sign of fall here is that the power lunch scene is back in full swing at Michael’s. Today the dining room was full of famous faces (Al Roker and wife Deborah Roberts at separate tables, Wendy Williams, Star Jones); entertainment bigwigs (Tad Smith, Nick Verbitsky); social swans (Margo Nederlander and pals); and more spinmeisters than there are Kardashian tabloid covers on any given week. You get the picture.

Fall also means the launch of a plethora of “important” titles and made-for-gift-giving books. I was joined today by Steve Koepp, editorial director of Time Home Entertainment, the book publishing division of Time Inc., who gave me the inside story on the company’s impressive and incredibly diverse fall list. He came toting three books to illustrate the point: the just-published Zoom: Surprising Ways to Supercharge Your Career by Daniel Roberts, born out of Fortune‘s compulsively readable “40 Under 40″ annual list and featuring original interviews from headline-making top execs, including Marissa Mayer and Under Armour founder Kevin Plank; LIFE‘s bookazine The Wizard of Oz: 75 Years Along the Yellow Brick Road; and JFK: His Enduring Legacy (published by Time as both a book and bookazine).

Steven Koepp and Diane Clehane

Steven Koepp and Diane Clehane

Between bites of Cobb salad, Steve told me the book business is, in fact, thriving over at Time Inc. thanks to the company’s multi-pronged approach to reaching all different readers with books that often connect them back to those people and eras that “resonate” and seem to grow more iconic over time. This is certainly true with The Day Kennedy Died from Life, which Steve described to me as “magisterial.” Certainly sounds like it. Due out Oct. 15, ahead of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the book is full of fascinating reporting, artifacts and images from Nov. 22, 1963. In fact, there is so much material that has been thoughtfully assembled that the book comes with a magnetic closure to hold a full-size exact replica of the issue of Life published immediately after Kennedy’s assassination as well as a gatefold with the entire Zapruder film — all 486 frames — published for the first time. Reporting includes the “centerpiece” of the book: a narrative by Dick Stolley, then the magazine’s Los Angeles bureau chief who flew into Dallas after the shooting and recounts his experience covering the event that made the world stand still. Read more

David Pecker Holds Court; David Zaslav Jumps the Shark

1003_mockup.gifIt’s been a head-spinning summer of celebrity sightings and media maven mashups at 55th and Fifth, but today at Michael’s the mogul quotient was completely off the charts. I knew it was going to be one of those days when Discovery Communications honcho David Zaslav sauntered into the dining room sporting shades and carrying a stuffed shark. Oh, hadn’t you heard? The net’s Shark Week kicks off August 4. Funny enough, David was lunching with William Morris Endeavor’s co-CEO Ari Emanuel. I’ll let you insert your own joke here.

I was sitting squarely in the center of gravity with David Pecker and David Zinczenko and the experience was akin to being a fly on the wall to the lunchtime version of ‘This is your life, David Pecker,” as friends (too many to mention), former colleagues (ditto) and well-wishers (everyone else in the room), stopped by to pay their respects and get some face time with AMI’s chairman and CEO. (“I’m definitely going to call you about that, thanks!”) It was something akin to The Godfather without the tuxes, mumbling and cannolis (David opted for the ‘Michael’s burger and ‘Zinc’ had the Korean tacos).

Zinc (in the interest of clarity, I’ll refer to David Zinczenko by the catchy moniker of his book imprint) has garnered plenty of headlines this year with his highly publicized alliance with AMI, his Random House contract and a new deal with ABC (he’s got his first segment on “20/20″ airing this Friday). David has maintained, by comparison, a somewhat low profile — except for the fact that he was a contender for the top spot at Time Inc. this spring. AMI’s affable chairman (I discovered this man knows everyone — and I mean everyone) has opted to mostly let his game-changing decision of hiring Zinc and the success at the newsstand with his myriad of titles do the talking.

David Pecker, Diane Clehane and David Zinczenko

Fresh off the quarterly AMI board meeting in Connecticut this weekend, there was plenty to dish about over lunch. As you undoubtedly know, AMI publishes, National Enquirer, Star, Globe, OK!, the newly revitalized Men’s Fitness, Muscle and Fitness, Flex, Fit Pregnancy and Shape and several other titles which reach a combined audience of more than 60 million readers every month.  With the birth of the royal baby and the can’t-make-this-stuff-up New York City mayor’s race, I just had to ask David what his tabloid titles have in store. Plenty, as you might expect, but each title addresses a very different constituency. When it comes to news about the royal baby, the ubiquity of the coverage poses a challenges says David.

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Dishing With Scandal‘s Tony Goldwyn; Catching Up With Michael Strahan

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It was a regular boys club at Michael’s today with not one, but two football legends (Michael Strahan, Frank Gifford), several captains of industry (William Lauder, Jonathan Tisch), publishing hot shots (Jack Kliger, Jared Kushner) and the hottest actor on broadcast television, Tony Goldwyn, who plays the adulterous, murderous President Fitzgerald Grant III on everyone’s guilty pleasure, Scandal. For the record, the power gal contingent was nicely represented by Norah O’Donnell and media mavens Katherine Oliver and Cindy Lewis.

Everyone (and I do mean everyone) was abuzz with Tony’s arrival in the dining room so, of course, I just had to say hello. He couldn’t have been more pleasant about doing an impromptu interview about the runaway success of Scandal and offered his take on being a red hot leading man at 53. It was a bit trippy, really, comparing the relaxed, friendly actor who was casually clad in a plaid shirt and jeans (he’s from Los Angeles, after all) with the uptight, angst-ridden politico he plays on the small screen. Grandson of legendary studio head Samuel Goldwyn, Tony’s has had a journeyman’s career with stints on film (most memorably as villain Carl Bruner in Ghost), television (recurring roles on Dexter and Law & Order: Criminal Intent) and several roles on Broadway, including the musical Promises, Promises. Surprisingly, Goldwyn has never been a staple in the likes of People and the other glossies. When I asked him what it meant to have true stardom come along relatively late in his career he told me, “It’s definitely different than if it had happened earlier; I’m very grateful.”

Tony Goldwyn and Diane Clehane

Speaking of grateful, more than a few of my friends look forward to Tony’s steamy scenes with his co-star Kerry Washington. (His wife, Jane Musky, doesn’t watch those encounters.) “We definitely push the boundaries,” he said. I told him it’s often hard to remember that Scandal is on network television rather than cable. “In a way, it’s because of cable that [series creator Shonda Rhimes] has been able to up the level of things and be more bold.” Read more

Isabella Rossellini’s Animal Instincts

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There are lunches at Michael’s and then there are lunches at Michael’s. Today I joined Isabella Rossellini at Table One and had a fascinating conversation with her about aging, celebrity, fashion and gay geese. Stay with me … these seemingly disparate topics are all connected.  Ostensibly there to talk about Mammas, her new series for Sundance Channel which looks at the ways different creatures use their maternal instincts in nature, Isabella did get around to the topic eventually. Yet, there was no feeling of the usual PR spin to the lunch which was attended by a handful of journalists who sat enthralled by her stories of her days as an actress and model and her charming tales of growing up in Rome as the daughter of iconic actress Ingrid Bergman and director Roberto Rossellini.

“The image I have of myself doesn’t correspond to the image people have of me,” she said. “I live on Long Island and I don’t go to fancy parties and premieres. I don’t like that aspect of celebrity. I never said, ‘When I grow up I want to be a celebrity.’” She didn’t have to.  Between her famous parents, ex-husbands (Martin Scorsese and model Jon Wiedemann), her celebrated career as a model and 14-year run as the face of Lancome before the brand dismissed her in 1996 for being ‘too old,’ and her unforgettable turn as tortured nightclub singer Dorothy Vallens in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, she secured a permanent spot in our collective consciousness without employing any of the usual contrivances associated with modern celebrity.

Isabella Rossellini and Diane Clehane

When she showed up to join the small group of journos gathered to meet her (I was lucky enough to score the best seat in the house right next to the guest of honor!) the conversation first turned to fashion as Frazier Moore asked her who designed her understated ensemble of a wool tweed cocoon coat,  navy mandarin collared silk jacket, foulard blouse and simple slacks. She gamely removed her coat to reveal the impeccably tailored pieces designed for her by Christina Bomba in Italy. “It’s less expensive than Donna Karan or Dolce & Gabbana, and I like that I can pick the fabric and have it made just for me,” she said. Isabella told us she can’t relate to the fashion-celebrity complex which has turned the red carpet into big business. “When Mama got dressed for the Oscars, she wasn’t solicited by designers. She didn’t have a committee of business people telling her what to wear. She was loyal to one or two Italian designers, and, when they could no longer make dresses for her, the costume designers from her films created something unique.”

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Harvey Weinstein, Ali MacGraw and the Brains Behind Coffee With Tim Cook

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Where to begin? This week at 55th and Fifth, the scene in the dining room provided whiplash-inducing people watching with a tasty mix of moguls on the menu (Harvey Weinstein, Jimmy Finkelstein) with a side of social swans (Sharon Bush, Patricia Kluge, Terry Allen Kramer).

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Wednesday at Michael’s without the random celebrity sighting. I was thrilled to hear that I would be sitting next to none other than Ali MacGraw today. The ageless actress, who catapulted into the pop culture hall of fame with her iconic performance (and preppy wardrobe) in the 1970 tearjerker Love Story, turned every head in the place when she arrived — which is quite a feat among this crowd. She was beyond gracious as diners (including yours truly) lined up for pictures. Several years ago, I worked with her on The Fashion Group International’s Night of Stars where she was honored with FGI’s entertainment award for her contributions to film and fashion. When I re-introduced myself, she immediately said, “Oh, I remember that night. It was so much fun!” and then proceeded to tell me this delicious bit of gossip from the evening: “I was standing next to Bill Blass when he saw Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones come in. And Bill turned to the person next to him and said, “Finally, some real movie stars!” She giggled, clearly delighted by the memory of the snarky diss from the designer.

Diane Clehane and Coppy Holzman

Speaking of the power of celebrity, I was joined today by Charitybuzz CEO and founder Coppy Holzman who dazzled me with tales of his work with the famous and philanthropic. His company, which he founded in 2005, is currently the world’s largest online charity auction site and is the go-to partner for every famous person with a charity looking to raise serious money for their pet causes.

It all started at a backyard fundraising party for The Clinton Library in Westport, Connecticut that Coppy attended where he met President Bill Clinton and Chevy Chase. “Isn’t there a way  for you to use your experience on the Internet to raise for the library?” the host of the party asked Coppy. On the spot, he came up with the idea of auctioning off a lunch with the former president. One year later, The Chevy Chase Earth Day Auction brought in $250,000 for the library, including $80,000 paid by one bidder to lunch with Clinton and Chase. Since then, Coppy has worked with Clinton on many different initiatives. “There is no bigger celebrity in the world,” he says. The top dollar paid to spend the day with Hillary’s husband: $255,000 in an auction last year.

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Mika Brzezinski, Miss USA and a Mysterious Stephen Baldwin Sighting

1003_mockup.gifMaybe it was today’s dreadful weather (Will this winter from hell ever end?) or perhaps some boldface names can’t bring themselves to leave the sunny West Coast after the Oscars, but the scene at Michael’s today was pretty much a celebrity-free zone unless you count the random sighting of Stephen Baldwin. The more low-key Baldwin made a curiously brief appearance in the dining room (he didn’t even sit down) before leaving, so we never got the chance to ask him what he thinks about brother Alec Baldwin‘s war with The New York Post, but we did try. There was, however, an interesting mix of bold faced names including police commissioner Ray Kelly and the newly crowed Miss USA Nana Meriwether who, despite leaving her sash and crown at home, looked every inch the pageant winner. Being almost six feet tall certainly helps stand out in a crowd.

I was joined today by Woman’s Day editor-in-chief Susan Spencer and Hearst executive director of public relations Mimi Crume Sterling. Having never met these smart, savvy gals before, we bonded over a talk about our daughters. Susan, like me, is mother to an elementary-school-aged daughter adopted from China; Mimi has a little girl and is about to give birth to her first son any minute (we had our fingers crossed she’d make it through lunch!). We all agreed parenthood is an unending source of material.

Susan Spencer and Diane Clehane

Since joining the magazine in February of last year from Time Inc.’s All You, Susan has made some interesting changes to the magazine. “I’ve fallen in love with the reader,” she says. This is not your mother’s Woman’s Day, although Susan is mindful of the generational connection between readers of the 75-year-old Hearst title. “Some readers have been reading the magazine for 60 years, and now their daughters and their daughters’ daughters are reading it,” she explained. When asked just who is the Woman’s Day reader, Susan told me: “She’s the ‘Average Josephine’ — the receptionist, the administrative assistant, the teacher, the nurse. These are the women who I consider to be the backbone of America.” That doesn’t mean, however, these women (more than half work outside the home) are not interested in fashion and the good things in life. Just the opposite. “These women have a lot of joy in their life. They embrace positivity,” says Susan. “That’s why the title of the magazine is so perfect for them. It’s about her day and the joy she gets out of it.” To tap into that, Susan retooled the fashion pages focusing more on value in all its iterations. “Our reader doesn’t want to see a great shoe and then find out it’s $300 or even $150. It has to make sense for her life.” In fact, “Value Tags” appear throughout the magazine to highlight steals, deals and all-around great ideas.

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Ann Curry, Calvin Klein and a Real-Life Seinfeld Character

1003_mockup.gifForget about the dog days of summer. The stifling heat couldn’t keep the faithful away from Michael’s today. In fact, many of the power lunchers showed up early to escape the oppressive temps which made for a jam packed dining room. The always unflappable Loreal Sherman kept everything running smoothly as usual, finding just the right table for everyone despite the SRO crowd. At Michael’s, you are where you sit after all.

I was joined today by Scott Singer, managing director of Discover Digital Group where he helps media companies identify and build e-commerce businesses, as well as assisting them in growing their existing digital assets. When he’s not navigating his clients through the changing world of social media and mobile advertising, Scott is also a passionate author. In his first book, How to Hit a Curveball: Confront and Overcome the Unexpected in Business (Portfolio, 2010), Scott took on the question on everyone’s mind at the time: how to survive and thrive after the 2008 financial meltdown and subsequent Great Recession. “I’ve spent my career advising companies (including CBS/Viacom and Disney) on how to overcome and confront change,” Scott told me. After enduring his own series of personal and professional ‘curveballs’ —  his job as head of digital media and internet infrastructure at Bear Sterns was a fatality of the tech bubble, his brother was in one of the towers at the World Trade Center on 9/11 but thankfully survived and he got divorced (“My marriage ended in a death spiral,” he writes in the book), Scott told me he learned that “None of us know what the future holds but, once you’ve learned how to confront and overcome the unexpected, it will stop making you anxious. Tomorrow will no longer be something to fear and that’s a great feeling.”

Diane Clehane and Scott Singer
Diane Clehane and Scott Singer

Cleverly outlining his insights using baseball terminology, Scott leads the reader from ‘spring training’ all the way through ‘an extra inning’ and includes the wisdom of those who have always aimed for the fences, like CBS honcho Les Moonves, former Time Warner CEO Jerry Levin and Michael J. Fox.

Scott’s best advice: Step up to the plate and accept what is, be the batter and keep your eye on the ball. A self-proclaimed enthusiast for the latest and best gadgets on the market, Scott says these rules are easily applicable in business, especially when it comes to new technology. Change is happening every minute and the only way to win is to embrace it and be an early adapter. Just look at our kids.

“Every child today is born digital. It’s in their DNA, while those people that are passing away are analog. We’re digital immigrants,” he says. “My 14 year-old son is my IT support. It’s amazing to think of all the innovations the digital generation is going to create.”

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Eliot Spitzer on CNN’s Identity Crisis: ‘There’s No Objectivity in Network News’

1003_mockup.gifIt was the usual Wednesday mix of moguls (Jon Tisch), media men (Richard Beckman, Mike Perlis) and television honchos (Henry Schleiff) today at Michael’s. With this Type A crowd, summer vacations are for slackers — at least until August. From the looks of things, there were plenty of deals being done (or at least pitched) between bites.

I was joined today by Eliot Spitzer and Lisa Linden. The last time the three of us had lunch, New York’s former governor was headlining his own show on CNN, In The Arena, which replaced the short-lived Parker Spitzer which he launched with co-host Kathleen Parker in 2010. About a year ago, CNN boss Ken Jautz cancelled In The Arena in a shakeup of the network’s primetime lineup. “I’m very happy with the show we did and the ratings we got, which were good to compared to what they’re getting now,” Eliot told me.  Not surprisingly, he says he prefers and is better suited for Current TV’s politically charged environment. “Current has an ideology. There’s no pretense; we’re open about it. CNN tries very hard to position itself as an non-ideological news network, but there’s no objectivity in network news. It would be better for all of us if we just accepted that.” Therein lies the major issue with his former employer’s rating woes, says Eliot: ”CNN has a serious question of what it is and they’ve got to answer that.”

Having stepped in seemingly hours after Keith Olbermann was booted from Current TV, Eliot took to the airwaves with the aptly titled Viewpoint in Olbermann’s old time slot with no promotional campaign or PR machine to attract viewers (although Olbermann’s own campaign to get his side of the story out gave the fledgling network plenty of attention). But the show does have co-founder Al Gore‘s support (he’s been a guest on Viewpoint) and Eliot says Joel Hyatt is very involved in the “day-to-day” running of the network. “They have been great. I’ve known Al since 1999 and I like him very much. He’s a great guy.” (BTW you can see what Joel had to say about all those supposed dust-ups with Olbermann in this Mediabistro interview.)

Eliot Spitzer and Diane Clehane
Eliot Spitzer and Diane Clehane

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Anderson Cooper, Andrew Stein and Serenading Socialites

1003_mockup.gifThe scene at Michael’s today was positively Fellini-esque. Just when the joint was firing on all cylinders (even every seat at the bar was spoken for),  the dining room was stunned into silence when the ladies who lunch led by Joan Jakobson at Table One gave an impromptu acapella performance of “The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.” You get it all here, folks. Cobb salads with a serenade on the side. This being Michael’s, of course, the power lunch crowd gave the gals the floor just long enough to belt out their tune and then, without missing a beat, turned their attention back to hatching their next big deal. Alrighty then.

I was joined today by Janis Provisor and Debi Wisch, the dynamic duo behind Janis Provisor Jewelry whose business cards boast the tagline “wildly eccentric beaded collectibles.” They are also just gorgeous. Janis, an accomplished artist and painter whose work has been shown all over the world, including at the National Gallery and the Brooklyn Museum of Art, got into the jewelry business by accident. “It started out as a hobby, turned into a job-y, and now it’s a full-fledged business!” Janis told me.

It all began in 2006 when Debi, a former marketing consultant and publicist, got Janis to do a trunk show in Debi’s Manhattan home.  Janis and Debi had met a decade before when they were both living in Hong Kong and Janis, who was developed a carpet collection, showed up at Debi’s home with a swatch. Years later, over lunch, both women were wanting to do something new and came up with the idea for Janis to make one-of-a-kind necklaces from the stones she’d collected from her worldwide travels. Voila! Janis’ oversize beaded necklaces, luxurious lavalieres and chunky chokers (all boasting unexpected pairings of precious and semi-precious stones) were an immediate sell-out among the stylish set. “Our customers are smart, independent women with their own money,” Debi told me. “Rarely do I hear, ‘I have to ask my husband’ before someone buys something.” And it’s a good thing. Entry points range from $1,400 for earrings to $4,000 to $7,000 for a necklace. Not exactly something you could pass off with the usual, “Oh no, this isn’t new. I’ve had it forever.”

Janis Provisor, Diane Clehane and Debi Wisch
Janis Provisor, Diane Clehane and Debi Wisch

While most of the collection is sold at invitation-only trunk shows at swanky locales (If you happen to be in Kona in August, you might want to drop in on the next show at Seaside Luxe, but do RSVP first ), the luxe looks are also sold at Julianne in Port Washington and Gail Rothwell in East Hampton. Janis also has an exhibition of the jewels at Winston Wachter Gallery in Chelsea. By foregoing the usual retail route, the partners have been able to build the business (“People just find us”) carefully offering one-of-a-kind pieces and other collectibles to a very discriminating clientele. (CNN’s Alina Cho is a fan) ”The goal is to make only what we’d want to own, and that’s what we continue to do,” said Debi, who was adorned with several of Janis’ dazzling designs today.

Janis told me she often sits with the artisans in China while the pieces are being made to personally describe her vision for the design (“I don’t cast”), and she works with the craftsman in Bali where her 22kt gold work is done. “I am very hands-on,” she said, “with everything.” I’ll say. The company is 100 percent self-supported, and the women wouldn’t have it any other way. It seems to be working. Janis Provisor Jewelry will be moving into a brand new studio salon this summer where Janis and Debi hope to put together small groups of “interesting women” to exchange ideas, network and, of course, buy some serious jewelry.

Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:

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