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If Brown's show is a hit, it's thanks to the missis

Whitney Houston's emotional high-wire act energizes husband Bobby's reality series.

June 27, 2005|Paul Brownfield | Times Staff Writer

"Baby girl, where you at?" Bobby Brown asks Whitney Houston in "Being Bobby Brown," new on Bravo this Thursday.

He's on his cellphone, standing outside the Hyatt in Atlanta days after his release from a monthlong stint behind bars. Now the wife's late for their reunion.

Two hours later, Brown's still wandering the Hyatt perimeter, Whitney-less, apparently unaware that she's arrived at the hotel through a private entrance. Ah, women. "That's what you do with a power couple, know what I'm saying? Power couple, she gets to go upstairs, know what I'm saying?" Brown says when he finally locates her. "Make me run around like that."

Note to self: Put "Being Bobby Brown" on TiVo season pass to gain further insights into relationship dynamics.

I would hesitate to call "Being Bobby Brown" a reality show were the staged reality it presents not so kookily convincing, with Brown, the former R&B star, and Houston, the pop diva with a career out there somewhere, gamely allowing themselves to be captured in various stages of celebrity ennui.

Through a well-documented tabloid maze of marital strife, drug problems and arrests, they've lived to tell their tale -- or at least mime it for us in laconically amusing form.

"It's rare that Bobby and I spend quality time together, since we are both in the same business, we both do the same thing," she says, in a lucid moment of voice-over denial. "It is hard sometimes to spend that quality time."

Also adding to the hardship of finding quality alone time, surely, are the cameras they've agreed to have there disrupting their quality alone time. Yet there's something of "The Osbournes," MTV's loose-feeling, sitcom-funny celeb-reality show that started it all, in "Being Bobby Brown." Which is to say, you begin to believe that they have a genuine relationship; a family (there are children about, his and theirs) is even discernible amid the spa treatments and hotel suites and court appearances.

Since "The Osbournes," of course, a tide of other troubled A-listers and B- and C- and D-listers have come forward to get their slice, the more high-powered among them (Britney Spears, for instance, in her UPN thing "Britney and Kevin: Chaotic") using the reality show as infomercial, a publicity-co-opting tactic.

It's one way to get ahead of the media that will use you for their own purposes and not pay you. In the produced-to-within-an-inch-of-its-life season finale of "Britney and Kevin" a few weeks ago, the couple got married secretly, to maintain a level of privacy. There were only 30 people there. Thirty people and a boom mike and a lighting guy and various cameramen and a control room somewhere on the property.

Compared to boring mall kids like Britney and Kevin, Bobby and Whitney are as winning as Nick and Nora Charles. They dine on squab at the nouvelle Atlanta restaurant Noel and book a private beach for their kids in the Bahamas, trading insults as easily as endearments and smooches. To sustain our interest, though, the show needs her more than it needs him, even though it's called "Being Bobby Brown." She's the more viable celebrity, a live, unpredictable and even slightly sad presence (it's hard to tell whether these first episodes were shot before or after she cleaned up in drug rehab).

It's the unacknowledged engine of the show -- waiting to see what Whitney's gonna do next. Brown, on the other hand, needs to jell more as a TV personality. In the Bahamas, Houston gets besieged with autograph and photo requests, while someone spots Brown in the lobby and shouts, "Usher!"

Still, in this, the summer in which Tom Cruise is using the awesome power of his celebrity to lecture on the joyousness of Katie Holmes and the evils of Brooke Shields and anti-depressants, "Being Bobby Brown" is a tonic, returning us to the more palatable ways in which celebrity can be cashed in for money and sympathy.

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