Celebs Strike Back!
October 13 2000 / Entertainment Weekly
Frustrated by a loss of image, more and more stars are embarking on Web missions to even the score.
Since the conclusion of her stint on Beverly Hills, 90210, Tiffani Thiessen has lost a middle name (the "Amber" has been retired) and gained a website. Well, not quite: The site is getting its finishing touches. Thiessen, who gamely admits her own "control issues," wants to get it just right before launching. "I didn't really care for the colors they were using," she says of the first version, produced by homepage-provider-to-the-stars CelebSites. "So they changed everything."
Why is she taking such special care? After all, it's only one of thousands of Pravda-like propaganda shrines floating in cyberspace. But to Thiessen—and to a growing number of celebrities—an official site represents much more. It's a chance for the stars to interact directly with the fans—and to exercise some control over their own images. Says Thiessen: "Hopefully, fans will say, 'This is directly from her. This is what she wants us to see.'"
Heaven knows there's plenty of stuff out there she doesn't want us to see. Thiessen hasn't visited all of her fan sites, but the ones she's seen have been, for the most part, "false, or they were kind of nasty and gross." Disappointed by the use and abuse of her name and image, Thiessen, 26, has set out to polish her web-utation.
"It's the whole thing of getting your name back to you," says the actress, whose quest to "buy back" her moniker was complicated simply by spelling—not Aaron this time, but actual orthography. "My name can be spelled so many different ways," she laments. "A lot of people have ownership over [URLs like] www.tiffanyamberthiessen.com—with a y." Two such variants—www.tiffanithiessen.com and www.tiffaniamberthiessen.com—have been reserved by CelebSites, which will direct surfers to the actress' official page.
Thiessen's site (launching early this month) will carry news of her recent exploits, including an arc on ABC's Two Guys and a Girl and a role in Paramount's The Ladies Man (opening Oct. 13). But there is something she won't be doing with her page: selling merchandise. "I really don't believe in that," says the actress. Attention, illicit Tiffaniana dealers: Your investment is safe.
Here we check in with seven other celebs and their namesake sites, both fan and official. Each understands that Web presence and stage presence go hand in hand.
MAJOR FAN SITE TIFFANI AMBER THIESSEN'S HOMEPAGE (www.jps.net/dannytn/tiffani.htm) Anything but. Sure, it's comprehensive, worshipful, and non-pornographic, but an eight-year-old pic of Tiff blinking her eyes in time with "(Everything I Do) I Do It for You" is, in Thiessen's own words, "freaky." B-
DAVID BOREANAZ (www.celebrityblvd.com/davidboreanaz) Earning his fangs as a vampire on The WB's cultishly popular Buffy the Vampire Slayer and then getting his own show, Angel, has taught David Boreanaz that online followings can be very good things indeed. Accordingly, he sees his four-month-old official site as "basically a thank-you" to his fans. There you'll get both behind-the-scenes info on upcoming shows and background on David himself (he likes collecting everything from antique cigarette holders to furniture). Not the most exciting revelations, but that's generally what you'll find at official celeb sites. Though Boreanaz admits he thinks "computers are boring," he enlisted the help of a friend at Celebrityblvd—a company that helps stars fashion their sites—and chose everything from the blues music to the colors and animation. The Look: A- Coolness: B- Navigability: B- Overall: B
MAJOR FAN SITE DAVID BOREANAZ ONLINE (www.geocities.com/televisioncity/set/9172) A comprehensive, worshipful site serving up plenty of facts about DB, plus quotes and chat transcripts. B+
RICKI LAKE (www.ricki.com) Go, Ricki! Get a website! Unfortunately, that sort of spirit doesn't permeate Lake's official site, which is functional, but not much fun. The Rickster, who calls her page "an extension of the [Ricki Lake] show," simply hasn't put a lot of herself online. And in terms of fan shrines, Ricki's a rookie: "A good site, I guess, is www.ricki.com." Actually, there's a far better one (see below). The Look: C Coolness: C- Navigability: A- Overall: C+
MAJOR FAN SITE RICKI WORLD (www.rickiworld.homestead.com) Michael Cummings' site is so smooth and professional in appearance and function you'll think it is the show's official page. Unfortunately for Ricki, it's not—so you'll have to come here to get an earful of Gloria Gaynor performing "I Will Survive." A
AMY JO JOHNSON (www.amyjojohnson.com) What will Felicity's Amy Jo Johnson do with her Web space (which is still in its planning stages)? "When I record an album, I can sell it on my site," says the ex- Power Ranger. Johnson's glad she'll have a site where her photos aren't doctored: "My sister sent me pictures with my head on top of this gorgeous naked body. Flattering—but it wasn't me." The Look: NA Coolness: NA Navigability: NA Power Ranger Nostalgia Factor: B
MAJOR FAN SITE THE AMY JO JOHNSON NET (hootowl.simplenet.com/amyjo) The ratio of Power Rangers to Felicity is probably a little higher than AJJ would prefer, but those gloriously goofy sound clips ("They don't look like your normal, run-of-the-mill Putties!") are part of the charm of this very well-organized site. A-
SHANNON ELIZABETH (www.shannonelizabeth.com) Just because she bared enough to make Jason Biggs crumble in American Pie doesn't mean Shannon Elizabeth plays vixen at her site. In fact, her official hangout is pretty tame, featuring a trance-y soundtrack and links to fave charities. Elizabeth credits her legions with both professional and technical support: "This kid wrote us and said, 'Your screensaver sucks.' These [teens] are so smart."
The Look: B+ Coolness: A- Navigability: B- Overall: B
MAJOR FAN SITE SHANNON ELIZABETH FAN PAGE (www.piemovie.com/shannon/index.html) This sparely decorated site allows for ample fawning by its 17-year-old proprietor (see "How I met Shannon Elizabeth"). B-
CHRISTIAN BALE (www.christianbale.org) Even though he has a loyal Web following, Christian Bale (American Psycho) isn't doing back flips. The actor tries to keep some distance between himself and his official online kingdom, though he likes the place where "I could promote movies I was involved with and didn't have to talk too much about personal issues."
The Look: B Coolness: A Navigability: A- Overall: A-
MAJOR FAN SITE HEATHER'S CHRISTIAN BALE PAGE (www.geocities.com/hollywood/screen/6415/bale.html) See Heather attempt to link herself to Bale by degrees. B-
CHERYL LADD (www.cherylladd.com) Era-straddling Cheryl Ladd smoothly segued from '70s camp-fest Charlie's Angels to this year's Broadway production of Annie Get Your Gun, but on her official outpost you're allowed a peek into the rest of her world. See personal snapshots and recipes for her no-wheat diet, and browse the gift shop (lithos of her cow paintings, $19.95). Ladd, who claims she makes decisions on every aspect of her online haven, created it because "nobody can talk about you more clearly than yourself. I felt that instead of letting everyone else try to define me, I'd be available."
The Look: B Coolness: C+ Navigability: B+ Overall: B-
MAJOR FAN SITE RUSTY'S CHERYL LADD PAGE (www.geocities.com:80/hollywood/bungalow/1417/ladd.html) Tons of photos (from a Teen Magazine cover to recent pix) chronicle Cheryl's rise through the ranks. But the pictures are all you get.
MICHAEL MADSEN (www.michaelmadsen.com) He plays stone-faced badasses in films like Reservoir Dogs and the upcoming Price of Air, but Michael Madsen is really a poet at heart. At this point, alas, he's facing a problem endemic to writers everywhere: He doesn't have a publisher. Which explains why when you log on to his official site, one thing you'll see is a smattering of his verse. Though the computer-illiterate actor admits to being "kind of lost in the 1950s," he hopes michaelmadsen.com will provide padding for his bank account. "I thought that was kind of interesting what Stephen King did when he put his book on the Internet. I'm sure it was a pretty good payday for old Stephen."
The Look: B- Coolness: C Navigability: B- Overall: C
MAJOR FAN SITE MICHAEL MADSEN MANIA (members.aol.com/madsen1fan/pp22.htm) If you can stay awake beyond the slow-loading intro, you'll find games (a Madsen word search!), sound bites, and a complete bio. B+
TIPS FOR AMBITIOUS FANS
If fans of Hole and Korn can transform their unsanctioned shrines into official websites—and make some money in the process—you can too. But it's not as easy as stealing photos from Spin and putting them on a GeoCities page. So how did they do it? Here are four tips from a 21-year-old named Truck, whose Beck fan site (www.beck.com) became the official Beck site five years ago.
1 Keep up with all the latest news and have more complete information than any other site. "Anything I could get my hands on, I'd put up there," says Truck.
2 Network with the fan base. That way you'll not only have the site other fans turn to first but also be the band's direct link to its audience. Truck says he's "in constant communication with fans," who often feed him updates for the site.
3 Give the site personality. "I was just looking for a way to express my skills," says Truck. In the process, he gave Beck.com a unique feel and showed he wasn't just an obsessed fan but a creative one.
4 Design like a pro. You can start with the album art: Instead of simply showing the cover, turn pieces of it into icons. "I look at the assets I have and I just try and make the best of it," says Truck. The design work on Beck.com comes from an album or from Beck's own art pieces that were given to Truck for use on the site.