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Tuned In: HBO trumps MTV at exploring the rich life

Monday, October 27, 2003

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Lifestyles of the rich and not-so-famous grab the spotlight in HBO's documentary "Born Rich" tonight and MTV's new series "Rich Girls" tomorrow.

TV Reviews

"Born Rich"

When: 10 tonight on HBO.

Starring: Jamie Johnson, Ivanka Trump

"Rich Girls"

When: 10:30 p.m. tomorrow on MTV.

Starring: Ally Hilfiger, Jaime Gleicher


Don't hate us because we're rich, the subjects cry. It's easier to comply while watching "Born Rich," a 66-minute documentary by 23-year-old Jamie Johnson, an heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune.

Johnson directs, produces and narrates the program, and the fact that he's willing to explore issues of wealth and what it means earns him some admiration right off the bat. He acknowledges the fallacy of a meritocracy in America, although he ends up concluding that what one inherits isn't as valuable as what one earns.

"We want to think everyone earns what they have. I guess if it makes you feel better, keep telling yourself that. It doesn't work for me anymore," Johnson says at the film's outset. "I know my family gives away millions of dollars every year to charity. But how does that exactly level the playing field?"

Georgina Bloomberg (daughter of New York's media magnate mayor), Cody Franchetti (textile heir), Josiah Hornblower (scion of the Vanderbilt and Whitney families), S.I. Newhouse IV (grandson of publishing giant Si Newhouse) and Ivanka Trump (daughter of real estate developer Donald Trump) are among the rich kids interviewed.

Some come off as thoughtful, humble, even embarrassed about their wealth and what it means for their lives.

Others fit the spoiled rich kid stereotype, including Luke Weil, heir to the Autotote gaming empire, who claims he wants to be a lawyer -- or something "indispensable" -- and ends up suing Johnson over the film (a judge threw the suit out). Smooth-talking European Franchetti declares "guilt is for old women and nuns."

They're not all likable, but "Born Rich" does show how wealth doesn't mean an end to all problems, just new challenges.

Not that you'll see many of those in MTV's "Rich Girls," a girls-just-wanna-have-fun docudrama that follows two rich New York party girls. Ally Hilfiger, daughter of fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger, and Jaime Gleicher, whose father founded Innovation Luggage, brought the idea for this series all about them to MTV executives.

Cameras follow them as they try on clothes, get manicured and primp for the prom. It's all pretty boring stuff until Jaime begins fretting over whether she should lose her virginity on prom night. She's concerned it's too cliched.

As producers of the show, the pair ensure they're shown in a fairly positive light ("My mom taught me you treat the garbage man the same as the Queen of England," Ally says). Ultimately, peering into the lives of a couple of rich kids whose deepest thought consists of comparing a friend to the Ryan Phillippe character in "Cruel Intentions," "Rich Girls" isn't all that interesting or entertaining.

Viewers are advised to wait until December when Fox premieres the hilarious "Simple Life," which follows two rich New York girls to an Arkansas farm.

Rob Owen can be reached at or 412-263-2582. Post questions or comments to under TV Forum.

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