After viewing the next two episodes of "E!'s True Hollywood Story," I'm fairly certain I've lost two IQ points. Not that I have anything against the E! news department. When it comes to tracking the latest misadventure of Lindsay Lohan or covering the red carpet at the premiere of "Beverly Hills Chihuahua," they're tops. But I'm not sure the network should be in the documentary business. A typical "THS" episode is like understanding a great novel by reading a copy of CliffsNotes that's been dropped in a mud puddle and chewed on by the family pet.
E!'s mission isn't really to profile entertainers. It's more about celebrating them -- their weight losses, love affairs, charitable efforts, financial successes and overall wonderfulness.
Friday's installment, billed as a new look at Oprah Winfrey, is really just a rehash of a 2004 love letter with a few new interviews with Rachael Ray and Lisa Ling, less than objective observers, since at least part of their salaries depend on their Queen. (Winfrey is one of Ray's producers and Ling is a frequent correspondent on "Oprah.")
Oct. 24's look at Heidi Klum relies on similarly suspect character witnesses, including Klum's publicist, the executive vice president of public relations for Victoria's Secret and "Project Runway" cohort Tim Gunn. A bad word from any of them would probably trigger the German supermodel to say, "Auf wiedersehen."
The format to all "THS" specials, now nearing the 500 mark, is eerily similar: An upbeat narrator promises a tale that's as exhilarating as a Bruce Willis thriller. ("Heidi Klum got off the catwalk and stumbled into heartbreak!" Da-dum-dum!) Studio music produced for the longest, most agonizing elevator ride of your life plays constantly in the background. Stock footage is played over and over again. Teasers before the abundance of commercials keep you from flipping over to something more stimulating, like the Weather Channel ("Coming up next: Chaos.").
The nostalgia trips have their moments. The episodes honoring classic TV shows are endearing when they replay interviews with cast members of "Friends" and "Dawson's Creek" back when they were just starting out and were tickled pink to be on the same network as Jules Asner. It's no surprise that the highest-rated episode in the series' 12 years was its "penetrating" behind-the-scenes look at "The Brady Bunch."
But there has to be more to say about entertainers than dated interviews and comments from magazine hacks can provide. I'm not suggesting that E! should hire Ken Burns to profile Brooke Hogan, but players such as Winfrey and Klum are too fascinating, too powerful and, quite frankly, too important to be given such superficial treatment.
Why not hire top-notch journalists to do true, thorough documentaries, much the same way ESPN does with movers and shakers in the athletic world? I'm sure loyal viewers can handle it, as soon as they're done watching a marathon of "The Girls Next Door."
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