TALES FROM TINSELTOWN: Hollywood publicists shop for coverage thisholiday season

'Tis the season to be thankful, and some Tinseltown publicists have

more to be thankful for than others. Those involved in Harry Potter,

Ocean's 11 or Ali are positively giddy. The media is gobbling up morsels

on these films like my Uncle Iggy turned loose at Thanksgiving

dinner.



However, these are lean times for publicists hawking lower-profile

celebs and minor entertainment projects. One publicist I spoke to says

she can't get her clients arrested. (Helpful hint: see my recent column

on Gene Hackman.) I was asked not to use her name because she represents

mostly "B" celebrities and doesn't want word getting out that she

considers them to be stars of any less than galactic magnitude.



I view all celebrities as huge, owing to Jean Claude Van Damme (in

pre-hyphen era) having once informed me pointedly that there are no

small stars, only ineffective publicists.



Relaying her pitching woes, the frustrated flack told me, "At this time

of year I usually have success getting clients on the morning news

programs and syndicated talk shows. This season, the war coverage is

shutting me out. There's less room for cultural stories, and if you're

not offering a major star, forget it."



Statistics bear her out. A recent survey conducted by the Project for

Excellence in Journalism found that celebrity/lifestyle stories on the

morning news shows in October dropped by close to 50% compared to last

summer. The study also indicates that celebrity/lifestyle stories, which

comprised 25% of the content of network evening newscasts in June, have

virtually disappeared.



With this downturn in entertainment coverage, smart publicists are

jumping on the hard-news bandwagon by promoting their clients'

involvement in war or disaster relief efforts. The new USO Tour garnered

terrific coverage on Entertainment Tonight, and brought a few old-school

entertainers more attention than they've received since attending Ol'

Blue Eyes' funeral.



I'm not implying that's why they participate - celebrities like Wayne

Newton already have all the money and fame they need - but savvy

publicists are generally not inclined to let such valuable ink

opportunities pass by.



Still, it is unquestionably the Hollywood heavyweights who are occupying

most of the shrunken feature story space in the current crisis-consumed

media. Barbara Walters, for example, recently devoted an entire hour to

the cast of Ocean's 11, and a multitude of other programs have tripped

over themselves covering Harry Potter mania.



The Warner Bros. publicity department, which underwent a major overhaul

this spring, and was criticized as ineffective by the trade industry

paper Daily Variety, is enjoying sweet revenge with Potter and Ocean's.

Nothing like a couple of fastballs down the middle to get your

confidence back, and the Warner publicists are determined to hit both of

them out of the park.



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