No one does buzz better than Tina Brown. But even Brown was
surprised by the amount of publicity that greeted the launch of her new
magazine, Talk, this month. ’It’s had a great reaction,’ she says,
sipping a can of Diet Coke through a straw. ’So much better than I could
have ever hoped.’
Brown is a celebrity in her own right and an experienced hand at being
interviewed. She falls easily into a recitation of the Talk magazine
party line. But when she talks of ’a launch that I could never have even
imagined would be this great,’ she’s not exaggerating.
Brown is no stranger to publicity. Putting a naked, pregnant Demi Moore
on the cover of Vanity Fair caused a sensation. Printing a special
mid-week edition of the New Yorker when Princess Diana died caused more.
And her resignation as editor of the New Yorker was the lead story not
only in the New York tabloids, but even in the Gray Lady herself, the
New York Times.
The launch of Talk eclipsed all of that. The launch party alone made
three New York Post front pages. (Andy Warhol was the only artist ever
to have two front pages of the Post - one when he was shot, and one when
he died. So, by that standard, Tina’s bigger than Andy.) The interview
with Hillary Clinton was the top topic on the political talk shows for
two successive weekends. Brown had interviews in all the major
newspapers, as well as TV’s top-rated 20/20 news magazine. (It should be
noted that the show is on Disney-owned ABC and Disney owns Miramax,
which owns half of Talk.)
But for all the hype, Talk is still a small start-up operation.
Miramax’s Harvey Weinstein is as famous for his tight-fistedness as
Conde Nast’s Si Newhouse is for his profligacy. Talk’s 57th Street
offices are poky and unbranded.
Brown’s own office is surprisingly small, maybe 15 feet by 10. It has
one window with an uninspired view south over midtown. The Statue of
Liberty, however, is just about visible in the distance.
Brown has put a great deal of effort into Talk. When at the New Yorker,
her propensity for tearing the entire issue up at the last minute was
legendary. By all accounts, such behaviour is even more pronounced at
’The exciting thing about starting something from scratch is that you
have a great deal invested,’ Brown says. ’It’s a very personal thing, to
build a staff up, hand-pick them from all over, groom them and grow and
promote them. It’s very gratifying now that the magazine’s out.’
They say all celebrities are smaller in real life, and Brown is no
But it’s not only in height that she’s more disarming than her
reputation would suggest. When she speaks, she looks directly at you,
with steely grey-green eyes which defy you to doubt her. The monstrous
figure of lore, striding down the New Yorker’s corridors in her Manolo
Blahnik stilettos, surrounded by sycophantic PRs and PAs, is hard to
reconcile with the cream-suited figure at Talk.
Which is not to say that Brown has lost any ambition. She clearly dreams
that Talk - her baby from cover to cover - will be her most successful
project yet. ’When I took over Vanity Fair,’ she recalls, ’people kind
of forget that the discussion at that point was not if it was going to
fold, but when it was going to fold. I was the third editor in eight
months.’ She took the magazine’s circulation from 300,000 to 1.2
The initial print run for the launch issue of Talk was one million;
hoped-for sales were 500,000. As it was, within a week Hearst (co-owner
of the magazine, with Miramax) was printing another 300,000 copies to
keep up with demand.
’People didn’t necessarily know they wanted something,’ Brown says, ’but
I think that when you produce something that is entertaining, smart,
fresh and new, they will want it, and they have responded very, very
She has ambitious plans for Talk’s circulation: ’I think we’d like to
build towards a million as quickly as we can. I think that with this
kind of start, we’re well positioned.’