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The Tabloids' First Trimester

Celebrity Press Is Flushed With News of Pregnancy

By William Booth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 14, 2005; Page C01


Pop tart Britney Spears is preggers, people, and it could not have come at a happier time -- for the celebrity press and for the young diva's career.

"Pregnancy is the granddaddy of them all," says Ken Baker, West Coast editor of US Weekly.

A taut, toned Britney Spears performing at the Alamodome in San Antonio in 2002. (Edward A. Ornelas - San Antonio Express - News Via AP)

There was a time when becoming ripe with child might push a celebrity out of the limelight for a spell. Not now. Star mommies sell. They're huge (especially if they get huge; Remember when Kate Hudson put on 60 pounds?). Look no further than Julia Roberts and the twins.

It's all about life passages, Baker says. In olden days, in the tabs (say, the 1990s), there was a bitter divorce here, a rehab bout there, but now a few rarefied celebs are recurring characters in the national pop novella. J. Lo & Marc. Demi & Ashton. Jessica & Nick. And, of course, the alpha and omega, Brad & Jen. (When the two split, Katie Couric paused to ask a troubled nation: If it could happen to them, are any of our marriages really safe?) "A lot of readers have grown up with this batch of celebrities, and they're like their best girlfriends," says Bonnie Fuller, editorial director of American Media, who oversees Star magazine. "We've never had such a fascination with celebrity, and all their life events become news."

And pregnancy, Fuller says, is "a much bigger seller than rehab -- unless it's Mary-Kate."

As in Olsen, who is, alas, still pre-pregnant.

Think of the slick glossy celebrity magazines and their tabloid kin, Baker says, as "a soap opera, a weekly soap opera, and each issue is another episode, and the characters have new challenges, a narrative and a story arc, and we follow each character through life."

Exactly right, says Paul Field, editor in chief of the National Enquirer. Soap opera. Life passage. Obsession. "And pregnancy is a big one," he says. "Our readers want to know more and more. They can't switch it off."

You may feel as if Spears has been with us forever. But it was only in 1999 that the former Mouseketeer -- then 17 -- topped the charts with her debut album, ". . . Baby One More Time," which appealed to her teen demographic -- and not a few middle-aged men. They were glued to her tease/cheerleader routine on the accompanying music video. Since then, Spears has sold 60 million albums, dated 'N Sync frontman Justin Timberlake and grown more sexualized (witness that tongue-twirling, open-mouth kiss with Madonna at the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards). But she has had a bit of a hurdle: making the transition from teen diva to adult pop. Her last album, a greatest-hits assembly released last year, sold 1 million copies -- a bit of a disappointment for Spears.

The celebrity media -- as competitive a pack of bloodhounds as ever dogged a White House plumber -- had been speculating about Britney's zygotic status for months, soon after the 23-year-old singer married actor-dancer-model-singer Kevin Federline, 27, way back in September. Spears was spied in a maternity shop. She was "eating for two." Her famous midriff looked as if a bun might be in the oven.

The scoops of the glossies (both Star and Us Weekly say they were first with the news) were finally confirmed Tuesday on the pop star's Web site, BritneySpears.com: "The time has finally come to share our wonderful news that we are expecting our first child together."

Spears-with-child further explained: "There are reports that I was in the hospital over this weekend; Kevin and I just want everyone to know that all is well. Thank you for all your thoughts and prayers. Love, Britney & Kevin."

Those reports appeared this week in Us Weekly (a visit to a Florida emergency room for "minor bleeding") and the National Enquirer, which calmly announced, "BRITNEY RUSHED TO HOSPITAL."

The glossies -- the worker bees there call them "slicks" -- say she's four months pregnant. With the joyous news now confirmed, eager readers (and the audiences for television shows like "Access Hollywood" and "Entertainment Tonight") will not have to wait until autumn for further updates and the first baby snaps. Not at all. People, that's five months away.

The celebrity press predicts, in the meantime, that likely scoops might include: The ultrasound! The raging hormones. The inevitable fight with Kevin (who consoles himself in, say, Vegas). The making up. Medical trials and tribulations of a myriad sort. The decoration of the nursery. The shopping. The exercise routines. How Bit Bit, Britney's Chihuahua, is adjusting. Not to mention the stepkids. And, big time, Britney's eating habits.

For, oh, the natal glow. And those telephoto shots of bloat and cellulite. "There will be a huge fascination with her shape and size," predicts the Enquirer's Field, as well as "enormous interest in her relationship with Kevin," which the tabs and slicks have been calling a wee bit rocky from the start.

Recall: Spears was married rather briefly once before, for 55 hours. Apparently, it didn't take. Federline has two children (Kori, 2; Kaleb, 8 months) with ex-girlfriend Shar Jackson, an actress of "Moesha" fame.

For those who want even more, the newlyweds recently inked a deal with UPN to air their own reality show, a series composed of their private home videos, shot by the couple, that will tell the true story of their love and romance, from courtship to nuptials. The six-parter is scheduled to air later this spring.

On her Web site, Spears has complained about the intrusive celebrity press -- those "false tabloids" and all their poking and prying. "I feel that last year the tabloids ran my life," Spears said in an earlier statement. So the reality show brings us full circle.

"With the celebrities making reality shows about their own lives, why shouldn't you want to tune in?" asks Fuller, of the Star. Because, in a way, Fuller says, "they're inviting us in." And in we go.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company