'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
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
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.