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Paula Abdul Steps into Reality TV Spotlight


Well, we'll always have Paris. But do we have to have Paula, too? Apparently, TV's Bravo Network thinks so.

Starting tonight it's following Paula Abdul around in a new reality series called "Hey Paula." TV critic Andrew Wallenstein is not amused.

ANDREW WALLENSTEIN: The formula seems simple. Take one star, add two or three cameramen, mix them all together and voila - you've got a great reality show. But the endless parade of entries in this subgenre have a very mixed track record. For every masterpiece like VH1's "Breaking Bonaduce," there's at least five snoozers and "Hey Paula" is among them.

Now, that might seem odd. How could a former child star like Danny Bonaduce compare with Paula Abdul, one of the famous faces on TV today? Well, here's the thing. It's not about how big a celebrity you are. In fact, that's probably the very thing that works against Abdul, because, as we learned in "Hey Paula," the life of a big star is non-stop work.

In this scene, she recounts her hectic schedule.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Hey Paula")

Ms. PAULA ABDUL (Singer): The next 48 hours are going to be insane. I've got the Grammy Awards tonight. And as soon as they end, I have to run, get in the limo, drive to LAX, catch the red-eye to Philly. Once I'm in, I go directly to QBC(ph) to plan for my 1:00 AM show. Most people's days are 24 hours; mine are 48. Welcome to Paula time.

WALLENSTEIN: That's pretty much a day in the life of Abdul, which is to say she has no life outside her job. Even the people the show presents as her closest confidants are all on her payroll. And that amounts to a violation in the unspoken transaction that takes place between viewer and star in celebrity reality. The viewers allow the star to blatantly promote his or herself in exchange for some measure of truly personal self-disclosure.

Bonaduce nailed that notion, allowing cameras to document how his many addictions were destroying his family life. He let us in on more than just his work, which isn't to say it's impossible to depict the balance of life and work.

Comedian Kathy Griffin does it really well in her own Bravo show, "My Life on the D-List." Though a lot of it is devoted to her life on the road, she also really opens up about her personal issues - from her recent failed marriage to her diet battles. In this scene, Kathy turns to her parents for a little dating advice.

(Soundbite of TV show, "My Life on the D-List")

Ms. KATHY GRIFFIN (Actress): You know, now that I'm dating again, which I never thought I would…

Unidentified Man: Yeah.

Ms. GRIFFIN: …or wanted to, but what advice do you have for me?

Unidentified Woman: Oh gee, I don't know.

Unidentified Man: Could we get a little list for her? We'll think about it.

Ms. GRIFFIN: What's your list? Benny Goodman, Art Carney.

Unidentified Man: No. Sean Hannity. What a son he'd make.

Unidentified Woman: Oh, a perfect son.

Ms. GRIFFIN: Put a gun to my head.

Unidentified Woman: No, no, no. He'd be a wonderful son.

Ms. GRIFFIN: It would be a murder-murder-suicide. I'd kill you, then Sean Hannity, then myself. My parents have…

WALLENSTEIN: There's plenty more celebrity reality coming this summer - from soccer star David Beckham's wife Victoria to forgotten actor Scott Baio. They should learn from their predecessors that, when a celebrity actually shares his or her life, it's very compelling. And therein lies the problem for Abdul. She apparently has no life to share.

(Soundbite of song, "Straight Up")

Ms. ABDUL: (Singing) I've been a fool before. Wouldn't like to get my love caught in the slammin' door…

BROOKS: TV critic Andrew Wallenstein is an editor for the Hollywood Reporter. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Andrew Wallenstein
Andrew Wallenstein is the television critic for NPR's Day to Day. He is also an editor at The Hollywood Reporter, where he covers television and digital media out of Los Angeles. Wallenstein is also the co-host of the weekly TV Guide Channel series Square Off. His essay on Holocaust films was published in Best Jewish Writing 2003 (Jossey-Bass), and he has also written for The New York Times, The Boston Globe and Business Week. He has a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.
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