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The monster that ate entertainment

  • Story Highlights
  • Entertainment news and other news overwhelmed by Britney, Lindsay, etc.
  • Yet 2007 notable year for "Sopranos" finale, Potter conclusion, writers strike
  • AP Celeb of Year Stephen Colbert: wait for my crash in '08, he jokes, knowing pattern
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By Todd Leopold
CNN
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(CNN) -- Stephen King knows a horror show when he sees one.

In an interview last month with Time magazine, the master of the macabre asked who the magazine's person of the year would be. Then he offered his own candidates: Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan.

The news media, he observed, is being overwhelmed by entertainment gossip. "[I told 'Nightline,'] 'You guys are just covering -- what do they call it -- the scream of the peacock, and you're missing the whole fox hunt.' Like waterboarding [or] where all the money went that we poured into Iraq. It just seems to disappear.

"And yet you get this coverage of who's gonna get custody of Britney's kids? ... You've got these things going on ... that could affect all of us, and instead, you see a lot of this back-fence gossip." (Read: Who was Time's Person of the Year?)

Certainly Spears and Lohan -- and Paris Hilton, and Anna Nicole Smith, and down the list to Tila Tequila -- were capable of sucking all the oxygen out of the media room in 2007, all of the water out of the office water cooler. (Timeline: Top showbiz stories of 2007)

Indeed, forget about hard news stories. Consider the entertainment stories that were overshadowed by Spears, Lohan and Hilton:

  • "The Sopranos," one of the most honored TV shows of all time, came to an end with a controversial finale.
  • J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" series, one of the most beloved and best-selling book series of all time, came to an end with a less-than-controversial finale but rousing parties and sales.
  • Norman Mailer and Kurt Vonnegut, major 20th-century American literary figures, died; so did opera star Luciano Pavarotti, director Ingmar Bergman and broadcaster Merv Griffin, each of which had a powerful impact in his chosen medium.
  • A writers' strike shut down a number of television shows and, given the debate over new media remuneration at the walkout's core, is symbolic of the overwhelming changes taking place in the entertainment business (see also: the downloadable, "pay what you want" release of Radiohead's "In Rainbows").
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    But, day in and day out, what was generally on people's minds -- or their TV and computer screens -- were the tales of celebrity troubles, remarked upon and deconstructed with the energy formerly devoted to dissecting Kremlin politics.

    No doubt Evelyn Nesbit, Clara Bow and Porfirio Rubirosa are looking on enviously from the afterlife. Even Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor never had it so good.

    What gives?

    Part of it, certainly, has to do with the proliferation of media outlets, each of which needs to "feed the beast" of information collection and dispersal. Part of it, in addition, has to do with the corporate nature of the entertainment media, which looks for surefire subjects to bring in profits -- and few things are as surefire as celebrity gossip. (New on the air in 2007: "TMZ on TV." TMZ.com is a unit of Time Warner, as is CNN.)

    And finally, there is our own craving for these tidbits, a desire that dates back to the "back fence" King referred to -- if not well before.

    The craving appears bottomless. The Feiler Faster Thesis, proposed by "Walking the Bible" author Bruce Feiler, declares "the increasing pace of society and journalists' ability to report it is matched by the public's desire for more information," in the words of an anonymous Wikipedia writer. In gossipy entertainment news, this idea is taken to extremes: A story continues until there's no information left to squeeze from it.

    Comedy Central host Stephen Colbert, whose "The Colbert Report" skewers entertainment and politics as shrewdly as it mocks the media that reports it, neatly summarized the whole system upon being named The Associated Press' Celebrity of the Year. "This makes me the official front-runner for next year's Drug-Fueled Downward Spiral of the year. P.S. Look for my baby bump this spring!" he told the AP.

    "If you're born in this world, you're given a ticket to the freak show. If you're born in America, you're given a front-row seat," George Carlin once wrote. In 2007, the freak show was pressed up against our eyeballs -- and we couldn't get enough.

    Get out the cell-phone camera. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

    Copyright 2007 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

    All About Lindsay LohanBritney SpearsJ.K. RowlingThe Sopranos

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