For years, there was no business like Show Business, the actors' weekly newspaper of audition listings and career advice. Then came Back Stage in 1960 (formed by Show Business' former ad director and editorial director), and suddenly there was a new business like Show Business.
For three decades, the competition only served to strengthen the older publication, but when founder Leo Shull began ailing in the late 1980's, the paper suffered in readership and quality. In the early 90s the paper was sold, and then halted altogether in a flurry of debt and mismanagement by its new owners.
Now, however, the Shull legacy is back in business. Shull's grandson (on his mother's side), David Pearlstein, has restarted the 1941 publication, with a "go" date of Jan. 20, 1999.
Managing Editor Mike McPadden told Playbill On-Line (Jan. 20) the first day's distribution was going smoothly, though there has been one editorial hitch: the company's layout and ad designer left a couple of days ago. "The job is open and needed pretty urgently, so please contact me if people are interested," said McPadden. The address for Show Busines is 36 East 12th Street, New York, NY 10003.
* "We've been flying under the radar, keeping things quiet until we were ready to launch," Publisher and Editorial Director Pearlstein told Playbill On-Line in a phone interview Jan. 10. "We started pre-pre-production 7-8 months ago and pre-production 3-4 months ago. Now we're in the final stages of release."
As with the old Show Business, the newspaper will hit newsstands on Wednesdays and feature audition listings, classified ads and other information specifically geared towards actors and dancers in legit theatre and New York film and television.
"We're going in a totally different direction," said Pearlstein, "though our mission is still the theatre. Theatre is the primer for all other media. Any actor worth his weight started in theatre. Also, we want to bring back a sense of community. Every time we go to the theatre, we see someone we know. It's not that big a community, but it has gotten a bit fragmented over the years. Certainly the other trade paper hasn't done anything to bring that sense of community back to Manhattan..."
David Sheward, managing editor of Back Stage, called Playbill On-Line to respond: "I'm not sure what [Pearlstein] means by `a sense of community being fragmented.' But I do believe that by providing a service to our readers in the performing arts community, we have the most up-to-date casting notices. We put them on the website every day. We also have BackStage West for the West Coast community, and we publish Ross Reports, which provides listings of casting directors and agents, plus it was recently expanded to include articles about casting opportunitites in film and television.
"Also, our editor, Sherry Eaker, produces the annual Bistro Awards to honor the cabaret community, which doesn't get too much publicity outside Back Stage. Plus we have ActorFest, the annual Actors' trade show of seminars and panels. It puts actors together with those who provide services for the community, such as photographers, and acting teachers."
For his part, Pearlstein hopes he'll evoke that everyone-knows-each other-in-this-biz ethos by taking a hands-on approach: "I've been going in the distribution vans to all the newsstands, and most of the vendors remember the old Show Business. Aside from that, BackStage only gives them .45 cents back on each issue; we give them .50, and that speaks to them."
[Back Stage managing editor Sheward, responding to the above quote, told Playbill On-Line (Jan. 22), "We think competition is good. It's healthy. And we don't discuss details about money, but we give every news vendor a fair shake. If we didn't, we wouldn't be on so many newsstands in the city and all over the tri-state area."]
Continued Pearlstein, "Editorially, we have a listings section like Time Out, so performers know where to go out and see other performers. We guarantee the most thorough listings in the city. Detailed and accurate. We're also publishing all the casting directors and agents, like the Ross Reports. Plus ours will have little bios for each agency.
"We'll also have the City Shoot List, a breakdown of every film in pre production and development in Manhattan," said Pearlstein. "Plus an extensive classified section for entertainment."
Though the old Show Business was known more for its information than its layout, the new newspaper will keep the red marquee logo that graced the top of the original paper's front page. "Why mess with perfection?" explained Pearlstein, who has hired designers from New York University's graduate school to create the new paper's look. "We're photography based," said Pearlstein. "We have a 5,000 foot loft with a photo studio in the back, so we can do our own cover shoots here." In fact, the first cover will feature up-and-comers Irene Molloy, Amy Sedaris (The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told), Richard Maxwell, Hilly Hicks, Joe Cassidy and filmmaker Dana Brunelle.
Looking toward the millennium, Pearlstein is also "in the talking stages" with a digital video company called Live Online. "They have digital cameras that can upload live as it happens," Pearlstein explained. "So you could go to a website and see a live video feed of, for example, the Drama Desk Awards. The technology is up to the quality of television already."
Asked how Show Business would differ from its old nemesis -- and most obvious competitor -- Back Stage, Pearlstein said, "Well, we're not doing how-to stuff or how to get an agent stuff -- except once. We will have one "How To" issue, with everything in it: agent, picture, resume. Otherwise, you really can't tell people how to do these things, there's no formula."
[While acknowledging there's no step-by-step formula for making it in the business, Back Stage managing editor Sheward defended his publication's regular inclusion of articles on how to become a professional actor. "You can speak to people who have done it," said Sheward, "and talk to those who have the keys to getting jobs; they offer advice and ways to go about it. Performers new to the scene really don't know what to do. Most colleges have few courses on how to get a job and promote yourself, and you can't act and emote on the stage until you get the job first. That's what Back Stage provides. `How To' is very important."]
Pearlstein also pointed to Show Business' "Show Business Insider" column as a unique feature. "It's like `Random Notes' in Rolling Stone; entertainment news items on the fluffy side. Also, we'll have a news section of basic, short items of more important news, pertaining to the performing arts." Show Business will carry one feature story per issue. The inaugural issue will look at -- appropriately enough -- the future of "show business." Other topics include Spring Education and Training (Feb. 3), Independent Film (Aug. 11) and the career-oriented 365 Jobs A Year (Sept. 8).
Among other Show Business editorial items will be side bars, a celebrity Q & A and theatre reviews. Coordinating content will be managing editor Mike McPadden, who's worked for Esquire and New York Press.
Pearlstein, 30, explained why he felt compelled to re-start a newspaper his admittedly irascible grandfather founded a half-century earlier. "I had my own newspaper, New York Perspectives," recalled Pearlstein. "It was a free weekly I began when I got out of college. We put out 50,000 copies every week on the Upper East and West Side. But in 1993 we sold it to the CFO of Rolling Stone magazine, Jim Dunning Jr. I left the company and got involved in the arts community. I even went back to school and got an MFA at Bill Esper Studios (affiliated with Rutgers) and immersed myself in theatre."
"I wasn't sure if I wanted to go back into publishing," said Pearlstein. "It's very difficult. But I started my own publication instead of taking over Show Business because Leo wanted to sell it with no strings attached. He sold the paper to a British publisher who had no idea how to run a small trade paper. He ran it into the ground in eight months and defaulted on the contract, at which point Leo repossessed everything -- most importantly our trademark."
"Now the smoke is cleared," continued Pearlstein, "and I have to start from scratch. But that's the best thing that could have happened; it's a clean slate. I don't think I'd be able to do this if my grandfather was still alive. Leo was loved, but he had detractors as well. Everything was either his way or no way at all. So it's much easier this way."
Pearlstein couldn't resist looking back with awe and dismay on the later years of his grandfather's reign. "His office was a timewarp. He never threw anything away; a pile of old typewriters was in the corner. But when the new owner got ahold of it, he called me and wanted me to help run the business. I asked for $100,000 and equity in the publication, which he wouldn't hear of. `I'm saving your chestnuts from the fire,' I told him. `I have no chestnuts,' the guy answered. I'll never forget that moment.
"It was not a good time for me. I know I could have helped it [the magazine], saved it. But it's fitting and proper that I'm doing it now. I'm just very grateful and feel a sense of accomplishment now that I can rightfully take hold of this paper."
-- By David Lefkowitz