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NEW YORK — NBC News on Thursday denied a report that it was preparing a bid of $1 million for a “Today” interview with heiress Paris Hilton after she’s released from jail.
Word spread like wildfire Thursday after a New York Post report said that NBC had outbid ABC News for an exclusive sit-down with Hilton, whose jail term has been the subject of breathless cable and some broadcast coverage in the past month.
“NBC News has not and will not pay for interviews,” spokeswoman Allison Gollust said. NBC News also denied that NBC Uni CEO Jeff Zucker had called Hilton’s father, Rick, to lobby for “Today.”
But rivals who have been vying for the first interview tell a different story. They say that they were told by Hilton’s representatives Thursday that NBC had all but sealed the first interview for Meredith Vieira and “Today.”
That came as a surprise to ABC master interviewer Barbara Walters, who had been trying to score the Hilton interview. It was Walters who interviewed Hilton while the heiress was in jail, with Hilton using a pay phone to call Walters at her New York office. The account of that interview was splashed all over “Good Morning America.”
Although NBC denied that an offer had been made, sources with knowledge of the situation told The Hollywood ReporterCQ that an offer of nearly $1 million had been made to secure the interview, possibly through some sort of deal with NBC Entertainment. A source called the bid “in a completely different galaxy” than what ABC News had been willing to pay for the licensing of video and still images of Hilton, which would have been in the $50,000-$100,000 range.
“We don’t have an agreement in place for Paris Hilton,” an NBC Entertainment spokeswoman said.
Hilton’s spokesman late Thursday also denied the reports.
“Paris Hilton is not being paid for any television interview,” the spokesman said. “Nor is Paris being paid for any collateral, including video and photographs related to any television interview.”
Licensing of video footage is somewhat standard in the TV news business, as is the payment of travel and hotel costs for interview subjects. The competition is fierce among the networks for exclusives, particularly in the morning, where “Today” and “GMA” are in mortal combat.
ABC News paid a licensing fee for footage of the late “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin when it interviewed his widow, Terri Irwin. Other high-profile deals also have been made, though all the networks say they don’t pay for news.
Nellie Andreeva in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
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