NEW YORK – The debut eight days ago of The Anna Nicole Show was the highest-rated reality-series premiere in cable TV history.
But that won't mean a thing if the ratings for last night's Episode 2 take a steep nosedive when the audience tally comes in this week (last week, E! made the numbers available on Tuesday).
Why do I expect the numbers to plummet?
Because, even though everyone I know watched Anna Nicole, I don't know anyone who didn't find it revolting. And more importantly, I don't know anyone who planned on returning for Episode 2.
Just about the only people I can find who are cheering for Anna Nicole are the people who work at E! Entertainment Television.
Not only did TV critics unanimously pan Anna Nicole, but they also took the rare step of blasting E! for making the show in the first place.
More than a few reviews described the show as "cruel," "degrading" and "humiliating." And more than a few declared that E! executives -- including Jeff Shore, executive producer of Anna Nicole and a vice president of E! who was singled out by name in at least one prominent newspaper -- should be ashamed of themselves for taking advantage of Anna Nicole Smith, who comes across like she had no idea what she was getting into.
But to Hollywood executives, negative reviews, even vicious ones, aren't necessarily a bad thing, especially if there's a pile of them.
Ken Bettsteller is chief operating officer of E! Networks. Expecting contrition, I asked him last week how he and others at E! reacted to the thumbs-down reviews.
"I think we were kind of amazed by the size of the reaction," he said over the phone without a note of regret in his voice. "We were excited by the volume of talk around the show. We did not expect the volume of publicity surrounding this."
Negative press, he said, "doesn't give me pause because we know the lady and we know where the series is going. And I think people are not giving her enough credit."
A few days after the premiere, Anna Nicole was asked during an AOL Web chat what she liked about her new show.
Answered Anna Nicole, "That I got the best ratings ever."
Maybe she's not as dumb as she looks.