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David Carr

I'm in Love. Why Shouldn't I Be Paid?

Published: June 20, 2005

ROMANCE is not dead in Hollywood. It has just become another profit center.

Celebrities who for years watched as their hook-ups, both real and imagined, fueled dozens of magazines and televisions shows are figuring out that the right two hearts beating in unison can sound an awful lot like a cash register.

Last week, "Britney and Kevin: Chaotic," tracing their relationship from transparent lust to fecund resolution, concluded its season on UPN. The show seems enormously intrusive, with cameras practically jammed up the couple's noses as they courted and mated.

But access was not an issue: according to the credits, the show was conceived, produced and photographed by Britney Spears and Kevin Federline. What's more, their baby made its global premiere as a telltale bump clutched by Ms. Spears in "Someday (I Will Understand)," her new music video that was part of the season finale.

The week before, Brad Pitt, in an interview with Diane Sawyer in Africa, wagged a finger at a prurient media riveted by his relationship with his "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" co-star, Angelina Jolie, but with no time for victims of famine. The same week, a 58-page photo spread came out in W magazine showing the stars in a cheeky romp as a married couple in the 60's.

Had Mr. Pitt been victimized anew? Hardly. He conceived the project and owns (with the photographer, Steven Klein) the international syndication rights, which magazine executives estimate will eventually bring in millions.

At the end of the month, Bobby Brown, serial offender, and his wife, Whitney Houston, fresh out of rehab, will star in "Being Bobby Brown" on Bravo, in what promises to be a televised train wreck that Mr. Brown's company is helping to produce.

Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, having decided to spend their lives together, felt compelled to share the good news immediately last week in a full-on news conference before cheering journalists.

Add in Jessica-and-Nick and B-list names too numerous to count, and its apparent that in a mediated age, nothing quite says "I love you" like a well-managed and potentially lucrative rollout. And while stars have always used the sizzle of romance to add to their own allure, they are no longer dependent on the fickle attentions of the press.

With stars regaining a measure of media custody over their romantic lives, a delicate ecosystem years in the making is in the midst of significant disruption. Historically, stars submitted to fee-free but well-managed scrutiny.

THE traditional kabuki practiced by monthly magazines (no need to name names here, but Vanity Fair leaps to mind) went like this: agent O.K.'s writer, writer shows up for latte at the Chateau Marmont, subject is "surprisingly open" and has found "a new serenity," all the while revealing nothing save the excellence of subject's current project.

That system is pretty much kaput. It may have been Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones who touched off the new paradigm when they sold the rights to their wedding photographs for more than $1 million to OK! magazine, only to have a rival British magazine, Hello!, publish unauthorized photos. They sued in 2003, claiming, oddly enough, that their privacy had been invaded.

The weeklies here reconfigured their end of the bargain, too, using unposed photography, and stars soon found themselves staring at pictures of themselves taking out the garbage or wolfing down a hamburger. Readers want the down-low, the juicy, the not-yet-known, and they are more than happy to have scrappy weekly magazines serve as their intrusive proxies. As the game has changed, stars have begun to play ball subtly, trotting out their baby for an exclusive so the rest of the digital hyenas will give it a rest.

The explosion of celebrity-oriented weeklies - People still leads the pack, Us magazine went weekly to huge effect with a fizzy celebrity mix in 2000 and was soon followed by In Touch, a reconfigured Star magazine, and others for a total of over seven million weekly readers - has made the scrum for photos intense. And nothing is more valuable than a budding romance, especially between stars who have other involvements. Us Weekly paid $500,000 for a photo of Ms. Jolie and Mr. Pitt on a beach in Africa a few weeks ago.

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Photo: Valentine, 2000
Photo: Valentine, 2000