From romantic foibles to behind-the-scenes rumors, celebrity gossip fills up the tabloids. But now with several new television shows inspired by true celebrity stories, some stars’ “real lives” are on display too.
ABC’s “I’m With Her” is based on Brooke Shields' love life; UPN’s “All of Us” is inspired by Will Smith (search) and Jada Pinkett-Smith (search)’s family life; and “Kid Notorious” is Comedy Central’s new animated series about Robert Evans (search), the Hollywood playboy and producer.
Far from being pure vanity projects, experts say the series are just the next step in America’s obsession with fame.
“It’s a great nexus between two things we love -- reality TV and celebrities,” said Clay Calvert, author of "Voyeur Nation." “We always like to see lifestyles of the rich and famous. We want to dip into their lives and see what they are like."
Producers for “Kid Notorious,” which debuts on Wednesday, originally thought of doing a reality show based on Evans, an old-school Hollywood producer who helped bring "The Godfather," "Chinatown" and "Urban Cowboy" to the big screen. But they decided animation would be better suited to telling and embellishing Evans' true stories.
“Bob’s life is sort of unbelievable in a way. He’s lived such an extraordinary life and it's so colorful and overly dramatic that it leant itself to animation,” said Brett Morgen, the show’s co-creator who also wrote and directed a documentary about Evans called “The Kid Stays in the Picture.”
“The documentary solidified [Evans’] place in Hollywood history. In the cartoon, he pokes fun at himself,” said Morgen.
Though all three shows about celebs are careful to say they are “inspired by” the Hollywood heavy-hitters’ lives, the programs have cachet because of their star ties -- and may not have made it onto the fall lineups without it.
“It helps get them on the air and helps make them interesting on the front end,” said TV Guide critic Matt Roush. "They play off that. They can’t sink or swim based on [the celebrity ties], but playing off it probably got them off the ground."
Calvert, who is also an associate professor of communications and law at Penn State University, said the star-association is enough to make audiences at least give the shows a shot.
“Especially when celebs get involved, like Will Smith, people will [tune in]," he said.
Roush pointed out that having such bold-faced names involved can give a show a boost even if they aren't regularly starring in it.
Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith, for instance, have committed to making a guest appearance on “All of Us,” which they're producing and which focuses on a couple who have to incorporate the husband’s ex-wife and their child into his new life -- a situation that mirrors the Smiths’ family.
“You get Will Smith on a show and that’s going to be a huge bump for UPN come sweeps,” said Roush.
The wacky premise of “I’m With Her,” in which a schoolteacher begins dating a megastar actress, is loosely based on the true love story of Shields and her husband Chris Henchy, a relatively small-time writer/producer.
“Chris is kind of the Joe Schmo ordinary guy and Brooke Shields is the movie star, shockingly enough," Teri Polo, who plays the movie star character on the ABC show, told Fox News. "And that was basically the springboard for the story, and then, you know, hilarity ensues."
The shows can be a boon to stars' careers, too. Roush pointed out that the programs help make the stars seem less removed from the general public.
“We look at these people as larger than life, but TV is smaller than life,” he said. “[In 'I’m With Her’], she isn’t the super fabulous person we imagine her to be. She’s pining for this regular guy. It makes her more human.”
In the case of "Kid Notorious," Morgen said he's not relying on Evans' fame to get viewers to tune in.
"Viewers shouldn’t need to know Bob Evans," he said. "If you know Bob, you get more out of it. But if you don’t, it’s a cool hip cartoon character. He’s a post-Rat Pack hipster."
Producers will soon find out how audiences respond to Evans' slick, fast-talking character. But if the other celeb-inspired shows are any indication, "Kid Notorious" is likely headed for success.
Whether their popularity is due to the star power behind-the-scenes or simply compelling storylines, both "I’m With Her" and "All of Us" are looking like hits in the fall season.
And critics predict there will be more star-inspired sitcoms to come if these succeed in the long term.
"We are a nation seemingly obsessed with celebrities. It’s a no-brainer. We are living in the age of Bennifer. How long before someone spins a series or movie off of that?" said Roush.
"If these shows tend to be successful, we’ll probably see more of that."