ABC Says It Was Outbid for Paris Hilton Interview
How much is an interview with Paris Hilton worth? Representatives of ABC News said yesterday that they had lost to NBC for the first interview with Paris Hilton after her release from jail next week because ABC was unwilling to make a “high six-figure deal” with Ms. Hilton’s family.
NBC executives did not deny that they had had discussions about interview rights with Ms. Hilton, though the news division said yesterday that it could not yet confirm any interview would take place.
The spokeswoman for NBC News, Allison Gollust, insisted, however, that “NBC News does not pay for interviews — never have, never will.”
ABC representatives said they had been given the background on the negotiations by their correspondent, Barbara Walters, who had been in the middle of talks with the Hilton family to secure the interview for the network. Ms. Walters herself declined to comment.
According to the ABC representatives, who asked not to be further identified because they were not authorized to reveal details of the negotiations, ABC had agreed to pay $100,000 to the Hilton family in a deal for the interview. The deal would have included access to materials owned by the family, like photographs or videos of Ms. Hilton.
Deals involving payment for production materials, not for the interviews themselves, have become increasingly common as networks seek to secure exclusive arrangements with prominent people.
Ms. Walters told ABC executives that Ms. Hilton’s father, Rick Hilton, after getting the ABC offer last Sunday, called back Wednesday to say that the interview would go to a competitor, because at $100,000 ABC was “not even in the same galaxy” in terms of what was being offered.
When pressed, Mr. Hilton acknowledged that NBC was the other network involved, the ABC representatives said, and that Meredith Vieira, co-host of NBC’s “Today” program, would conduct the interview.
Last night, though, the story took a new turn. The Hiltons’ representative said that despite ABC’s account, the family had not received nor requested any payment for an interview with Paris Hilton. Michael Sitrick, a crisis manager hired by the Hiltons, issued a statement saying, “Contrary to media reports, Paris Hilton is not being paid for any television interview nor is Paris Hilton being paid for any collateral material, including videos or photos.”
The bidding for the interview with Ms. Hilton is nothing new in the hypercompetitive world of the network morning news shows. NBC’s “Today” and ABC’s “Good Morning America” have struggled fiercely for more than a decade to book the most prominent newsmakers and celebrities, often engaging in one-upmanship stunts to secure subjects — known in the trade as “gets” — who might spike the ratings for their programs.
“Good Morning America,” habitually running second to “Today” — the NBC program recently recorded its 600th consecutive week as the morning leader — has been intensely aggressive in chasing such interviews in recent months, led by an anchor, Diane Sawyer. She has secured several highly sought interviews, including one recently with Andrew Speaker, a lawyer who flew widely overseas despite having a rare tuberculosis infection.
Seeking to counter the impact from that coup, NBC made a strong tactical move: it removed advertising from the weakest-rated portion of “Today” that morning, meaning that part of the show would not be rated at all.
ABC News in turn suggested that the move proved NBC was getting panicky that “Today” might lose its edge over “Good Morning America” just as the “NBC Nightly News” has fallen from its longtime leadership to second place behind ABC’s “World News Tonight.”
Ms. Gollust dismissed that suggestion, saying, “We would have crushed them in the ratings that week even without doing that.”
More recently, NBC won the rights to an exclusive interview with Prince William and Prince Harry of Britain. That interview was also part of a larger deal; NBC paid a reported $2 million for American rights to broadcast a concert in honor of their late mother, Diana, Princess of Wales.
Before the deal for Paris Hilton fell through this week, Ms. Walters had positioned herself to win the first interview after her release from incarceration. She had already had the only conversation with Ms. Hilton from jail, as she reported on her program “The View.”
The ABC representatives said that Ms. Walters was in frequent contact with Ms. Hilton’s family, as well as with Mr. Sitrick.
Ms. Walters reported to ABC that the Hilton representatives at first asked that she submit questions in advance for the interview, which she replied she was forbidden to do by ABC News. Then, she said, the Hilton people came back asking for the high six-figure fee for the interview.
After responding with the $100,000 offer, ABC waited to hear back from them. When Ms. Walters got a call this week, she told ABC, she received the news that ABC was not getting the interview.
As ABC representatives described the conversation, Mr. Hilton told Ms. Walters, “It is a money issue.” He was also reported to have said that Paris Hilton had made the decision to go with NBC and that she had chosen to speak with Meredith Vieira and not Matt Lauer because she believed that Mr. Lauer had previously made remarks about her she considered disparaging.
Ms. Walters questioned the decision, the ABC representatives said, noting that the Hilton side previously emphasized that Ms. Hilton’s credibility was the paramount issue in the decision to be interviewed. But ABC said Mr. Hilton replied, “Nobody turns down money like this.”
An actual amount was not discussed, but Ms. Walters told ABC that based on her previous conversations with the Hilton representatives, she believed that the offer from NBC surpassed $750,000.
NBC executives would not confirm yesterday that they had any agreement with Ms. Hilton at all.