Paris Hilton's Plea For ABC Interview

Barbara Walters was woken up by Paris Hilton at 2 a.m.  --  but, hey, it was only 11 in the latter's jail cell.
Barbara Walters was woken up by Paris Hilton at 2 a.m. -- but, hey, it was only 11 in the latter's jail cell. (Frazer Harrison - Getty Images)
By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 23, 2007

At 2 a.m. yesterday, Barbara Walters was woken up by an unexpected phone call -- from Paris Hilton.

The incarcerated heiress said from jail that she wanted the ABC newswoman to interview her when she gets out next week. And that was just part of a full-court press involving both of Hilton's parents.

By midday, though, ABC had turned down the interview, which has gotten tangled up in a fierce network competition and allegations of checkbook journalism. Why a socialite celebrity serving a jail term for driving with a suspended license warrants such high-level media attention is unclear, but television remains convinced that Hilton is ratings gold.

NBC appeared close to landing a "Today" interview with Hilton, when reports surfaced Thursday that the network had offered her as much as $1 million as part of the negotiations.

"NBC hasn't offered any money, ever, for a Paris Hilton interview," network spokeswoman Allison Gollust said yesterday. NBC executives could not rule out that they might buy home video or photographs from Hilton in connection with an interview, but scoffed at the notion of anything approaching a seven-figure sum.

During ABC's negotiations, an executive acknowledged, the network raised the prospect of paying as much as $100,000 for Hilton's video and pictures, if such material -- showing her release or homecoming, for example -- was available. A Hilton representative replied that NBC's offer for such material was "in another galaxy" and that ABC was out of the running, the ABC executive said.

But the talks with NBC must have stalled, because suddenly Walters was bombarded with calls from the Hilton family. Walters was always considered a strong contender because the 26-year-old Hilton called her shortly after reentering a Los Angeles jail following the uproar over her early release, which was rescinded by the judge in the case. Hilton was imprisoned for repeatedly driving on a suspended license, a violation of her probation for driving under the influence of alcohol.

Hilton's mother, Kathy, a longtime acquaintance of Walters, called the newswoman at 11:45 Thursday night to say the family was still interested in having her conduct the interview. In the 2 a.m. call, which was routed to Walters by Paris Hilton's aunt, the onetime reality show star said: "I only wanted to do an interview with you. I'm sorry this all got so out of hand. Let's get this back on track."

The call to Walters, who was unavailable for comment, was recounted by the ABC executive, who asked not to be identified describing private conversations.

Yesterday morning, Hilton's father, Rick, left Walters phone and e-mail messages about trying to resurrect the interview. But ABC executives, turned off by the hot-and-cold discussions and the controversy over possible payments, told Hilton's camp the network is no longer interested.

People magazine confirmed yesterday that it has cut a deal for Hilton's first photos with Getty Images, which the New York Post said was worth $300,000. No one knows which venue Hilton will ultimately choose for her television coming-out, but it's a safe bet that some network will treat it as a major exclusive.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company