While some reality shows bludgeon you with repeated mentions of their fabulous rewards (that means you, “Top Model”), NBC's “I Want to Be a Hilton” has been remarkably dodgy about its so-called prize.
“Hilton” hopefuls vied for a $200,000 “trust fund” (which is funny, because I think of trust funds as money you don’t get to touch) plus a year of living expenses in Manhattan. You’d never know it, of course, because the show is almost silent about specifics, even on its Web site.
That’s nothing to sniff at, assuming that “living expenses” aren't based on the personal budget of the average New York editorial assistant. But the way the show’s 14 hopefuls have dreamily waxed about the chance to “live like a Hilton,” you’d think Kathy Hilton was surrendering her own personal black book and handing out invitations to party with P. Diddy.
As Newsweek recently disclosed , being a Hilton may involve lots of time in the public eye, but it doesn't exactly come with the Warren Buffett-like riches the show would have you believe. (Though “I Want to Be a Buffett,” complete with tawdry exposés of the Omaha A-list, just might work.)
So why are these miserable shlubs so desperate for acceptance by a family now primarily known for its elder daughter’s unauthorized video sex romps? About the time that contestant Ann, the former Miss Tampa, tried unsuccessfully to charm Kathy with her a cappella version of “Wind Beneath My Wings,” I began to realize that the contestants might be fibbing a bit about the alleged misery they suffered before the Hiltonian spotlight of fame shined on them. Being a bartender at a Steve Wynn hotel in Vegas or a Californian fashionista — do these sound like they're tortures worthy of Job? And since Jackaay had enough class that you sensed she might use the show's prize wisely, why did she need to constantly need to remind us about her trailer-park roots?
Slideshow: Celebrity Sightings Kathy's tutelage was supposed to turn these poor unwashed hopefuls into models of fine living. But her few tidbits of advice (show up for an 8:00 dinner party at ... 8:10!) paled in comparison to the wisdom of the sommeliers and party planners she enlisted as filler for most of each show's midsection. To their credit, most of the guest cameos looked classy. Lennox Lewis was gracious enough to impart a few good words about sportsmanship, even if they went unheeded.
The show lacked candor — aside from that one moment when Long Island chatterbox Jules asked Kathy how she felt when “the tape” came out. Mama Hilton proved her queen-bee status with a tactful explanation about keeping your head high and moving on, but who ever decided that the Hilton family should be official tour guides to New York's social stratosphere? And what was up with that fake little exercise about teaching the wannabes to handle the “media”? They should be so lucky as to face a squadron of paparazzi.
All about Paris
For that matter, wasn't it odd that Paris, reality diva that she is, would be all but absent from her own mother's show? I think it's a sign of Paris' true savvy that she steered clear of this train wreck. Because even by summer-replacement standards, “Hilton” seemed hacked together; Kathy suffered from a case of dubbing so bad that last season’s “Apprentice” looks like Kurosawa directed it. And who's to blame? I noticed that Hilton patriarch Rick stayed behind the cameras, earning his executive producer credit.
Kathy & Co. may want to fade into the background after Tuesday’s finale, because frankly … it’s all about Paris. You may be the envy of the Upper East Side, the big catch of every party A-list but it’s the eldest Hilton daughter who we can't stop thinking about, even if we don't respect her in the morning. She is, after all, the one who demonstrated that with enough tact, you can turn your Internet-exposed private parts into a career boost.
Paris herself said it best when she told Newsweek that she’s become a “brand.” You can lay even money that she’ll re-emerge on the other side of her Paris-squared engagement as a shining star in the Celebriverse with a bright movie career (no thanks to “Pledge This!”). Her exact claim to fame may be dubious, but you could say the same about Pam Anderson — who was never fortunate enough to attend the Kathy Hilton School of Etiquette.
Since Kathy’s been so gracious as to share her secrets of social success, we figured we’d return the favor with a few humble suggestions on how to improve Hilton TV:
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1) “Family show” means more than just you. No fair leaving Paris, Nicky and hubby Rick in the shadows as you're placed center stage. We tuned in because we wanted to see how the Hilton family functions behind closed doors. You gave us poorly edited pap.
2) Reality shows aren’t about dignity. We didn’t want to see a bunch of smack-talking, back-biting cheeseheads dine on caviar and sip Champagne. We want to see them be humiliated, Trump-style, in clown suits and Domino’s outfits. The challenges on “Hilton” were pretty C-grade, the sort of thing that even Nicole Richie couldn't screw up. How inept must your competitors have been to not grasp the intricacies of rowing a boat?!?
3) When the Vegas showgirl shows up … run! If the rest of us could tell from first glance that Yvette was nothing but trouble (remember this was a big promotion from her previous reality gig on “Single in Vegas”), how come you never took her to task for basically screwing her teammates and then lying about it? Reality shows have their own sort of social justice, including a mandate for all hussies to get the occasional smackdown.
Slideshow: Paris Hilton
4) Don’t ditch the hunk with manners.
4) Don’t ditch the hunk with manners.JW may have been playing the country-boy card a bit heavy, but he had the right mix of swagger and charm. (Remember his “Naked Cowboy” in the fashion show?) He’s the exact kind of guy who could succeed in New York, if given the chance, certainly more than wet-blanket Jaret. Yet you picked Jaret to win it all.
5) In case no one mentioned ... your daughter is hot. A Hilton family show without Paris is like a celebrity drunkfest without Tara Reid . I really hate to bring this up, Kathy, but … we love watching your daughter on screen. A brief Paris interlude in each episode could have scored you a few extra share points.
There is a happy ending here. The Hiltons' latest reality-TV gambit was a failure, but unlike Bobby and Whitney, they'll be be just fine without all that face-time on camera. So let’s all raise a glass to Kathy, who probably will have to spend all next spring in the Hamptons straightening out the bent noses her show caused among the polo set.
Then let’s tune in “The Simple Life,” because at least one Hilton knows what makes good TV. Brand or no, we’ll always have Paris.
MSNBC.com lifestyle editor Jon Bonné wonders if ‘living expenses in Manhattan’ include the broker's fee.
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