the industry

‘Is He Going to Ruin My Day?’

How Matthew Belloni became the must-read columnist for Hollywood’s executive class.

Matthew Belloni at his home office in Los Angeles with his dog, Oliver. Photo: Maggie Shannon
Matthew Belloni at his home office in Los Angeles with his dog, Oliver. Photo: Maggie Shannon

The Hollywood journalist Matthew Belloni was seated in a crowded theater at the Toronto International Film Festival when someone called him with a tip. “Make it quick, I’m at a screening,” he said into the phone. Belloni was at A24’s premiere for the re-release of Stop Making Sense, and he had muscled his way into the good seats, one row in front of David Byrne. (“We’re not supposed to be in these,” he whispered to me. “This is one of those situations where you just have to act like you know what you’re doing.”) On the call, he learned that Endeavor, one of the largest entertainment groups in the country, would spin off the UFC and merge it with the WWE, another American megabrand, to create a new public company. The deal is significant, later reported to be worth $21 billion. Thousands of jobs are baked into the transaction; a few rich executives stand to get even richer. The lights dimmed as he put away his phone. “WWE is going public tomorrow,” he told me. “What am I going to do with that? We won’t publish another newsletter until Thursday.”

The newsletter in question, Puck’s What I’m Hearing, with 15,000 paid subscribers (and 35,000 more unpaid ones who can only read snippets), has steadily become the go-to chronicle of Hollywood, a must-read among the entertainment power elite, those who aspire to join its ranks, and many whose livelihood depend on that elite. “They are like religion to me,” says Mark Shapiro, Endeavor’s president, of Belloni’s missives. Published twice a week, What I’m Hearing is a rap sheet chronicling the industry horse race: who’s up, who’s down, what’s happening, what’s being talked about. “You never quite know what Matt’s about to say,” says Brooks Barnes, who covers Hollywood for the New York Times. “I open each newsletter and immediately wonder, ‘Is he going to ruin my day?’” Belloni also hosts a podcast for Spotify and The Ringer, The Town, an inside-baseball program that’s similarly patronized in the biz. Netflix chief Ted Sarandos and the super-agent Rich Paul have both appeared as guests.

Every show-business era has its inside voice, who in some capacity helps shape the world it covers: Parsons and Hopper, who invented the spectacle of celebrity gossip in the early 20th century; Nikki Finke, the tempestuous Deadline founder who waged a holy war on the town’s egos. Unlike other high-profile Hollywood columns of the past, What I’m Hearing is centered on the structures of the business. Belloni was first to break the news that the French billionaire (and Salma Hayek’s husband) François-Henri Pinault was looking to acquire a majority stake in CAA, months before the eventual $7 billion deal was announced by mainstream publications in September. He was part of the scrum around Scooter Braun’s client exodus last summer, simply writing on X: “NEWS: Ariana Grande has parted ways with Scooter Braun as her manager. 👀👀”. Sometimes, his scoops come in the form of throwaways, like a recent one-liner revealing NBC’s intent to reboot The Office.

But Belloni’s scoops themselves don’t necessarily move much. His power is in constructing a sense, if not the impression, that he’s showing you how things actually work behind the scenes. “Nobody in town knows what the fuck is going on,” he says. “They just don’t. And that lack of confidence creates a need for independent voices.” One of his first major columns surfaced the corporate chicanery that resulted in Yellowstone, the most-watched show on linear cable, being notoriously difficult to watch on-demand. In Belloni’s framing, it was the “story of modern Hollywood,” the outcome of a process defined by egos, fear, and mismanagement that represents a huge missed opportunity for Paramount, a studio on life support. Recent weeks have seen Shari Redstone, whose family controls Paramount, administering its last rites; the company announced layoffs and budget cuts as it seeks a new owner, on the shortlist of which is Skydance, the production house led by the tech magnate Larry Ellison’s son. Belloni broke that story too. (Byron Allen has also emerged as an increasingly serious contender.) With a distinct explanatory interest in boardroom mess, Belloni can plausibly make a claim to being the voice for a Hollywood era of financialization, labor action, and potential decline. “We’re at the beginning of the end times,” he tells me. “The business is almost certainly going to be less profitable, smaller, and more niche.”

Belloni writes the way he speaks: chatty, a little bitchy, like a know-it-all parent. In person, he favors a prosecutorial way of speaking owing to his past life as a lawyer, where he worked at a Santa Monica firm specializing in entertainment disputes for a half-decade before jumping into the trade-magazine world. Unlike the trades, his newsletters are also peppered with the petty dramas of powerful people, and he’s developed a set of favored targets. Among them are Adam Aron, the cartoonish AMC Theaters CEO whose reign is defined by memestock absurdity and, more recently, getting caught up in an R-rated blackmail scandal. “His public persona is as a complete jackass,” says Belloni. “He’s a constant source of comedy.” He blames Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy for Star Wars’ contemporary languor. “The easy choices will no longer cut it,” he wrote last October. “That’s what Kennedy, a seasoned moviemaker who has been playing it safe for years, likely knows well — and it probably terrifies her.” He’s advised Kennedy to let go of the Star Wars franchise multiple times. “The trades would never say that,” he tells me. “Even though there hasn’t been a Star Wars movie in five years.”

In his view, Hollywood’s decline is the result of big personalities coming up short and a creative community disconnected from everyday people. But sometimes his targets feel personal. He seems to hold particular contempt for Kelly Bush Novak, the powerful public-relations impresario with clients like Christopher Nolan and Serena Williams, whom he has called a “shady publicist” in the newsletter. “I have been lied to by her many times and I’ve caught her in lies,” Belloni tells me. “I used to have to deal with her because I had to book 40 covers a year, and now I don’t have to.” (“That’s his opinion, and he’s entitled to it,” Novak counters. “Anyone who knows me knows that’s the opposite of who I am.”)

“Matt operates as an insider’s insider. You get the sense that the big agents and executives are always calling him on the phone.” Photo: Maggie Shannon

Belloni began his media career as a legal columnist at The Hollywood Reporter, where he swiftly became a protégé of Janice Min, who was widely credited for turning what was a struggling trade into a glossy publication. He took over as top editor in 2017; the MeToo movement began a few months later. Under Belloni’s watch, THR set up a tip line, and editors would tackle a number of follow-up stories, including an exposé that took down Kevin Tsujihara, then the CEO of Warner Bros. Entertainment, over allegations of sexual impropriety. Throughout his time there, he also grew tired of “absorbing the bullshit” that comes with running a Hollywood trade, a fatigue that informs his contemporary energy as a zinger-happy columnist. Belloni recalls producing a roundtable with Julia Roberts during which she was “awful,” fulfilling what he says is her “reputation around town” for being “mean” to people. “You’d never know that from the press, and you’d never know it from that roundtable,” he says. “And now I don’t have to care about Julia Roberts’s publicist. Well, I guess I will now, when she calls and screams at me.” (Roberts’s publicist declined to comment.)

In April 2020, Belloni resigned from THR after clashing with the publication’s parent company at the time, the film-and-television production studio MRC (then known as Valence Media), when the owners tried pushing for more favorable coverage of projects tied to the company. Within a year, he’d launched What I’m Hearing under Puck, the media start-up led by Graydon Carter acolyte Jon Kelly, featuring a newly unleashed Belloni as a founding partner and the first voice of the new company. His move to Puck comes at a moment when the media business, not unlike Hollywood, is going through an accelerating decline underscored by layoffs and closures. Being a start-up, Puck is an inherently risky proposition, but Belloni’s involvement comes with notable upsides. He gets a piece of the action if it gets sold, and should Belloni decide to leave Puck before then, he gets to take the newsletter with him.

Belloni’s ascent has inevitably inspired comparisons to Nikki Finke, arguably the last major Hollywood columnist who demanded the attention of the town (or its executives, at least). When she died in 2022, tributes focused on the way she threatened and bullied sources — studio execs, publicists, fellow journalists, A-list talent — into submission. (“Nikki was a terrorist,” Belloni says.) But whereas Finke possessed an outsider’s anger against the historically cozy nature of entertainment journalism, Belloni is generally liked and respected by the people he reports on, perhaps even accepted as a kind of executive-level peer. This posture is part of what has made him a complicated figure in an era of rising labor movements. During last year’s strikes, Belloni proved willing to criticize the guilds in a way few other journalists felt was worth incurring social media backlash. “Let showrunners staff their own damn rooms,” he wrote in an August issue, attacking a key WGA demand on minimum staffing requirements. (It would later unequivocally win on this point.)

“#WGA members, just don’t listen to Matt Belloni,” wrote Liz Hsiao Lan Alper, a striking writer, on X. “Belloni has posted actual falsehoods in his articles, and seems more interested in clicks than responsible journalism.” (Alper did not provide examples in the thread. She did not respond to a request for comment.) In a WhatsApp group maintained during the strike, which was populated by over 400 WGA members, he was often referred to as “baloney.”

“Matt operates as an insider’s insider,” says Adam Conover, a comedian, television creator, and member of the guild’s negotiating committee. “You get the sense that the big agents and executives are always calling him on the phone, and he’s writing down what they say. His coverage missed the forest for the trees in many cases.” He points to the minimum staffing issue: Where Belloni saw an easy concession, the guild saw a mechanism preventing studios from eliminating writers’ rooms altogether. “To his credit, he had me on the podcast twice and allowed me to lovingly kick his ass about it,” he says.

One could chalk this up to the nature of Belloni’s services. The newsletters are written for paying audiences, executives among them. “I’m not affected,” Belloni says of the criticism. “I write it in a way that I hope it’s accessible to average people, but I don’t care about that at all. Executives pay for the newsletter. So it’s a totally different mind-set.” He books them on his podcast year-round, and on occasion, he convenes off-the-records gatherings with them to discuss the business. That fundamental alignment underscores Belloni’s singular position in Hollywood. Enough of an outsider to feel comfortable snarking on the power elite, enough of an insider to invite them to dinners. “That’s another difference between me and Nikki Finke,” he says. “I never write anything that I wouldn’t say to your face.”

‘Is He Going to Ruin My Day?’