Guy Adams: Nice little earners hit the cutting-room floor

LA Notebook
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The Independent Online

As if it wasn't hard enough to get rich in this town, what with DVD sales haemorrhaging, movie budgets being slashed, and studio executives dropping like flies, the government has just come along and nixed an important source of the Hollywood elite's personal income.

Under the guise of an unfamiliar concept it calls "protecting consumers", the Federal Trade Commission this week published new rules cracking down on a dirty little secret of celebrity culture: the paid testimonial.

From now on, famous people who endorse a commercial product – either online, in print, or on the airwaves – must also tell fans if they are on the payroll of its manufacturer. If they don't, punters will be allowed to sue them.

The move is designed to prevent a repeat of an ugly scandal that occurred a few years back, when Kathleen Turner and Lauren Bacall appeared on TV to discuss various health problems. Both women shamelessly neglected to inform viewers that they were being compensated by the drug companies Immunex and Novartis, who were running campaigns promoting relevant products.

It's hard to fault transparency, so the FTC's new rules have been publicly applauded. But behind the scenes, some people are already counting their cost: in an era where even A-listers now struggle to secure vast pay-days, dubious endorsement agreements have hitherto come to represent a large (yet largely secret) slice of their pay packet.

Abolishing them will therefore hurt a significant sector of the Hollywood economy. Tour any talent agency, and you'll see entire departments devoted to euphemistically-titled "branding" projects. So sensitive are their operations that none of the four talent houses I contacted this week was prepared to discuss the FTC's new rules of engagement.

That silence is understandable – but a touch disappointing. The time-honoured phrase "Trust me, I'm a celebrity," is about to disappear from common use. In its place will come: "Sue me, I'm a celebrity." Shouldn't someone be asking if this is really progress?

One law for the Rich...

When Disney appointed Rich Ross as its new studio head on Monday, the press release making the announcement neglected to mention any aspect of his private life. This raised eyebrows, since Mr Ross has broken a major taboo: he becomes the first openly gay head of a major Hollywood studio.

Some wonder if Disney kept the information quiet to avoid upsetting either red-necked elements of their fan-base, or key players in the lucrative Middle Eastern markets. I hope there is a more mundane explanation. Still, it's hard not to wonder what Walt would have made of it.

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