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Celebrities balk at East Coast TV scene

Tuesday, November 13, 2001

By Elizabeth Jensen and Paul Brownfield, Los Angeles Times

NEW YORK -- When CBS's "Early Show" tries to schedule a celebrity these days, the star's publicist inevitably asks: "What or who else is going to be on the show?"

"Nobody wants to come on if they're going to stick out like a sore thumb," says senior executive producer Steve Friedman, who has lately been focused more on bioterrorism and bombing than on celebrity bookings.

The weeks since Sept. 11 have been unusual times for TV programs that, before the terrorist attacks, thrived on celebrity appearances. There are fewer celebrities to schedule, but that may be just as well, because there is less interest in putting them on the air.

Names are hard to come by, but some networks and studios say they are failing to persuade their stars to travel to the East Coast to promote projects, and anthrax scares also have taken their toll. "There are definitely fewer big celebrities in New York these days," says Bill Geddie, executive producer of ABC's daytime show "The View."

"A lot of actors are very, very nervous about coming to New York and doing press," UPN president Dean Valentine said at a recent International Radio and Television Society lunch in New York for which he arrived on a private jet. "It's been a problem for us."

One prominent talent manager says clients are not inclined to put distance between themselves and their families right now. "The concern is more about not being able to get back to their families in a time of need, as opposed to feelings about their own safety," said Michael Rotenberg, a partner in 3 Arts Entertainment, whose clients include Chris Rock and Cuba Gooding Jr.

"The Early Show" and ABC's "Good Morning America" say they are interviewing more people via satellite from the West Coast, but other guests have just vanished. CBS's "The Late Show With David Letterman" lost several bookings after an assistant to NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw contracted anthrax. After hosting "Saturday Night Live" that weekend, in the same building as NBC News, Drew Barrymore canceled her appearance on the Letterman show.

On the flip side, not all TV shows are bemoaning the absence of stars, because they are more interested in stories about the ongoing attack aftermath, anyway.

The beneficiaries of the turnaround have been TV news correspondents. ABC News publicist Todd Polkes has gotten more than one call at the last minute from a panicked booker looking for someone to fill a guest spot.

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