Mouse bites cat

Disney's got its claws on Us Weekly. It's a loss for toothy celebrity journalism everywhere.

Published March 1, 2001 8:00PM (EST)

One-time media bad boy Jann Wenner has just sold 50 percent of Us Weekly, the magazine he transformed from a monthly to a weekly less than a year ago, to Disney. The move was announced at a Tuesday press conference.

But if Walt Disney CEO Michael Eisner has it right, Wenner, the man whose Rolling Stone famously ripped into the establishment like a hungry cat in search of wayward rodents, is not only sporting a new set of metaphorical mouse ears; he's also been declawed and domesticated.

At the press conference, Wenner insisted that the magazine would continue "to be independent editorially. It's part of our arrangement and part of the understanding with the Disney company."

But subsequent comments and the magazine's own devolution from the early days, when it pissed off Tom Cruise by reporting that he and Nicole Kidman may have been souring on the Church of Scientology (the magazine later published a retraction), to its current cover story on "The Best Hair in Hollywood" -- "Cuts, Color, Stylists" -- indicate that the corporate game of cat-and-mouse may have claimed its latest victim.

"As a company, we're not interested in angst and edginess and scandal," Eisner told the New York Times, explaining why Us Weekly appeals to Disney more than, say, Talk, in which, through Miramax, it already owns a stake. "We are not interested in insulting people who work for us."

"Or who we do business with," Wenner offered, according to the Times.

Look, Wenner certainly has a right -- and an obligation -- to seek help in saving his listing magazine. (Audits indicate that circulation has been declining precipitously.) But he has apparently seen fit to do more than that, blithely offering the mag up for corporate charter. And that's just a darn shame.

I may be the only one, but I rather liked the magazine when it first launched as a weekly last March. In addition to flattering photos of celebrities and splashy layouts, it had bite. It had ambition. It parlayed its impressive Hollywood access into really dishy features, like the unforgettable interview Todd Gold did with the newly married Angelina Jolie and Billy Bob Thornton in an early issue.

For a while, Us Weekly looked to have really toothy potential. Now, it will gummily chew on all the marketing opportunities the Disney synergy will bring it. (Full disclosure: I once worked for a Disney-owned magazine.) People with no stomach for spicy content will have no problem digesting its toned-down celebrity pap. And Wenner is smiling like the cat who ate the canary.

"I think from the beginning I was looking for a partner to do Us Weekly ... a partner with the kind of power that Disney represents and the ability to market and merchandise," Wenner declared at the press conference.

Well, I suppose that's fine. But those of us who like a little zest in our celebrity dish will just have to find something else to chew on.

By Amy Reiter

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Celebrity Disney