television: Blonde Ambition 

E! lets us follow in the high-heeled footsteps of arguably one of the dumbest — or most drugged — pop-culture icon.

Nonetheless, Vickie Lynn Marshall, a.k.a. Anna Nicole Smith, has her own TV show, and she probably doesn't much care what the critics think. For a 34-year-old ninth-grade dropout from Texas who used to sling hash, she's not doing bad. It helped, of course, that she met and married an 89-year-old billionaire who first saw her in 1991 when she was a "dancer" at Gigi's in Houston and decided that life wouldn't be complete until he married her and showered her with millions in baubles, bangles and bright shiny beads. But he had to wait until Smith had made her own name nationally as Playboy's Playmate of the Year. In 1994, he popped the question and she accepted. She was 26. He was 89. A little over a year later, the billionaire — J. Howard Marshall II, a Texas oilman — croaked. Since then, Smith has been fighting with Marshall's family over who gets to keep the money he couldn't spend before he died. Earlier this year a federal judge awarded Smith more than $80 million, but the legal battles continue.

Meanwhile, a girl's gotta work to pay the bills, doesn't she?

So Smith persuaded E! — or maybe it was the other way around — that she could follow in the footsteps of that other hot icon of tasteless TV, Ozzie Osbourne, and bare her soul, not to mention veritable twin peaks of cleavage, in an episodic documentary of her daily life. And what do viewers get for their half-hour investment in Smith each week? They get to see her house hunting, bowling, talking to her therapist, dispensing Prozac to her nerve-shattered dog, and talking trash to anybody who'll listen, including her personal assistant, her attorney and her 16-year-old son (who seems to be way more well-adjusted than his mom, although that's not much of a stretch, even for a teenager).

But Osbourne, to his credit, seems to be completely in touch with what's happening to and in his life now that he's invited cameras to record his every move for money. What's sad, even pathetic, is that Smith doesn't seem to know what's going on — or what's being done to her. Maybe it's because she's whacked out on whatever her drug du jour is. Or maybe it's because she's just plain stupid. Either possibility seems as likely as the other.

Whatever the cause, the fault for this debacle lies not so much with Smith — although you could make a good case that she or her attorney ought to at least have shielded her son from the cameras — as it does with E! Because it's E! that's taking advantage of a woman who clearly doesn't know what she's doing or what the consequences are. Capitalizing on this woman's disconnect from reality in the pursuit of money and ratings is wretched excess at best, contemptible in the extreme.

It makes one wonder what the next wave will bring us. Live broadcasts of puppy euthanasia, anyone? S

"The Anna Nicole Show" airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on E!, with repeats throughout the following week.


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