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Sutherland's release from jail nets a yawn

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When it comes to the glare of the paparazzi, age apparently has its advantages.

Just ask actor Kiefer Sutherland, who walked out of the Glendale jail early Monday mostly to a collective shrug of tabloid indifference. He'd done 48 days behind bars without fanfare, judged uninteresting in the age of Britney, Paris, Nicole and Lindsay.

Fame, a Santa Monica-based photo agency, sent a photographer, to little avail: Only one publication called with a request.

In a month when the paparazzi's aggressive pursuit of singer Britney Spears has prompted some to say they've gone too far, there was discussion Monday about why Sutherland's case got relatively little attention.

Among those in the tabloid world, there was some consensus that young starlets -- not a 41-year-old actor -- move photos, especially when it comes to feeding the appetite of celebrity magazines and the ever-growing ranks of Hollywood-related gossip blogs and websites.

"Youth controls the market," said Jeff Smith, sales manager for Fame. "And the older you are, the less interesting you are, unless there is something bizarre you are doing. The young Hollywood starlets -- that's what it's all about."

Frank Griffin, co-owner of Bauer-Griffin photo agency and a veteran paparazzo, was more blunt, saying tabloids, celebrity magazines and gossip websites are more interested in younger women who look glamorous but are capable of falling on their faces.

"He's not one of those faces that does much," Griffin said of Sutherland. "He's not Mischa Barton. He's not Paris Hilton. He's not Lindsay Lohan."

Sutherland has been a tabloid staple for nearly two decades, getting the most ink in the early 1990s during his relationship with Julia Roberts.

Sutherland was jailed in December after pleading no contest to driving with a blood-alcohol level above the legal limit of 0.08%. The 48-day sentence included 30 days for the misdemeanor charge and 18 for violating probation in a 2004 DUI case.

Those familiar with the case said Sutherland had the choice of carrying out his full sentence in the L.A. County Jail or the Glendale Police Department's lockup and opted for the latter because it was smaller and safer.

Some celebrity reporters said Sutherland's decision to take responsibility for his actions and accept a lengthy jail stint made it less of a story.

"Everything with Kiefer happened under the radar," said Harvey Levin, managing producer of celebrity website TMZ.com. "To whip the media up into a feeding frenzy, you need an Act 1 and an Act 2, leading to an Act 3, which is the craziness," Levin said. "Kiefer did his time semiprivately, without the media glare."

Griffin said he also thought tabloids were suffering from celebrity jailhouse fatigue. "We've had enough jail stories," he said. "Nobody cares about his release from jail. With Paris, we wanted to see her come out to sashay down the concrete catwalk."

Glendale police were prepared for a crush of media and were not exactly sure what to expect after watching the theatrics last summer surrounding Hilton's jailing, release, return to county lockup and rerelease that took on the atmosphere of a movie premiere.

At the time, local photo agencies suggested that an image of the celebrity heiress behind bars could have fetched half a million dollars. To forestall any attempts to test that theory, the L.A. County Sheriff's Department went to extraordinary steps to prevent anyone from getting an opportunity to snap a photograph of her, even confiscating the cellphones of jail employees.

More recently, a crush of photographers that greeted Spears at her house during a custodial dispute, and later at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center where she was taken for observation by Los Angeles police, also gave Glendale police pause.

But in the end, there were no prying paparazzi, and Glendale police said they didn't need to take steps similar to the Sheriff's Department's.

Glendale police spokesman John Balian said Sutherland served his time with relatively few inquiries or problems.

Some reporters called on the star's birthday to ask if he was going to get a cake, or tried to find out what it was like for him to spend Christmas and New Year's behind bars. Others wanted to know if he had talked to former TV talk-show host and actor Gary Collins, another celebrity serving time for drunk driving at the Glendale lockup.

About a dozen photographers did show up as Sutherland departed Monday -- but there was little of the theatrics that followed Hilton's release last summer.

"It went smoothly," Balian said.

For decades, the traditional tabloids focused much attention on older celebrities, including luminaries Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Elizabeth Taylor. But although some weekly tabs continue to follow the lives of Hollywood veterans, other magazines as well as Internet celebrity sites center their coverage on the young.

Griffin said some of the older tabloids are struggling to keep up with the times.

"They thought they could live on forever on Burt Reynolds or Elizabeth Taylor in a wheelchair," he said. "But it's all the kids who are making the money."

But Levin of TMZ.com said it really comes down to the story, noting that his website broke two major stories involving older celebrities: Mel Gibson's anti-Semitic tirade during a 2006 driving arrest and Michael Richards' comedy-club rant, also in 2006, that many considered racist.

"You can't look at the age of a celebrity and say there is a direct correlation about how interesting they are," he said.

andrew.blankstein@ latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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