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Diana's Death Spurs Interest in Books on Her Life

Media: But television networks and publishers proceed cautiously on producing new material on the princess.

September 03, 1997|BRIAN LOWRY and JOSH GETLIN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The death of Princess Diana has led to a surge in demand for books about her life, even as publishers, network executives and television producers tread cautiously toward additional books and movies chronicling her story.

Bookstores say material on the princess is flying off their shelves. Borders Books & Music, which operates a chain of 175 stores nationwide, said customers are buying anything and everything on the subject, snapping up books, British newspapers and magazines such as Time and Newsweek, which contained special reports on Princess Diana.

"I can't think of anything like it and I've been in the book business since 1983," said Borders spokeswoman Jody Kohn.

Even so, many publishers said they had no plans to capitalize on the heightened interest in Diana, anticipating much of the immediate demand would be fed by television news. One publishing source said she expected several "instant" photo books to appear, and St. Martins Press will reissue a 1995 coffee table photo tribute to Diana with updated pictures, including of the funeral.

With inventory low on existing books, Simon & Schuster said its sister division Pocketbooks would reprint five books on Diana and the royal family and ship them to bookstores by the end of the week, including two by Diana's official biographer, Andrew Morton. The publisher expects to release a commemorative hardcover edition of Morton's "Diana: Her True Story" by October, with an updated photo section and new introduction by the author.

One of the most highly anticipated books--"The Royals" by celebrity biographer Kitty Kelley--has been scheduled for release later this month, and the publisher said there is no plan to change the date. Kelley has written scathing accounts of Nancy Reagan and Frank Sinatra and will apparently shed light on the British monarchy in her 80-year history of the Windsor family, with Diana featured but not playing a central role.

A spokeswoman for the book said its publicity campaign and first print run of 1 million copies will not be revised because of the tragedy. It will hit stores Sept. 23.

Adapting Diana's story for television remains problematic as well, in part because TV news programs have been giving her such extensive exposure.

A half-dozen movies and miniseries already have been produced and aired on the princess, several around the time she separated from Prince Charles. The ratings on the movies were mixed, with the most recent doing particularly poorly.

Network representatives insist there are no plans to rerun any of those movies and that no new productions have been commissioned, though at least one network source said projects have already been pitched to the networks. Several producers contacted expressed little interest in the story, though few were willing to rule out the likelihood of a movie eventually being produced.

"I've had clients call and ask if anyone was doing it, so it's in the air," said one television agent. "If it could be done presumably as an indictment of the tragic costs of life in the public eye, they'd be interested."

Networks have cooled to fact-based movies in recent years, partly because of the glut of prime-time news programs, which exhaust such stories long before a movie can air. Both ABC and CBS will devote an hour to the story tonight, for example, on "PrimeTime Live" and a special "48 Hours," respectively.

All four networks ran specials about Diana at 7 p.m. Sunday and combined for more than 60% of the available audience that hour. Despite a highly rated "60 Minutes" Sunday night, CBS News was criticized by its affiliates for being one hour late to the scene of the accident on Saturday night and was considering formally apologizing in writing to its stations.

The story "has been told a million times," said Howard Braunstein of Jaffe/Braunstein Films, which has produced movies based on true stories, including one of three that aired about "Long Island Lolita" Amy Fisher. "They've already done it."

NBC issued a statement saying the network "has not been in the ripped-from-the-headlines business for a very long time" and that there was nothing a fictional movie could add to the story in light of all the news coverage.

"We do not have any plans to do a movie on Diana or any other aspects of this terrible accident," the statement concluded. CBS and ABC also said no movies are planned at this time.

"First of all, you're dealing with something very ugly, because you know what the end is," said Judith Polone, whose company recently produced a controversial Showtime movie about the Los Angeles riots. "Why would you want to take this beautiful, philanthropic woman and traffic in ugliness? You'd have to do that if you made this movie."

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