Just as millions of teenage girls across the country had nearly given up all hope, cable network E! Entertainment announced yesterday it had stepped in to "reunite" best-friends-forever Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie for a fourth edition of "The Simple Life."
The fate of the show had been in doubt since October when Fox -- the network that found a time slot in which to bring back Pamela Anderson's "Stacked" -- pink-slipped the heiresses, saying it simply could not find a spot on its schedule for a fourth season of "The Simple Life."
But Fox's entertainment division these days is run by the guy who previously developed such testosterony series as "The Shield" and "Rescue Me" over at FX and who could not possibly understand the transcendent inevitability of a reality series about two richer-than-God lollipops.
Whereas the first editions followed Paris and Nicole as they lived on a farm, traveled cross-country on an Airstream, and interned at jobs no member of their families would ever dream of holding, in "The Simple Life: Till Death Do Us Part," the celebutantes will play at being married by spending time with families with whom they would never spend a nanosecond in the course of their actual fabulous lives.
Each week, Paris and Nicole will take turns pretending to be the wife/mom and run the household of a family whose members, sans Mom, will decide which of the two they like better.
Gearing up for the fourth edition, which will debut on E! in the spring, both Paris and Nicole went out and got themselves engaged, though in Paris's case it didn't take. She dumped the Other Paris after a few weeks. (Richie, at press time, was still planning to wed DJ Adam Goldstein.)
FYI, "reunite" is, in Hollywood, a relative term. And, thanks to the miracle of modern technology, Paris and Nicole will never ever actually come into contact with each other while working on the series.
Because, you know, they're no longer friends. We know this because Paris issued a news release in April officially declaring their friendship over, explaining, "Nicole knows what she did and that's all I'm ever going to say about it."
That soon led to rumors that Richie would be dumped from the show in favor of Hilton's new best-friend-forever, Kimberly Stewart, daughter of Rod. But that report got whacked last summer when Fox re-signed Hilton and Richie and it could not be jump-started even when Stewart went out this month and got herself engaged to Talan from "Laguna Beach," whom she had been dating for a few weeks. Grievously, the engagement itself only lasted a couple of weeks and the couple recently put out a Master Po-esque announcement: "It is better to have a brief engagement than a short marriage."
Ironically, "Laguna Beach" airs on MTV and one of the MTV networks is VH1, which, according to one of our sources who asked to remain anonymous because they didn't want to be identified, was the other network bidding with E! on "The Simple Life" of late.
I know, Paris said "all the networks are fighting over" the broadcast rights to "The Simple Life." Such a kidder, that Paris.
E! Networks President and CEO Ted Harbert told The TV Column that any concern about the rift between the two women is allayed by the producers' plans "to bring comedy into the show by putting the girls with unusual and quirky families that will bring out the best in the comedy conflict between the girls."
"The key thing to remember here is the magic of editing," he added, saying "it's not like we're going to do 15 minutes of Paris with one family and 15 minutes of Nicole with the family."
Also in the plus column, the show will be shot entirely in Los Angeles, so "there will be cameras on them as they live their fascinating Los Angeles lives."
And yet the presumed cost savings realized by shooting entirely in L.A. will be offset by having to have two separate crews -- one for Paris and the other for Nicole, who, to reiterate, are not speaking to each other. On the other hand, as part of the deal, E! also gets rerun rights to all three previous seasons.
"The Simple Life" launched on Fox in the winter of '03 and averaged nearly 11 million viewers. Season 2 ran in the summer and held up well considering, averaging more than 9 million. The third season debuted with a best-yet crowd of more than 13 million and averaged nearly 10 million over the course of that run.