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True Tori: A story of fame, money, sadness and desperation

Tori Spelling tells her story in Lifetime’s all-new docu-series True Tori, premiering Tuesday, April 22, at 10pm ET/7pm PT on Lifetime Canada.

This is a story about a wounded woman, that staple of literature and contemporary celebrity coverage. Some people say it isn't a true story.

It's about fame and money. And it's unsettling. How unsettling? Well, when Ben Mulroney gets queasy about something in the celebrity racket, you know it's warped. The other day, Mulroney tweeted, "I get that in my line of work, we trade in a certain level of voyeurism, but this new Tori/Dean show leaves me unsettled."

He's talking about True Tori (Tuesday, Lifetime Canada, 10 p.m.). The series is purported to depict Tori Spelling and her husband, Canadian actor Dean McDermott, trying to fix their marriage. According to the tabloids and Spelling herself, McDermott had a fling late last year with a woman he met in Toronto. True Tori debuted last Tuesday to excellent ratings for a cable series – 1.2 million viewers in the U.S.

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First, let's backtrack. In the summer of 2008, during the TV critics press tour in L.A., on one of the slow days, several Canadian journalists, including my colleague Andrew Ryan, paid a visit to the Hollywood Collectors & Celebrities Show.

The event is one of those sterling reminders about fleeting fame and wealth in Hollywood. Former movie and TV stars, many elderly, sign posters and photographs for a fee. For $20 they'll sign something for you. Most are there because they kinda need the cash. You can tell. The place – it's usually at an airport hotel – reeks of sadness and desperation.

In 2008, TV critics wandering through it were astonished to see Tori Spelling at a table signing photos from her Beverly Hills, 90210 days for twenty bucks. Beside her was Dean McDermott. As critic Bill Brioux described it on his blog, "you could feel the dude trying to rescind into the wall paper. I asked Spelling if the rumours were true that she was joining the new 90210 series, and she said nothing has been signed yet. A new season of the couple's reality series Tori & Dean: Inn Love, has just begun airing in the States."

I was thinking of that incident the other day. Just days after True Tori began airing, scorn was being heaped on it. Both TMZ and the website Jezebel suggested that the entire McDermott-cheated story was faked in order to land Spelling a new TV show. TMZ news director Mike Walters said that the Canadian "other woman," named Emily, "doesn't exist." He said, "in all the ways to check that people exist, she doesn't exist."

Jezebel studied True Tori closely and devoted thousands of words to it and the whole Spelling/McDermott saga. It's a demolition job. It asks, "Did Tori Spelling Fake a Cheating Scandal to Land a New Reality Show?" It concludes that there might be a "nugget of truth" to the cheating scandal, but casts serious doubts on the existence of the Canadian named Emily and asserts that Spelling, "continues to lie about her life."

Tori Spelling is the daughter of TV producer Aaron Spelling, who created and produced some of the most successful shows in the history of American TV, including Charmed, Beverly Hills, 90210, 7th Heaven, Dynasty and Melrose Place. In 2006, after the death of Aaron Spelling, his widow Candy gave Tori only $800,000 of the family's $500-million fortune. They were, as they say, "estranged."

Since then, Spelling has used books – she's published five – and reality TV to stay famous and solvent. For several seasons the reality series, Tori & Dean: Inn Love ran on the Oxygen cable channel, documenting how she and McDermott bought and operated a bed and breakfast hotel in Fallbrook, Calif. Interest in it faded and, last year, Tori & Dean: Cabin Fever, about the couple renovating a cottage in Ontario for a vacation home, aired only in Canada on CMT Canada and HGTV.

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The Lifetime show is a big step up from that. The wounded woman trying to mend her marriage. But the whole fandango is more than unsettling. It reeks of sadness and desperation, like the Hollywood Collectors & Celebrities Show. That's the true part of the story.

Airing tonight

All About Ann (HBO Canada, 9 p.m.) is a charming and instructive documentary about the life and times of Ann Richards, the famously witty and tough-talking late Governor of Texas.

The Following(Fox, CTV, 9 p.m.) reaches its finale tonight. It's been a wonky season with some woeful episodes and twists, but fun.

Follow me on Twitter: @MisterJohnDoyle

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About the Author
Television critic

John Doyle is The Globe and Mail's television critic. His column appears in the Review section Monday to Thursday and on Saturday. He has been the paper's critic since 2000. More


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