On Aug. 4, the E! channel will use this kind of material for the first of 13 episodes of The Anna Nicole Show, a half-hour reality program about the former Playboy Playmate of the Year and Guess? model, now 34, who, assuming the final appeal of her inheritance case goes her way, will receive $88 million from her late nonagenarian billionaire husband, whom she met while dancing at a strip club. The Phantom Menace didn't have this much back story.
E! is the first of many networks to realize, in an Osbournes-inspired epiphany, that the only thing better than watching the real lives of ordinary people is watching the real lives of celebrities. VH1, which failed in its attempts to sign Tommy Lee to 24-hour surveillance, plans to announce a Liza Minnelli reality series. Later this week MTV aims to unveil a P. Diddy reality show. Cybill Shepherd, Gene Simmons and Courtney Love are looking to fill the camera void in their lives. Kato Kaelin taped three episodes of himself by himself, looking to sell his show, House Guest. In an affront to everything Robin Leach ever stood for, America has chosen to bask in the soothing truth that the lives of the rich and famous aren't all that much different from their own.
Smith's reality is probably less like that of a celebrity than that of most of her likely competitors, even Kaelin. Like Elvis' at the end, her life is mostly bed and pickles and bad TV. So the E! executives juice the show, prodding Smith into activities she might not otherwise pursue, like a workout with a personal trainer. "We've helped set her up to get her going on things. She wants to get a driver's license, get in better shape, find a new place to live," says E! exec Mark Sonnenberg. He's hoping the appeal of the show lies in the fact that you can't quite tell if Smith is kidding or just dumb. Jeff Shore, the show's executive producer, says he can't figure out whether it was a joke when she told him she's "5 foot 12." This may say more about the people who work at E! than about Smith.
The other strategy E! uses is pumping Smith full of Red Bull. Smith, who never has all that much energy to begin with, is cranky after driving an hour to an E!-suggested go-cart track with the other paid cast members of the show: her ever present (and unfortunately named) attorney, Howard Stern; her assistant, Kim Walther, who sports a tattoo of her boss; and Smith's son Daniel, 16, a sensitive kid who happens to hate being videotaped. Sensing the group's lack of energy, an E! exec appears from nowhere proffering Smith her seventh Red Bull of the day. The channel has a deal with Red Bull to install a refrigerator full of the supercaffeinated soft drinks in her bedroom. Not even Colonel Tom Parker thought of that.
Along with the Red Bulls, Smith's five-bedroom, 4,700-sq.-ft. rented house in the San Fernando Valley is stocked with a Costco's worth of Kraft Easy Mac, pizza-flavored Pringles, Handi-Snacks and Cheetos. In addition to frying the occasional peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich, Smith has been caught on camera putting Cheez Whiz on a pickle. At the go-cart place, Smith, on the second day of her diet, attempts to eat a piece of celery, which she tries to peel. If you catch only one episode of her show, I'm guessing it should be the one in which the E!-recommended nutritionist is scheduled to come by.
Smith's weight increased during her inheritance case; she became addicted to painkillers and had a bout of depression. She hasn't gone out much and says she has not had sex in more than two years. "It's pathetic. I feel like a virgin again. I feel sorry for the next guy I attack. He's going to be dead." She promises to go hunting for phone numbers at bars very soon. "But I'll never know true love. I'll never know if it will be for me or my fame or my money. That's the saddest thing about being me," she says. "Everybody I know has made money from me and thrown me away," she says.
"Except your poor lawyer who had his gas turned off," yells Stern. This guy is good.
Though she's dieting, her olive-eating habits have reached a level at which I cannot possibly compete, so, to get her to stop, I acquiesce to Smith's demand to put makeup on me. Despite the fact that she weighs more than 200 lbs., Smith is still beautiful and sexy enough to make men do things like this. At least that is the story I'm sticking to.
Throughout the makeup humiliation, Stern, whose ever presence is starting to make me worry about the state of his client's appeal case, takes pictures of me with a disposable camera. At 1:15 a.m., after half an hour of washing my face and returning to bed to watch the beginning of The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom, I tell Smith I have to leave. When she gets out of bed to hug me goodbye, I palm the disposable camera with the incriminating pictures and slip it into my pocket. The truth is, no matter what anybody claims about reality shows, there is only so much somebody will let other people see.