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'Hilton' class is in session

Tired shtick plays on class envy and hits a low in an attempt to contrive high society.

June 20, 2005|Paul Brownfield | Times Staff Writer

"I Want to Be a Hilton" is a great name for a ridiculous reality show starring Kathy Hilton, mother of Paris and Nicky and wife of Rick, who is grandson of Conrad, who was once married to Elizabeth Taylor, who issued a statement last week expressing support for her friend, the not-guilty Michael Jackson.

"I Want to Be Michael Jackson" would be an even better name for a reality show, but we'll probably have to wait until the paperwork's figured out, which might not be until next summer. In the meantime, console yourself on your crummy beach towel with dreams of becoming a Hilton, which, according to "I Want to Be a Hilton," involves learning how to hold a wine glass (by the stem, people), how to handle your escargot (tongs in left hand and fork in right, people) and understanding how to create a buzz (instructional Internet sex video sold separately).

It's a setup at least as old as "The Beverly Hillbillies" -- taking 14 reality-show-pliable players ("wannabes," the NBC website sniffs) and plopping them in high society. To these guinea pigs are dispensed lessons in how to behave like the nouveau riche, people who delight in noisy displays of wealth (clothes, jewelry, limos), and lord knowledge of decorum over the lower echelons.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday June 21, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 66 words Type of Material: Correction
Hilton TV series -- A review of the TV series "I Want to Be a Hilton" in Monday's Calendar section said Conrad Hilton had been married to Elizabeth Taylor. Hilton was once married to Zsa Zsa Gabor; it was his son, Conrad "Nicky" Hilton Jr., who was once married to Taylor. Also, the review identified Kathy Hilton's sister as Kyle Hilton; her name is Kyle Richards.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday June 22, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 30 words Type of Material: Correction
"Hilton" air date -- A review of "I Want to Be a Hilton" in Monday's Calendar section referred to an episode as airing that night. The show airs on Tuesdays.

By my math, that makes "I Want to Be a Hilton" a contrivance upon a contrivance -- the first one being that the Hiltons exude class and the second being that the show creates a facsimile of high society.

There's a vague Roaring '20s theme, and a butler figure greets the contestants.

But this high cheese doesn't play as much fun. The show touches on craven class envy, as do a lot of reality shows. "I Want to Be a Hilton" is a second cousin of arguably the most successful reality show in this genre, Donald Trump's "The Apprentice."

But Trump was practically a bobblehead by the time "The Apprentice" rolled around; there is something rich, and I don't mean wealthy, about using the Hiltons to confer the idea of class on the less fortunate. Isn't the point of being super rich and classy not having to call attention to how rich and classy you are? Methinks the Hiltons doth do reality shows too much. Something else must be involved -- greed, a slump in the hotel franchise, Paris envy (she's at 55 on the current Forbes Celebrity 100 list).

She's the daughter, to paraphrase the Chris Rock joke about parenting, that Rick and Kathy failed to keep off the pole. Paris, after all, can be seen on TV sexually assaulting a Bentley and then biting a hamburger for Carl's Jr. Kathy, sad to say, has none of her daughter's canniness when it comes to creating an image for the camera; unlike Paris, winking at her image as she creates it, Kathy is as stiff in her pearls and her Prada as an ad in Town and Country.

She seems like a nice lady. Though I don't think the winner of this actually gets to be a Hilton. In tonight's episode, the wannabes -- a ranch hand, a department of motor vehicles clerk, a Vegas dancer, etc. -- get taken to "etiquette boot camp" at New York's famed restaurant 21. It's all in preparation for a dinner that evening, where one contestant from each team must dine with heavy hitters and not embarrass themselves too much. The guardians of high class at the table are Ted Allen, the culinary expert from "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," Billy Bush, from "Access Hollywood," and his Royal Highness Prince Dimitri of Yugoslavia.

Yes, nothing says class more than two guys from other TV shows and a prince from Yugoslavia. Then Kyle Hilton, Kathy's sister, enters late. In the midst of this, Jabe, the ranch hand, and JW, the construction worker, take turns trying to blend into the dinner scene without interrupting what Billy Bush or his royal highness might have to say about the Downing Street memo.

They're wearing earpieces, Jabe and JW are, because their respective teams are coaching them on etiquette. "It's pretty good, I'm in," says Jabe, after tasting the Chardonnay recommended by the sommelier. But he forgets (or the producers have him forget) to wear a jacket to the table.

Paris doesn't make a cameo until next week, when Team Park and Team Madison assist Kathy and the Hilton girls in a charity auction of Hilton castoffs at their home in Southampton. (Rick is a producer on the show.) Trying to move one of Paris' celebutante micro-dresses, Yvette the Vegas dancer takes it off the rack and struts before the chagrined crowd.

"You have to be a little careful with the sexuality," Kathy tells her later.

I don't think it went as well the last time Kathy dispensed that advice. On "I Want to Be a Hilton," contestants are seen kiss-kissing the host, once on each cheek. Because doing it drunk and open-mouthed and in the tabloids is so declasse.

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