- A new 4-part Showtime documentary series dishes on the queens and kings of New York gossip columns: Cindy Adams, Liz Smith, George Rush, and Richard Johnson.
- “Gossip” premieres on Showtime beginning August 22 at 8 p.m. EST.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Mere gossip is anything but.
A Showtime documentary series debuting on Sunday, appropriately entitled “Gossip,” dishes on the power and punch of gossip and the people behind the items and columns – the tattling royalty of New York newspapers like Cindy Adams, Liz Smith, George Rush, and Richard Johnson.
The four-part series kicks off with media magnate Rupert Murdoch’s 1976 purchase of the New York Post, planting his first foothold in U.S. journalism by parlaying titillating gossip and scandals to drive up circulation at the conservative tabloid and leaving few celebrities, politicians and bigwigs untouched.
It follows the path of the gossip business through its heady days of sensational newspaper scoops and scandals over the decades before the internet and social media made columns and their authors largely obsolete and indelibly rearranged the landscape.
Along the way, gossip became a catalyst, a weapon even, that could foster fame, ruin reputations and make or break careers. Gossip pages could be deployed to spin stories, win attention merited or not, plant rumors that did not quite qualify as news and boost up-and-comers into boldface names.
“Gossip is frequently disparaged, but the trashy stuff connects to the bigger picture, and we ignore it at our peril,” says Ben Widdicombe, a former columnist for the Post’s Page Six gossip column that Murdoch created, on the series.
Leading the chattering charge is Adams, the sassy, glamorous and undisputed queen of tabloid buzz. At 91, Adams still turns out a column chock full of tidbits, more than 50 years after she first landed on the Post’s front page with an exclusive interview with the newly ousted Shah of Iran.
Adams at the time had enviable access to the world of the international rich and powerful, thanks to her husband Joey Adams, a comedian and ubiquitous toastmaster who traveled in swanky circles.
Undergoing cancer treatment at a New York City hospital swarming with inquisitive reporters and angry protesters seeking his return to Iran to face justice before the Ayatollah Khomeini, the shah was willing to talk to his old friend Cindy Adams, and her writeup of their conversation got her an unpaid but career-making story and, eventually, a full time job.
Five hundred front pages later, by Adams’s count, she has unearthed gossip on the rich and famous from Donald Trump to Woody Allen, Princess Diana and Leona Helmsley to Lindsay Lohan. All are delivered in Adams’ distinctively brash, unapologetic style.
“I’m New York,” Adams says on the Showtime documentary. “You don’t like it? Go screw yourself. Buy another paper. They’re not going to read me in Roanoke, West Virginia.”
A voice off-camera can be heard suggesting that Roanoke is, in fact, in Virginia.
“What’s the difference,” Adams replies.
“Gossip” director Jenny Carchman calls Adams “the last one standing.”
“There’s no one doing what she does. Everybody’s on their phones, everybody’s on the internet, celebrities don’t need columnists at all,” said Carchman in an interview with “Business Insider.”
In the course of the documentary series, “what you come to see is how 24-hour news and the internet and Monica Lewinsky all converged at the same time, and it changes the way news operates,” she said.
“It collapses news and entertainment into one thing, and it also diminishes the need not just for the actual newspaper … but also it diminishes a whole population of people which are called gossip columnists.”
Plans for the series were made pre-COVID by Brian Grazer and Ron Howard’s Imagine Documentaries, and the onset of the pandemic meant the creators were forced to rely on archives, interviews and historical video footage rather than capturing the gossip process live.
“They couldn’t get me at a gala. They couldn’t get me at a red carpet,” Adams fretted to Insider. “They couldn’t get me backstage. They couldn’t get me interviewing a celebrity. They couldn’t get me at a party.”
The series entertains with infighting among gossip’s elite players like legend Liz Smith, George Rush and Joanna Malloy who penned a 15-year column at New York’s Daily News and longtime Page Six editor Richard Johnson. It delves into the masterful manipulations by Trump and Harvey Weinstein to the current reality of celebrities who can tell their own stories on Twitter, Instagram and TikTok. Through it all is the extraordinary power of Murdoch, whose beloved gossip-fueled New York Post in America helped seat him at the helm of an unrivalled global media empire.
“Who’s the great figure in American journalism in the last 25 years? It’s not Ben Bradlee. It’s not Woodward and Bernstein. It’s not Kay Graham. It’s Murdoch. He’s changed the whole agenda of what is news,” Carl Bernstein says in a clip of an interview with Charlie Rose used in the series.
Carchman made “Gossip” after directing and producing “The Fourth Estate,” about The New York Times in the Trump era, for Showtime, gaining respect for the value of gossip alongside more lofty journalism along the way.
“I went from national security reporters and White House reporters at ‘The New York Times’ to the gossip page, which is really where people get their sea legs reporting,” she said.
“The currency of gossip can be used in such a way that may possibly be more powerful than we think,” she said. “Every story starts with gossip, every story.”
“Gossip” premieres on Showtime beginning August 22 at 8 p.m. EST.