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Lange Gets His Vote for Most Likely to Self-Promote

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If only the new experimental fat pill in this week’s headlines worked on egos.

Officeholders from President Clinton to Gov. Pete Wilson relentlessly promote themselves. In the realm of narcissistic power politics, that’s their job.

TV personalities also do it, sometimes overexposing themselves beyond the tolerance of ordinary mortals. The recent premiere of Michael Moore’s satirical “TV Nation” on Fox was probably not far off in its poll stating that a majority of Americans, if possessing a button they could push to make CNN’s omnipresent Larry King disappear, would “keep pushing it and not stop.” Or perhaps the V-chip--a proposed gizmo whose insertion in new TV sets would block violent and other types of “objectionable” programming when activated--could also be applied to self-peddling.

Others from attorneys like Harvard’s TV-chasing Alan Dershowitz to entertainment VIPs do it, too, none more tenaciously or adroitly than that cosmic huckster Michael Jackson. Those 1993 child molestation charges behind him and buoyed by a recent cozy chat with Diane Sawyer on ABC, he is now surfacing everywhere like an outbreak of measles. Pop music’s solid citizen showed up on TV announcing nominees for the MTV Video Music Awards Wednesday, the same day that news stories appeared about him producing a stage musical.

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The orchestrated love-Michael campaign will get plenty of help tonight from ABC, MTV and Black Entertainment Television when they simulcast Jackson’s half-hour special--which reads on paper like an infomercial--featuring the premiere of his video “You Are Not Alone,” a retrospective of his hits and footage of him changing the lyrics of “They Don’t Care About Us” to mollify those who loudly protested that the language “Jew me” and “kike me” was anti-Semitic.

Heard in context, the lyrics in question didn’t appear to have an anti-Semitic intent. Even so, Jackson’s professed surprise at the outrage they stirred either is disingenuous or vividly illustrates his isolation from the real world. Only someone who hermetically seals himself off from mainstream society would not know that, in whatever context, such expressions are as repugnant to Jews as certain disparaging terms are to African Americans.

That snafu notwithstanding, when it comes to staging self-serving publicity stunts, Jackson has had no peer beyond the now somewhat serene Roseanne. No peer until recently, that is.

The new champ in Los Angeles is that glib queen of flackery Kelly Lange, the KNBC-TV Channel 4 anchorwoman who has somehow managed to become her own brazen book tour in the cause of selling her recently published novel, “Trophy Wife”--the messenger presenting herself as the message.

This is not the first time Channel 4 has let Lange cross lines she shouldn’t cross. A few years ago it allowed her to continue news anchoring while co-hosting a short-lived, goofy daytime talk show aired by the station. But this month she’s really hurtling out of control, and Channel 4 news director Bill Lord either hasn’t the authority or the will to totally brake her.

One Channel 4 newscast this month found a beaming Lange cheerfully reporting from her own book-signing party. In another, she wore a Los Angeles Dodgers uniform for a live interview at Dodger Stadium with manager Tommy Lasorda that she capped by awarding him on-camera an autographed copy of her novel.

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Then came her appearance on Monday’s “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno,” which was plugged by her co-anchor Chuck Henry at the end of the preceding 11 p.m. newscast and, like the previous incidents, commented as much on the judgment of her employers as on the anchorwoman.

Approved by Lord, Lange’s “Tonight Show” assignment was to play herself, twice reporting live from the actual Channel 4 newsroom as part of a lame sketch starring Richard Simmons in a spoof of actor Hugh Grant’s highly publicized Arrest of the Century on a lewd conduct charge after an incident with a Hollywood prostitute.

“There you have it, Jay,” Lange concluded in her stoniest anchor pose. “Another shocking arrest, another high-profile celebrity is taken into custody tonight. I’m Kelly Lange in the newsroom.”

The version of Lange that aired on “The Tonight Show” was bad enough, one that had her straddling news and entertainment, as if the line separating them weren’t already hazy and more straddling were necessary. But an earlier version, in which Lange had again sought to promote her book, was even worse, Channel 4 sources said.

In that earlier sequence, they said, Channel 4’s ID and Lange’s book were both visible in the newsroom sequence (with an unseen prop woman helping the anchorwoman position her book for maximum TV exposure). The sequence was re-shot after the station ID and book were ordered yanked by Lord, sources said.

Asked if he regretted approving Lange’s “Tonight Show” appearance and felt her earlier book-hyping on Channel 4 had gone too far, Lord responded Thursday: “We haven’t had a single viewer complaint regarding Kelly or ‘The Tonight Show’ or the book. As a result, I really don’t want to accept any questions about this.”

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In any case, denying her promotion time on “The Tonight Show” was a tough break for Lange and her book. What’s a news-gal to do? Well, she could recoup in the following ways that even someone as creative as Lange may not have considered.

* Continue to clue in Channel 4 news viewers by having the book’s title permanently tattooed on her forehead.

* Exploit that winning smile by using a grease pencil to print the title across her teeth.

* Advertise the title with her eyes by repeatedly blinking in Morse code.

If Lord won’t go along with any of these promotions of her book, Lange can always retaliate by withholding his own autographed copy.

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