On March 10, the day Power Girls premieres, Lizzie Grubman will start a new, remarkable chapter in her ongoing saga: She’ll get her own TV show. It’s an improbable twist, even by the debased standards of reality TV, given the events of summer 2001. You remember, right? The Incident at Conscience Point? When an SUV that Lizzie was driving slammed backward into a crowd of people at a Hamptons club, injuring sixteen—and generating a few days of mild interest from the press? At the time, some thought her business was ruined, and possibly her reputation as well. Clients such as Chanel left her firm, and longtime professional relationships, like her partnership with PR guru Peggy Siegal, dissolved. A Website allowed visitors to steer an animated Lizzie in a blood-spattered car as she screamed “Fuck you, white trash!” at unseen victims (Grubman strenuously denies ever having uttered the notorious phrase). She even became the butt of a David Letterman Top Ten list. Lizzie Grubman’s No. 1 complaint about jail: “You can’t, like, leave.”
At her apartment, I ask her if, during her ordeal—which she refers to unwaveringly as “the accident”—she ever thought of giving up PR, maybe retiring from the spotlight. She answers before the question’s even finished.
“Never. Not for a second. I would go into that office every single solitary day. Whether I closed that door and locked it and started to cry all day long, I was in that office every day.” It must have been hard though, I say, given that some people left her during her crisis—
“No one left. Who left?” she says, cutting me off. “I didn’t lose any clients. I lost maybe two clients. I had the most loyal clients in the entire world.” Then she calms a bit. She says, “Did people leave, in terms of employees? Yes. I lost two employees. If those two employees felt I wasn’t going to have a career or a business after that whole thing, it’s their loss. Because look what happened now.” She smooths her tweed skirt. “And I’m not saying that in an egotistical way. But they underestimated me.”
Recall Lizzie Grubman in the spring of 2001, pre–Conscience Point. She had surfed the notoriety from a 1998 New York Magazine cover story—from which her new MTV show borrows its name—to an intense, if localized, fame. She was a “Page Six” staple, seemingly out at a new club every night. She ran with Paris Hilton and Tara Reid. She was known as the Party Princess, a plugged-in publicist who clinked glasses with Sean “Puffy” Combs and Britney Spears.
Now behold Lizzie Grubman in 2005. Ever since November 29, 2002—the day she was released from the Suffolk County Correctional Facility, having served 38 days of a 60-day sentence (she got time off for good behavior) after pleading guilty to reduced charges of third-degree assault and leaving the scene of an accident causing serious bodily injuries—she’s been carefully rebuilding her business, and her image. She’s retained several clients, such as Combs, and even the nightclub Conscience Point, the site of her infamous crash, and she now does work for HBO, DreamWorks, and the MGM Grand. She’s also started a new partnership with fellow celebrity publicist Jonathan Cheban. Her rivals still whisper, as they did before the accident, that she’s only a minor publicity player whose client list is bolstered by the connections of her father, powerful entertainment lawyer Allen Grubman. “Listen, her business is not thriving,” says a publicist who worked with Lizzie, pre-crash. “It’s just her father who’s keeping it alive.”
For Lizzie, who’s already a celebrity, the goal of ‘Power Girls’ is to help people forget how she got so famous in the first place.
Lizzie’s also been slowly and strategically reinserting herself into the limelight: She’s quoted in the papers as a PR expert; she’s appeared as a pundit on shows like The O’Reilly Factor; she had, for a time, a gig with radio station WNEW as a Hamptons party reporter. With Power Girls, however, she’ll stop flirting with the spotlight and step back to center stage. The MTV show follows Grubman and four of her comely real-life assistants—Rachel (the small-town girl), Ali (the brain), Kelly (the California blonde), and Millie (the black Manhattan-born diva)—as they plan parties, corral celebrities, and generally enjoy what’s portrayed on the show as the go-go, jet-setting, red-carpet-and-velvet-rope lifestyle of the young and glamorous New York publicist. Lizzie is the indisputable star, acting as a tough but fair Trump-like mentor to her young apprentices.
MTV has had great success with similar projects, like The Osbournes and Newlyweds, that promise a warts-and-all treatment of celebrities but also act as a kind of long-form infomercial for their stars. For Lizzie’s girls—and though they’re all in their mid-twenties, they’re invariably referred to, even by themselves, as “Lizzie’s girls”—the show promises a chance to step out on the red carpet, after loitering at its fringes. For Lizzie, who’s already a celebrity, the goal is different. She hopes the show will help people forget how she got so famous in the first place.
If you know Lizzie Grubman primarily from her summer of infamy, then a few things about her might surprise you. For starters, she’s tiny. She has the proportions and the styling of a movie star: wasp-waisted, well dressed, with blonde hair and bleached eyebrows, and as small and fragile as a bird. She’s also friendly. Charming, even. This shouldn’t be shocking; it is, after all, her job. She holds eye contact. She nods with interest. She touches your arm, repeatedly. At the slightest hint of a joke, she’ll loose a peal of laughter and, if you’re sitting close enough, rub up against you like a cat.