N.Y. Times ups ex-critic Rich

New associate editor to help revamp showbiz coverage

The arts coverage of The New York Times is slated for a major overhaul. And Frank Rich, the former theater critic, will play a key role.

The Times has tapped Rich, a 23-year vet at the newspaper, as associate editor.

“Frank is one of the premiere pop-culture commentators in the country, and he also has a strong command of high culture,” executive editor Howell Raines told Daily Variety.

Raines said that the paper’s entertainment industry coverage will be among the many aspects of the cultural department that will be re-examined.

“One of my personal desires is coverage of the entertainment industry that causes our competition to jump,” he said.

Steven Erlanger was brought on in October as cultural news editor; the paper continues to search for an editor for its Sunday Arts & Leisure section.

Several insiders endorsed Rich’s appointment, saying that while it was too early to say what would unfold, the move reps a boon for Erlanger, who was the newspaper’s Berlin’s bureau chief.

In his years as theater critic, Rich tweaked many an ego in the legit community with his barbed assessments. One of the most publicized examples was a feud with David Hare after the playwright wrote a letter condemning Rich’s negative review of “The Secret Rapture.” Variety ran a headline in the Nov. 15, 1989, issue that read “Ruffled Hare Airs Rich Bitch.”

“Frank’s an incredibly powerful force in the department, so why not take the best voice we have and use it to improve the section?” said another top editor.

Rich said it’s time to re-evaluate all aspects of the section — not just the editorial but also such details as layouts and listings.

“We all agree that there’s has to be a tougher, sharper news edge to the section. We want the best writing about the arts in every area,” said Rich. After two months in an advisory capacity, he will supplement his duties with a weekly cultural essay on Sundays.