Television

E!’s Celebrity Fake-Out

Explaining, sort of, how Britney spends her millions.

Britney Spears
Britney’s nice bottom line

Sometimes you don’t want to hear about the lifestyles of the rich and famous, or even to find in their magnificent lives a template for your own meager one. Sometimes you just want to hear about how much goddamn money they’ve got. For those unsentimental times there is It’s Good To Be , E!’s 30-minute trolling of the celebrity bottom line.

This week, two episodes, It’s Good To Be Britney and It’s Good To Be Will and Jada, have aired on E! nearly every day, giving committed viewers a chance to attend to the show’s big-figure arithmetic. In the formula of the program, the first act chronicles Getting: the celebrity’s accumulation of money, from first talent-show winnings to latest movie deal. A graph invariably shows a steep incline. The second act, which is long, covers Spending: interviews with magazine editors, store clerks, dermatologists, club managers, and support staff who have a line on what these people buy. In principle, the stars make a lot and spend a lot.

Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith
Big-budget V-day

A coda to each It’s Good To Be … covers what the star gives—generally scattershot philanthropy. While shooting a video on a street in Philadelphia, for example, Will Smith was moved to give money to a neighborhood man to fix up his house. Similarly, at a New York club called Suite 16, Britney Spears tips extremely well.

Periodically, editors from Forbes show up on It’s Good To Be . These guys don’t shy from projections. On Will and Jada, Brett Pulley really put things in perspective when he said of Jada, “If she’s getting 5 percent of the Matrix Reloaded game, she might make 25 million bucks.” Thesmokinggun.com also lets its Andrew Goldberg gush about outrageous contract riders. Disappointingly, all he had on Britney was that she liked tuna salad and Altoids.

It’s Good To Be … uses two off-camera narrators, one male and one female, and they’re meant to squabble. When the woman reported that Jada Pinkett Smith had once rented a spa for Valentine’s Day with Will, the man said, “What ever happened to a nice box of chocolates?” To which the woman replied: “That’s so budget. It’s been replaced by a chocolate-and-roses facial.” Returning to the numbers, the guy said, “Yeah. For only 135 bucks!” These two stagey voices—though their roles are very loosely defined—are comic in an old-fashioned way; they’re the only fun thing about the show.

What?! A money show about stars that’s no fun at all? Not even informative? Pretty much. The figures the show uses—salaries, box office figures, record sales—are standard fare in Variety and other trade magazines; no sleuthing’s been done here. And guesses about celebrity expenditures seem like shots in the dark. In an effort to make what the stars buy seem like something we might buy, way too much time is spent on In Style-tier items. Plugs for T-shirts, lotions, watches, and cars—all of which a celebrity is said to cherish—come top-speed at the viewer. The message is familiar: Looking for an affordable way to be, sort of, like Britney? Britney loves Bonne Bell Lip Smackers, which retail for $1.29 at drugstore.com.

The show presents hats, makeup kits, and other stocking stuffers that may be overpriced (at $100) but hardly seem like an efficient way to eat up eight-figure salaries. As a result, the show just doesn’t add up. Will, Jada, and Britney—and, in other weeks, Jen, Jen, Ben, and Brad—are shown raking in big money and then frittering it away on tiny-ticket items.

This is a buzz kill because all the show seems to have is its empiricism. With Forbes men being interviewed, I hoped that It’s Good To Be … might just be a closet finance show, one that gave a small, giddy sense of how young people who suddenly get $40 or so million invest, save, and splurge. I hoped to admire their thrift or be shocked by their profligacy. But It’s Good To Be … is nothing more than a fruity infomercial for products and services that “the persons featured in this program,” in fact, “do not endorse, support, or promote,” as the program itself cautions.

So, it’s good to be a TV producer who figures out how to make his programming act as commercials. On that we can agree. But it’s bad to be a viewer puzzling over how this show is faking you out—using your interest in other people’s money to trick you, voila, into parting with your own.