Just the other day, insiders were predicting to me that the next head on the chopping block at The Hollywood Reporter was going to be Executive Editor Peter Pryor — and today it was. “If anybody had a target on him, he did. I’m surprised he wasn’t first,” the source said. “He’s a decent guy and all that, but he didn’t have a discernible job description and didn’t do a whole lot.” (Well, if that’s going to be the criteria for getting axed, then fire all the editors everywhere!) Pryor (photo, below right; photo credit to Tony Gieske) had been in that job since 2000 and was not only a former editor of Variety but also the son of legendary Tom Pryor, editor-in-chief of Variety in the pre-Cahner’s period. Also out are International General Manager John Burman, Music Editor Chris Morris (who’s being replaced with free content from sister publication Billboard), Chicago-based contributing editor Diane Mermigas (photo, below left) (whom I’ve long thought was very savvy, but apparently didn’t write enough to suit the bosses, though she had a swell Sumner Redstone get recently), and Calendar editor Selena Templeton (basically an editorial assistant, so her salary couldn’t have made much of a difference…) These personnel losses follow Corporate Content VP Matthew King’s voluntary departure and Editorial Director Howard Burns’ involuntary departure. peterpryor.jpg“It’s disturbing because they’re doing it so piecemeal rather than en masse,” a TRH insider explained to me after that duo left before today’s bloodbath. “Sort of like picking people off with a shotgun from a water tower rather than gassing them all at once.” Tonight, that same source told me: “Everyone hopes this is it for a while, but the paranoia quite understandably runs thick.” There’s been upheaval on the publisher side this year, too. Tony Uphoff replaced Robert Dowling as publisher, but then Uphoff announced his departure from the paper in October 2006 after just 9 months in the post. Replacing him from New York was Billboard publisher John Kilcullen. Once upon a time, Dowling turned the trade’s million dollar biz into a $30 mil bonanza, with profit margins in the astronomical 20%-to-30% range. But that was then, and this is now. I’m told some of THR‘s problems date back to the loss of Lynne Segall, the well-connected vice president and associate publisher of The Hollywood Reporter who in June jumped to the LA Times for the newly created position of VP for entertainment advertising. Since then THR ad sales have dropped and the paper isn’t beating its Oscar sales projections. But also the paper is known more for its TV than for movie coverage, which is still an also-ran to Variety. merm.jpgKing, best known for his big picture vision and strategic planning, told a source weeks earlier that he’d had it with spread sheets and bureaucratic bullshit and, in fact, wanted to jump into the non-profit sector. “He’s a dressed-down granola guy,” is how King was described to me. But Burns actually called a late afternoon THR meeting where he, visibly shaken, told staff, “I’m sure you heard the rumors. I’d be lying if I said this was voluntary.” Then THR let him remain at his desk for the rest of the day, which was also his last day. I spoke to several insiders about Burns and it’s very telling that none were sorry to see him go. He was an editor on the desk when Alex Ben Block groomed him to be Mr. Inside to Alex’s Mr. Outside. Burns eventually was promoted up through the ranks so that, when Block left the paper after a successful editorial run that made THR truly competitive with Variety, Howard became new editor-in-chief Anita Busch’s No. 2. But as the combative Busch’s relationship with Dowling began to suffer, Burns more and more had Dowling’s ear. There was no question, after Anita left THR in that blow-up over George Christy, that Burns would get the editor-in-chief’s job. But there was a problem: no one in Hollywood knew who the hell he was. “He never got to know the community because he never attended events,” a source said. littleton.jpgMeanwhile, THR had a great piece of womanpower in prolific writer and editor Cynthia Littleton (photo, right), so when another media outlet made a run at her, she got upped to Burn’s job and Howard was promoted to editorial director. ”Faced with losing her, she got the real job, while Howard was kicked upstairs,” a source explained. Added another insider: “Howard was a nice guy and smart. But he wasn’t big with vision or hands-on editing. All the heavy- and light-lifting had been done by Cynthia for a long time.” As editorial director, Burns didn’t have much impact in his new job. “If they cannot describe what it is you do, that’s always the kiss of death,” one insider explained with a dash of hyperbole. “Peter Bart was the sun, and this guy was the flashlight.” So that’s the real story…

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