David Pecker Holds Court; David Zaslav Jumps the Shark

It’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.

“Two years ago when William and Kate got married the special issue of People sold 2 million copies but last week’s issue with the royal couple and the baby on their cover sold 1.1,” he  said. “The Star reader is really interested in what it’s like at home with Kate and the baby and what the nursery looks like.” But can those juicy details actually be uncovered? “Everyone has their sources,” David told me. And besides, “The royal family never come out and deny anything.”

But this is not your grandmother’s or even your mother’s Star or Enquirer. With David at the helm, the Star’s demos have changed considerably with readers falling into the 25-45 demo competing head-to-head with People. “When I bought the Enquirer in 1999 I wanted to ‘legitimize’ (the coverage),” David told me. “I wanted to get rid of the stigma of ‘It’s not true.’ We have three independent sources on every story and have had no lawsuits. We don’t ‘create’ stories unless we have something.” Luckily, there are plenty of gifts that keeping on giving like the Kardashian clan (Star averages at least one cover a month on one of the publicity-shy sisters and their momager). And when it comes to the royal family, there’s plenty of fodder. David explained the difference in the coverage across his brands this way: “The Star readers only want to read good things about Kate; they like her. The Globe reader despises Charles and Camilla and The Enquirer reader is really just interested in the news. Bill and Hillary Clinton are their royalty.”  Speaking of the Clintons, does he think Anthony Weiner, whose wedding was officiated by Bill Clinton, is Enquirer material? “With everything that has come out, yes.” Carlos Danger, you’ve been warned.