Hollywood--including the likes of Mel Gibson, Bob Newhart, Jodie Foster, and Rosie O'Donnell-- learns a whole new kind of networking

By Dana Kennedy
September 23, 1994 at 04:00 AM EDT

Lurking on the Net in search of celebs to include in his E-Mail Addresses of the Rich & Famous, author Seth Godin figured out how to spot cyberimpostors. ”Real celebrities rarely do obnoxious things on-line,” he says. ”They rarely make grammatical errors, especially all these people who say they’re Stephen King. Stephen King knows how to put an apostrophe in it’s.”

Even so, King — real or otherwise — isn’t among the mostly C-listers (like Ed Asner and Paula Poundstone) uncovered by Godin. It seems that such on-line stars as Mel Gibson, Bob Newhart, Jodie Foster, and Rosie O’Donnell prefer to remain anonymous.

But they’re there—and they have company. As the population of the Internet and commercial on-line services has swelled, not only celebs but many of the major movie studios (Columbia, Disney, Warner Bros., Twentieth Century Fox), TV networks (CBS, NBC, Fox, and MTV), and music companies (Sony, Warner Bros., Geffen) have been quick to take advantage of a 24-hour audience whose numbers can rival those of TV’s Home Improvement. While Jodie Foster can read the 54 postings about her on America Online, Columbia Pictures is promoting Blankman with an elaborate on-line press kit. Sony plans to put its whole music catalog online, including video and audio clips. Working with the studios, Hollywood Online, a glitzy service-within-a-service, offers members of America Online, CompuServe, and Apple’s new eWorld movie previews, photos of stars, and production notes.

Also popular are boutique on-line services like the Vine, catering to producers, screenwriters, actors, agents, and directors. Some 650 people have signed up since the Vine began four months ago. Its biggest lure? ”In a town notorious for not getting people on the phone, here’s a way to guarantee your message gets through,” says cofounder Marc Van Arx.

Hollywood execs afraid their messages aren’t reaching the masses can eavesdrop on the hundreds of TV and movie newsgroup postings. J. Michael Straczynski, executive producer of Babylon 5, is a fixture on the CompuServe Sci-Fi forum (one fan caught an error in a special effect that Straczynski had fixed by the next show). Fox program research VP Charles Kennedy logs on to Delphi and the Internet every morning. ”We can very quickly get a sense of what the themes are in reaction to a show,” he says. ”There was the issue of the ons-creen clock on the Fox football game. I went into the football area, posted a message. After an hour I had 35 messages.” Kennedy makes his Net presence known; others, he claims, do not. ”There are program executives, like the one in charge of the (Aaron) Spelling shows-he has his own Power Mac and he goes onto America Online to see what people are saying.” And, like so many cybersurfers, famous or otherwise, ”He never identifies himself.” Maybe he says he’s Stephen King.