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Television: You Say it Here, It Comes out There:

Sasha Stone

Mirror Contributing Writer

This past week ABC’s Lost killed off two of its notorious cast members, Michelle Rodriguez, who played the villainous Ana-Lucia and Cynthia Watros, who played Hurley’s (Jorge Garcia) love interest, a potentially interesting storyline that was forced to fizzle. Both actresses had been arrested for drunk driving, with Watros taking probation and Rodriguez taking jail time.

Upon leaving her time served (a couple of days), Rodriquez had to put it into overdrive to try to fix the damage done to her career. It wasn’t just the fact that she was arrested for drunk driving in Hawaii, but that there was photographic evidence of various stages of the scandal and those photos were splashed all over the internet. Within minutes, Rodriguez was thrown on the fire pit.

On American Idol, the most popular show on television, contestants answer news items from days, even nights before the live broadcast. The ones who do well on Idol are the ones without criminal records or any dirty story in their past. But what they do gets watched and monitored and then dissected on Internet blogs and gossip sites.

The tabloids used to rule the scandal and gossip but internet sites are beating them to the punch. Perhaps the tabs are still getting the exclusives; leaks only well-paid reporters can get. But a couple of digital photos of Michelle Rodriguez living it up in a drunken stupor at a gay bar can wreck a career. And it happens in the blink of an eye.

Millions of internet users every day are poring over gossip sites. The appetite for paparazzi photos of celebrities on the rise or on the decline is more popular than it’s ever been. But what’s interesting is how quickly the networks are answering the charges.

Gone are the days when they would have written off a few pictures of Rodriguez or the calling out of Idol contestant Kellie Pickler for being a dumbed-down phony because they appeared on the Internet. Pickler was then forced to address the nasty gossip and defend herself on live television. Otherwise, she might lose votes.

Though it took them longer than anyone thought, the bumping off of Rodriguez and Watros played like an echoing gong and a warning for anyone else that might get caught up in something. Unlike the tabloids, internet gossip sites are free and one picture or one item about a celebrity can be common knowledge to millions of people in a matter of minutes.

“Idol,” unlike most shows, has that Teflon appeal, for the most part. No amount of bad gossip has impacted the ratings. If anything, the ratings have only gotten stronger since the bizarre stories started up. Nothing Simon says, Paula does or Ryan Seacrest might have done makes any difference whatsoever.

So why, then, must the contestants continually address information that was splashed all over the net? When Chris Daughtry sang his version of Johnny Cash’s “Walk the Line” it didn’t take long for gossips to root out the truth – that Daughtry was merely borrowing the interpretation from the band Live. Daughtry then had to admit it on live TV when Idol aired.

The thirst for gossip is only intensifying – it is the era of the “gotcha.” To nail someone for something they’ve lied about or faked is a major coup. If you’re a young, promising actress starring on one of the popular dramas on television and you are thrown in jail for drunk driving you can bet that you will be internet fodder for months. Will it effect the ratings? Hard to say. ABC didn’t want to take the chance. It simply killed off those characters.

Nowadays, television shows will have to have to do damage control. It won’t be enough that bad press is kept out of magazines. The actors and participants themselves will have to account for their sins, or else doom themselves to a ruined career. One thing’s for certain – there is very little lag time between information on the net and how it plays out on television. The same audience is viewing both.

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