Celebrity sell: Fuller faces fresh hurdles as she enters world of tabs

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The attention given to Bonnie Fuller's latest move, from Us Weekly to American Media, confirms her as the closest thing the magazine world has to a celebrity editor. But here she is, in a cramped office, working her way through a takeout penne pomodoro, barely noticing as her hairdresser-preparing her for a photo shoot and wielding a blow-dryer-occasionally sends paper scraps skittering across her desk while she fields questions from a reporter. This is no glamour lunch at Michael's.

She's not a month past her abrupt exit from Us Weekly, the once-flagging title she remade into a cultural touchstone of the moment and used to vault herself back onto the magazine world's A-list.

"A chance to do this isn't going to necessarily come up in two years, in three years-it came up now," she said, dismissing any suggestion this move may brand her a serial job-hopper. (It also comes with a significant upside should American Media's plans for an initial public offering bear fruit.)

a tabloid world

But Ms. Fuller's ambitions once encompassed running a major fashion title. Is she concerned now that the glossy world may shun her owing to her association with the messier business of tabloid publishing?

Ms. Fuller, never one for the built-in hierarchies of the magazine world, bristled. "I don't see how you can be critical of a company with tabloids," she said, "when every news outlet is doing tabloid stories."

The single biggest challenge for Ms. Fuller-aside from transitioning to a broader role than her editor-in-chief perch at titles from YM to Cosmopolitan to Glamour entailed-is competing with the world she describes to stem the sales slide at her company's tabloids. A world, it should be noted, she played no small part in creating.

Even after American Media's purchase of Weider Publications' fitness-and-muscle titles last year, the likes of the National Enquirer, The Star and The Globe still account for the bulk of its magazine stable. This will require a slightly different approach than Ms. Fuller has employed in the past: How does one who takes a more commercial approach-naysayers will say "dumbing down"- to glossy titles work that card with tabloids, which are built on calling out to the broadest common denominator to begin with? Ms. Fuller relied on her time-tested mantra when asked about such notions, saying the trick is to "get as tuned into your reader as possible."

Despite her new lofty title and a mandate to remake the edit side of American Media's kitchen-sink portfolio-which also includes a Latino division and sundry one-off newsstand specials-Ms. Fuller resists broad-brush big-think when discussing her new position.

Her immediate priorities, she said, all concern the tabloid Star, which needs a top editor and which American Media wants to reposition as a glossy player.

repositionings

After that, repositionings and/or relaunches of health/fitness titles Natural Health, Men's Fitness, and Muscle & Fitness Hers will follow. All of which should keep her well-occupied into next year. "It's very hard to project farther," said Ms. Fuller, when pressed.

Already the weekly Star shows signs of Fuller-ization. The current issue sports decidedly Us Weekly-ish coverlines, such as this one about actor Ashton Kutcher, the younger consort of Demi Moore: "Ashton says bye-bye to bachelor life" and a quick sidebar titled: "Controversy: Are Brad [Pitt]'s legs too skinny?"

"Its spirit will be more upbeat, more energetic," with a tight focus on celebrities and more appeal to younger readers, said Ms. Fuller, while taking pains to note that its ultimate direction will come upon the hiring of its editor in chief. (There's no obvious contender for that slot, though David Pecker, American Media's chairman-CEO, said he'll fill the vacant slot in four to six weeks.) The title also "needs to improve its credibility," Ms. Fuller said, who felt that some stories dished scoops that ended up not happening.

relocating

A far-ranging "test" of a glossy-paged version will happen in early '04, though Mr. Pecker talked about the move to shinier pages as all but a done deal. Ms. Fuller is frantically recruiting for the title, which is in the process moving editorial headquarters to New York and well as laying groundwork to substantially increase its editorial pages.

Mr. Pecker's plans for the Star to storm the broad-but rapidly crowding space-occupied by Time Inc.'s People, Wenner Media's Us Weekly and Bauer Publishing's In Touch has met with some raised eyebrows. And additional competition could come via brewing projects from other companies, like Gruner & Jahr USA Publishing's launching a U.S. version of photo title Gala, or internally, via American Media's own early-'04 test launch of British photo-title OK!

But the competition fails to faze Mr. Fuller. "It's a growth category right now," she said, and the Star "has a tremendous ability to grow" from its current 1.4 million circulation. "I don't know that I'd want to be the fourth or fifth player coming into the field right now. But we're not."

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