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Paris Hilton's PR strategy: Avoidance

Hotel heiress laying low during frenzied time

Paris Hilton

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LOS ANGELES, California (Hollywood Reporter) -- Thanks to videotape and Internet file-sharing, many Americans are now intimately familiar with the energetic love life of Paris Hilton. But the willowy hotel heiress and her new PR rep are making few friends in the TV business.

On Tuesday, Fox will premiere "The Simple Life," a reality series that deposits Hilton and fellow child of privilege Nicole Richie on a hardscrabble Arkansas farm. In terms of publicity, the debut could hardly come at a better time for Fox, given that clips from a sex tape the blond socialite made with a former boyfriend turned up on the Internet this month.

Even before the tape surfaced, Fox had begun booking Hilton for an intense round of media appearances to drum up interest in "Simple Life." The PR campaign seemed particularly critical now that the child-molestation allegations against singer Michael Jackson threaten to sweep smaller scandals onto the back burner, at least for a while.

But in a turn of events at least as odd as the homemade porn tape itself, Hilton's New York-based publicist, Dan Klores, has angered Fox officials by abruptly canceling all of her scheduled appearances, including "Live! With Regis & Kelly," MTV's "TRL," CBS' "The Late Late Show With Craig Kilborn" and Sharon Osbourne's daytime talk show. Hilton's inhospitality also roused the ire of CBS host David Letterman, who was supposed to welcome her to "Late Show" Wednesday night. For the past four nights, Letterman has begged Hilton to come on the show while attacking her PR rep on-air as a "goon" and "pond scum" for nixing the original interview.

The backlash seems to have surprised even Klores, a veteran PR specialist who has at various times in the past offered crisis counseling to such clients as Jackson, Donald Trump and Mike Tyson.

'It's best if she doesn't do any interviews'

But Klores is sticking to his guns. He said he was hired by Hilton's parents, Rick and Kathy Hilton -- for $50,000, according to a report in the Village Voice -- and is not even due to meet his latest high-profile client until this weekend.

"I feel that for a variety of reasons, it's best if she doesn't do any interviews right now," he told The Hollywood Reporter on Tuesday. "I'm sorry that interviews were canceled, but I'm here to protect her." Klores did not deny that the sex tape played a key role in his decision: "If it weren't for the videotapes, I wouldn't have been hired," he said.

The PR pullback seems especially bad news for Fox, which is stuck in fourth place in the ratings and desperately needs a new hit. While some TV veterans have speculated that the network was somehow connected to the release of the sex tape, there is no evidence of such a link, and Fox officials have strongly denied any involvement.

Yet the scandal will likely increase viewers' curiosity about Hilton and "Simple Life" -- or at least it would have, if the star had popped up discussing her newfound notoriety on Letterman and elsewhere.

According to a source familiar with the situation, Fox officials are most upset that Klores has steadfastly refused to take their calls about the situation. A Fox spokesman declined comment for this report.

Asked if he had been contacted by Fox, Klores replied, "As far as I know, no."

Upsetting Dave

David Letterman has been having great fun at Hilton's (and Hilton's PR man's) expense.

The Letterman appearance was booked by Fox about a month ago, according to a source close to the show. Last Wednesday, not long after "Late Show" issued a press release touting Hilton's upcoming appearance, surprised Letterman staffers began getting calls from reporters who heard that her sit-down had been canceled.

This turn of events apparently miffed Letterman, who began his half-joking, half-serious attacks on Klores (albeit not by name) on the following night's show.

"He's some kind of PR guy, and I believe for a time, (he) lost his license to practice PR in this country, and he was running all his PR operations out of Mexico," Letterman joked on his show Monday night. A "Late Show" publicist declined comment.

One publicity executive said Klores appeared to be following "PR 101" by removing a troubled client from the public eye until the media firestorm settles down and a more sympathetic hearing -- a la Barbara Walters -- can be arranged.

But Robert Thompson, director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University, said that even without the interviews, Fox will still likely enjoy a Hilton effect. "What the videotape did was to open the promotional season for 'Simple Life,' " Thompson said. "Everybody now knows that Paris Hilton is having a show come out."

Fox can only hope that's the case. The network is pushing ahead with plans for a "Simple Life" premiere party Tuesday night, and Hilton's name remains on the guest list.

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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