"Denise Richards: It's Complicated" and "Living Lohan"
Where/When you'll see it: E!, starting Memorial Day, "Denise Richards" at 10 p.m. EST and "Living Lohan" at 10:30 pm. EST
What you'll see: The premise of the C-list celebrity reality show is simple. You come for the train wreck. You stay for the rescue. How many times can cable networks follow this formula and keep audience chomping at the bit for more? E!'s take on the genre involves using celebrities who are still in the headlines, rather than all washed up and looking for a second bite at the apple.
Viacom's VH1 has found success with programs featuring a gamut of oddball subjects, ranging from Hulk Hogan to Scott Baio to Vince Neil. What these figures have to do with adult-contemporary music videos and walks down 1980s and 1990s-oriented Memory Lanes -- things VH1 is still best known for -- is tough to figure out. It's no stretch, however, to see that this sort of thing ties directly to the raison d' être of Comcast's E!, where celebrity doings are the network's stock in trade.
There's some urgency to E!'s two new celeb offerings, "Denise Richards: It's Complicated" and "Living Lohan." The first centers on the actress best known for her appearances in films such as "Starship Troopers," "Wild Things" and "The World Is Not Enough" and who has recently emerged from a tangled marriage with actor Charlie Sheen. The other features nearly every member of the Lohan family except the most famous one, Lindsay.
Let's tackle Denise first. She doesn't seem terribly stable or grounded in reality, surrounding herself with her widower father and two young daughters (ex-husband Charlie Sheen's attorneys must be having a field day, gathering evidence from this show for another custody hearing), not to mention two assistants, 10 dogs and two pigs (three by the end of the first episode). She admits she doesn't like dating, or dating "normal" guys, but prefers edgy actors and rock stars with certain prominent features that we can't get into in polite conversation.
We follow her as she tries to breed one of her pigs; goes on what looks to be a horrible date for the poor shlub who submits to it; offers up some cheesecake while getting a spray-on tan; visits an outdoor-furniture store to purchase a horribly expensive grill after planning a barbecue at her house (which lacks a grill); and cries in front of all her friends when she tells them how her widowed father is helping her "pick up the pieces."
There are no pieces being picked up. They are all still scattered around the house, and some of them may even be pieces of Ms. Richards' brain. You have to feel sorry for her two little kids, who have no idea that they are living in a Fantasyland version of what the life of an important actress ought to be. Unfortunately, Ms. Richards is not that important -- or that interesting. I turned the first episode off before it was complete.
Over at the Lohan household, you'll meet Dina Lohan, Lindsay's mother, whose job as a celebrity manager seems to consist of reading blogs and web rumors about her famous daughter and trying to get her less-famous one, Ali, into the recording studio to make a new record. Dina is a lot more interesting than Denise; she has a certain "eau de Mafioso" that adds grit to the situation. In fact, she compares herself to a "lion" protecting her "cubs."
Other than that, you'll have to suffer through chatter for Ali Lohan, who doesn't seem to be the brightest light in the neon sign. Then there's wisdom from Nana Lohan, the family matriarch, who seems proud, yet bewildered by her family's success, such as it is. The one redeeming character is little brother Cody, who seems less interested in mugging for the cameras than his relatives.
"Living Lohan" is essentially a shadow dance with the missing Lindsay. Let's be honest: If troubled Lindsay weren't the talk of the tabloids, we wouldn't care a whit about Dina or Ali Lohan. It's hard to be sure that we do anyway.
Kudos to E! for landing celebrities who are still in the headlines, but rotten tomatoes to Ms. Richards and the Lohan family for thinking that their antics are particularly interesting, relevant or inspiring. It's hard to know where this entire genre of programming is headed, but after these two entries, it can only go up.
What's at stake? Summer's here and the time is right for cable networks to grab viewers who don't want to slog through repeats on ABC, CBS, Fox and the like. E!'s offerings will no doubt grab curious gossip-fans as well as people who like to rubberneck at accidents and could give the entertainment-oriented channel some ammunition against broader rivals such as USA, which launches a new drama "In Plain Sight," or Lifetime, which is bringing back "Army Wives."
Your ad here? Since it lost Howard Stern in late night a few years ago, E! has rapidly established itself as a place to reach young women, including the single-girl-on-the-go or the newly married young bride. These two programs would appear to burnish that reputation, so makers of certain beauty products, relevant pharmaceuticals and cosmetics may wish to take a look. Product placement looks sketchy here, particularly when Denise Richards swears in most scenes or talks about her sex life, or Dina Lohan looks at a blurred-out scene from a "sex tape" purportedly discovered by some blog. Do advertisers want to remind viewers of their sodas, snacks or lipsticks after such content? At the very least, any models in their ads would appear refreshingly normal.
Media buyer's verdict: Use caution, says David Scardino, entertainment specialist at RPA, which works for Honda. "For a sensitive type of advertiser, these types of things are always going to be tough," he said. Advertisers who are comfortable reaching a younger audience whose appetite for the edgy is more brazen will likely find a good home nestled among these two programs.