Variety pens boffo script for future biz

Cover of a recent issue of Variety, the Hollywood industry Bible.

(CBS News) Oscar night has traditionally been big news for Variety, the show business paper that got its start covering the variety shows of the vaudeville era. But Variety now faces some stiff competition from a VARIETY of Internet sites. Here's Ben Tracy:

For more than a century, Variety has played a starring role in the entertainment industry. It's been a must-read for every mover, shaker, and Muppet in Hollywood. Carl Reiner once said: "A morning without Variety is like a morning without coffee."

Editor in chief Tim Gray calls Variety "a small town newspaper," the small town being Hollywood. "The people that we're writing about are the people who are the readers, and they're also the advertisers," he said.

What kind of role has the Bible of showbiz played in the history of Hollywood? "Variety printed the first movie review in 1907," said Gray, "which was very early, with a little note saying, 'Hey, this is an interesting new art form. So we thought we'd review some of this stuff.'"

The publication began by covering vaudeville in New York City in 1905. There was also a new theatre scene referred to as "Broadway."

As the entertainment industry eventually shifted west, so did Variety, launching a daily in 1933 based in Los Angeles covering Hollywood.

For aspiring stars, a mention in its pages was a sign you had arrived.

"You know, the worst thing is to run a photo that's unflattering, and seriously in their mind that is the worst thing you could do," saud Gray. "Second worst thing: spell their name wrong or get their title wrong."

In 107 years, Variety has covered it all: the Titanic when it sank in 1912, and then 86 years later when it rose to become the first billion-dollar blockbuster ("$1 bil, and still no iceberg").

In 1929 sound supplanted silent films ("What sound has done"). In 1940 records had radio on the run ("Boom in pop music biz"). In 1950 video killed the vaudeville star ("Video now vaude's villian").

By 1984, home video recording had Hollywood reeling ("Hollywood loses to Betamax").

Over time Variety also invented its own language. "The Oxford English Dictionary attributes about two dozen terms to Variety," said Gray. "All the terms that at Variety we call 'slanguage.' It was kind of sassy and it was kind of like insider's language."

One of Variety's most famous headlines. Variety

Among the terms coined by the trade: sitcom; striptease; punchline; sleeper (surprise hit); boffo (outstanding performance at the box office); ankle (to quit or be fired); blurb (commercial); crix (critics); horse opera (western); and ozoner (drive-in theater).

Variety used its unique language skills in its most famous headline in 1935: "Sticks nix hick pix." Translation? Farmers don't like movies about farming.

The paper is still printed and delivered every day. Yet like an aging leading lady, it's being replaced by young starlets on the Internet. Blogs such as and The Wrap send a steady stream of industry news to mobile devices.