It's criminal how Hollywood embraces ex-cons, Martha

February 07, 2005|By KEVIN COWHERD

REMEMBER WHEN a stretch in the slammer was considered a bad thing?

Remember when it could actually cause you great embarrassment, hurt your career and lead people to treat you like a social pariah?

Right, neither do I.

These days, it seems a stint behind bars can be just the thing to perk up everything from your love life to your Q rating to your bank account -- at least if you're a celebrity.

There's been so many classic examples over the years, I hardly know where to begin.

Mike Tyson does three years for rape, and when he gets out of the joint, fight promoters take turns throwing millions of dollars at him to get him back in the ring.

Heidi Fleiss goes away on prostitution charges, then writes a book, stars in a DVD sex video and opens her own line of Hollywood Madam clothing and lingerie.

Joey Buttafuco serves six months on sex charges after his affair with 16-year-old Amy Fisher and promptly moves to L.A., becomes an actor, hosts a cable TV show and lands a walk-on role in a few movies.

Celebrity publicist Lizzie Grubman rams her SUV into a crowd outside a nightclub, goes to jail for DWI, vehicular assault and 24 other charges, then watches her PR business take off. Soon, she'll even star in her own MTV reality show.

And let's not even bring up all the rock stars and hip-hop artists who do a stint behind bars, only to come out and make so much money it's like they're printing it in their basement.

Look, I don't know how this makes you feel.

Me, I'm thinking of sticking up a convenience store, hiring an agent and waiting for the offers to roll in.

Why grind away at some dreary 9-5 job when you can do a few months in the Big House and have a Hollywood producer's limo waiting when you get out?

Now, of course, there's another celebrity ex-con success story in the making: Martha Stewart's.

Oh, sure, technically the domestic diva is not yet an ex-con.

Technically, she's still doing time in a West Virginia prison after her conviction for lying about an improper stock sale.

But she's scheduled to get out of the joint in March and begin five months of house arrest.

And to help her say goodbye to starchy prison food and orange jumpsuits, and hello to home-detention ankle bracelets, NBC is giving her her own reality TV show.

It'll be a spin-off of Donald Trump's The Apprentice called -- OK, they didn't spend a lot of time agonizing over the name -- The Apprentice: Martha Stewart.

And, similar to The Donald's show, Martha's will feature a band of eager, fresh-faced young mopes willing to grovel and debase themselves on national television for a one-year, $250,000 job with Martha Stewart Omnimedia.

But NBC says Martha won't be using Trump's signature growl of "You're fired!" to dismiss candidates who don't measure up.

Instead, I'm guessing it'll be something more pointed and embarrassing, maybe something like: "Worm, are you still here?" or "Get this loathsome little vermin out of my sight."

You think people got upset when Trump canned them?

They'll be sobbing on the floor, curled up in the fetal position, by the time Martha gets through with them.

This, of course, would not exactly kill the producers of the new Apprentice show, who are looking to add a little pizazz to the format.

Ratings for Trump's The Apprentice have gone steadily downhill, so NBC is no doubt hoping Martha and her well-documented prickliness can attract a whole new audience of humiliation-voyeurs.

And let's face it: Having the cameras follow a recently fired candidate as she slinks into the restroom, stares hollow-eyed at the mirror and scrawls "I'm Worthless" in red lipstick across her forehead, could be worth a dozen ratings points right there.

There used to be an old saying: "Crime doesn't pay."

But you don't hear that old saying too much anymore -- at least not when it comes to celebrities.

So maybe it's time to come up with a new saying, something that reflects our current fascination with the rich and famous who now sport prison pallors and exercise-yard biceps and cell-block tattoos.

Maybe something like "Crime: don't knock it 'til you see the overnight Nielsens."

Sure, it's a little more wordy.

But a little more updated, too.

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