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TMZ: the new real-life soap opera

Stardom's no longer a boon but a bane

There’s a grim irony to the fact that, even as the last of the great soap operas (“As the World Turns”) announced plans last week to fade to black in September, TMZ is mobilizing for expansion.

Why watch fictional characters twist in the wind when you can follow the real thing?

No, this is not going to be another column about Tiger Woods. But maybe it will be, after all.

The process of being anointed as a celebrity was once both an honor and a financial bonanza. It meant you didn’t have to pay for anything anymore; people would fight for the privilege of buying you things.

More and more, however, membership in celebritydom makes you a marked man. That goes for all celebrities, not just the tormented Tiger.

I was thinking of this as I learned that the arch-nemesis of celebrity safety, TMZ, plans to expand its reach through other portals and mobile devices, hire a bigger staff and go after more advertising. Harvey Levin’s brainchild will now fall under the full control of Time Warner thanks to the spinoff of AOL.

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This has not gone unnoticed by celebrity spinmeisters.

“The top stars are not going to get out there to support their films as they used to do,” one talent agent told me. “It’s a ‘no’ to most red-carpet interviews, ‘no’ to most charity events. Stars are scared to death of overexposure.”

And Tiger’s fiasco will only exacerbate this paranoia. Talk to other celebrities about Tiger and they will tick off his biggest mistake: the false belief that he could get away with anything behind his wall of secrecy and security. Also: his isolation from friends and smart advisers.

Tiger’s misfortu nes were a key topic of conversation last weekend as I stood in line outside the White House in sub-freezing temperatures. I was surrounded by a group of celebrities from Hollywood and Broadway, all of them waiting impatiently for an audience with the nation’s first celebrity President.

The reason we were all waiting out in the cold was because a ridiculous couple named Salahi has just crashed a White House party in the hope of becoming TV celebrities and in doing so had caused a total meltdown of the White House staff.

If Barack Obama, too, is going to be isolated by his celebrity status, he will find himself in the same situation as other superstars of film and music. He’ll be hiding out, not hanging out, paranoid about exposure and betrayal.

Maybe Tiger should join the line at the White House. He and the President can enjoy a little commiseration.

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