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More than the sum of the parts

When celebrities pair up, their pull on the public imagination can grow exponentially. Uncouple them and it may not be the same.

October 31, 2003|Tara Weiss | Hartford Courant

Last month, Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey shot from B-list to A-list celebrity status.

Need proof? They were guests on "Larry King Live" last week. They're on the cover of this week's issue of Us Weekly. And "Saturday Night Live" has paid homage to them recently with a skit.

The couple did it by showing the public what their first year of marriage looks like on MTV's "Newlyweds," one of the network's most popular programs.

Before "Newlyweds," Nick (a member of the boy band 98 Degrees) and Jessica (a solo pop artist) were hardly mainstream stars; their fan base consisted mostly of preteens. Thanks to "Newlyweds," they've got everyone from King's gray-haired viewers to young marrieds talking about them.

They're not the first and they won't be the last couple to use their relationship to get ahead in the business. Remember Liz and Dick? Mia and Frank?

But what is it about the power of two that makes us suckers for buying magazines, flipping on the TV, begging for more?

"People have a tendency to doubt; they ask if the relationship is a [public relations] thing," says Caroline Schaefer, senior editor at Us Weekly. "It's nice to get reassurance that they are just like us. You don't get to know them by seeing a concert or watching them in a movie. But reading about them in a magazine or seeing them on TV shows gives a window into their personality, and that's what we crave. People are especially interested in love stories. It's why relationship covers of women's magazines sell so well."

Trista Rehn and Ryan Sutter from "The Bachelorette" are making lots of money for themselves, TV executives and magazine editors by discussing their relationship. In fact, the ABC-created celebrities have made an entire career of it since they found love last year on reality TV. And they got ABC to pay for their wedding in exchange for allowing it to be broadcast on the network.

They're on In Touch Weekly's cover next week with the headline "Wedding Fever."

Individually, they're ordinary citizens -- minor celebrities at most -- but together they're a franchise. "Take them apart, and it doesn't command the same thing," says Steve LeGrice, executive editor of In Touch.

Look at what Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore have done for each other. Moore, who had been living with her kids in Idaho in recent years, has made a comeback in part because of her relationship with Kutcher. As for Kutcher, the combination of hosting MTV's "Punk'd" and dating Moore has shot him to a new celebrity stratosphere. To top it off, there are even rumors swirling that the two are engaged.

With "Friends" going off the air at the end of this season, Courteney Cox is promoting her new project, "Mixing It Up," a design show on the cable network WE. To do that, she has been opening up about her relationship with her husband, actor David Arquette. People magazine's cover for the week of Oct. 27 screams: "Inside Their Marriage: Hoping for a baby, launching a TV show. Hollywood's happiest odd couple talk about how they get through the rough spots."

"It's a sure thing when you put together celebrity and romance," says Didi O'Hearn, vice president of "Biography" on the A&E Network. In December, "Biography" is broadcasting its celebrity romance countdown "Top Ten Hitched," a look at Hollywood's make-ups and breakups.

"I expect us to get good numbers because it's a no-lose situation," says O'Hearn. "Romance is a big ratings 'get.' "

But why are some couples more interesting than others?

"Julia Roberts and her husband don't go to premieres together," says Us Weekly's Schaefer. "They don't want to be in the spotlight. Because of that, there's not as much to say. People like Jessica and Nick put their relationship on TV, so it's a topic of conversation. I was at dinner last night and overheard a 30-ish guy talking about Jessica's comment about Chicken of the Sea. If you put yourself out there, people are going to talk about you."

For better or worse.

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