LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Paris Hilton appeared to be a celebrity without a spotlight on Friday after two major U.S. television networks snubbed the hotel heiress they initially fought over for a first post-jail interview.
An ABC executive said his network declined interview offers from the multimillionaire socialite after Hilton and her mother, Kathy, personally sought to secure a deal in a flurry of telephone calls to ABC News veteran Barbara Walters.
Meanwhile, rival network NBC issued a statement saying it, too, had informed Hilton’s representatives that it was “no longer interested in pursing an interview with her.”
Contrary to reports of a $1 million deal in the works, NBC said it was “never going to pay them any money.”
CBS News, which had not been deeply involved in the initial tug-of-war for a Hilton interview, likewise said it was not interested.
The unexpected turn of events came as the Los Angeles County sheriff’s department announced that Hilton would be freed on Tuesday, 23 days after she began serving time for violating her probation in a drunken driving case.
Fierce maneuvering to be first to get Hilton on national TV after her release came to light on Thursday in the New York Post, which reported that NBC had agreed to pay as much as $1 million for a “Today” show Hilton exclusive.
That report ignited a media frenzy over where the 26-year-old “celebutante” would make her homecoming TV appearance, how much it might cost and the propriety of news outlets paying — directly or indirectly — for interviews.
Paid interviews, while routine in some countries, are taboo in U.S. journalism because they might be an incentive for news sources to embellish or fabricate information. But “licensing” deals providing compensation for the rights to personal material such as video footage or photos have grown more common.
Both ABC and NBC News have insisted they do not pay for interviews and that neither had a deal in place with Hilton.
But an ABC executive who spoke on condition of anonymity said the Hiltons informed the network earlier this week that they had opted for NBC because of a more lucrative offer to license accompanying family photos and video for up to $1 million, compared with $100,000 offered by ABC.
After the NBC deal fell through, the ABC official said, Hilton and her family sought to restart talks with ABC by reaching out to Walters in a series of phone calls to her home late on Thursday night.
“Barbara listened and, today, the executive producer of (ABC news magazine) ‘20/20’ called (Hilton’s father) Rick Hilton and told him that ABC News was not interested in an interview with Paris,” the executive told Reuters.
Each network said its decision to pass on Hilton was ultimately an editorial one, not financial. And by Friday, even Hilton’s camp was saying money was not an issue.
“Contrary to media reports, Paris Hilton is not being paid for any television interview,” said Michael Sitrick, a Hilton family representative. “Nor is Paris being paid for any collateral, including video and photographs related to any television interview.”
Independent network news analyst Andrew Tyndall said paying for a Hilton interview would pose at least two problems.
“One, you’re not supposed to pay news sources, and two, you’ve decided that Paris Hilton is an important enough story to violate that rule. And probably the second sin is even worse than the first.”