About that haircut, Felicity...

When Keri Russell lopped her locks, ratings fell like dandruff. No more scissors, WB declares.

January 23, 2000|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

LOS ANGELES -- Actress Keri Russell says it was a "brave and liberating thing to do."

Her boss, Susanne Daniels, the head of programming at the WB, thinks it was a knucklehead thing to do and says she doesn't want to see it happen ever again.

We're talking about about Felicity's hair.

With hundreds of channels and millions of possible shows to write about, the key to covering television is to know what matters. Felicity's hair matters.

Over the summer, Russell, star of the WB's "Felicity," cut her long, curly hair, and six months later it is still one of the hottest topics of discussion on the Winter Press Tour.

Wait, let me correct that: The matter of Felicity's hair started as a mere discussion but was escalated to the status of controversy as I and 100 or so of my colleagues relentlessly, probed, examined and debated the matter with network executives and stars and producers.

"Felicity," the drama about a sophomore at the fictional University of New York, was a hit first season. Russell cuts her hair. Ratings go down for Season 2. Got to be the hair.

No one connects the dots better than we.

"So, how do you feel about the haircut now, Keri?" Russell was asked during a press conference that took place on the "Felicity" set in front of the Dean & DeLuca shop where she worked last year.

"I think it was a good idea," Russell said. "For the character, I think it was a brave, crazy, sudden, extreme thing. But those are all things that a girl in college would do. So, yeah, it was good. It was appropriate."

"How about for you as a person?" she was asked.

"For me as a person, hmm, well. For me, that long hair is how I was identified. So, it was nice to be out of that. It was good and liberating for me. It was great," she said.

J.J. Abrams, the co-creator and executive producer of "Felicity," jumped in to explain that the haircut started as a joke. During the summer, Russell sent him a card in which she was pictured with very short hair [she was wearing a wig]. Her inscription on the card: "They say it will grow back by fall. Having my best summer ever."

"It was a joke card, but it got us thinking, 'Hey, wait a minute, what if she actually did that?' So, it was just one of those things. ... Did it pay off because the ratings are huge? No. But it's good that we do things that aren't expected. And it was done with passion."

However, WB executive Daniels had her own passions about the issue. "No one is cutting their hair again on our network," she told critics a few days later.

"The e-mail alone was so overwhelmingly negative about that haircut," she said. "Do I think it affected the show on some level? Yeah, I do, however superficial that seems, unfortunately."

And in her post as president of entertainment, Daniels has to answer to the AOL Time Warner masters, who have their own passions about ratings.

Daniels said she told Russell about her feelings, and Russell replied, "It will grow back, Susanne."

And, yes, Daniels confirmed that they had considered hair extensions.

Meanwhile, the controversy continues, with Daniels' boss, Jamie Kellner, the WB's CEO, the most recent to weigh in.

"Her hair was distinctive. It was part of what created the uniqueness visually. And I think we cut off our distinctiveness a little, you know."

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