As home detention ends, a full plate awaits Stewart

Her Tv shows and other projects could represent a comeback that attests to a US love for the underdog.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Wednesday, one of the most famous bracelets in history is expected to come off Martha Stewart's ankle.

As the electronic watchdog is removed, it will mark the end of her five months - and three weeks extra for minor violations - of home confinement in Bedford, N.Y. But it will also signal the start of a new round of Martha-mania.

Next month, Ms. Stewart will have two new shows on national television. Another television network will air the docudrama "Martha: Behind Bars." Subscribers to satellite radio will be able to tune in to the Martha channel. She's also found time to work on a book on baking, which is due out in November, as well as "Martha's Rules," a primer on starting a business, due out in October. These will share space on bookshelves with a book written by a fan, "Let's Get Martha," a critique of her trial. And in between a visit or two with her parole officer, she will have new DVDs for sale, a new line of furniture at Kmart, and a media empire to run - of course unofficially, since she's no longer allowed to be an officer of the company with her name on the door.

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Yes, Stewart has come back, hotter than a banana flambé. In fact, her rise is more proof that America loves an underdog, a comeback artist. The country is full of individuals who have run into trouble with the law and bounced back: Oliver North, now a commentator; G. Gordon Liddy, the Watergate burglar who is now a talk-show host; and Michael Milken, the former financier-turned-businessman philanthropist.

"America is always willing to give people a second chance," says Leslie Jose Zigel, an entertainment lawyer at the law firm Greenberg Traurig in Miami. "The Martha Stewart story is very compelling: Here is a very astute businesswoman who took on the major media."He adds, "She's given a sense of pride among women in the home and domestic arena."

But like many powerful people, Stewart also developed her share of enemies. The New York Post, for example, trailed Stewart and took pictures that appear to show her violating the terms of her supervised release. In an editorial, the newspaper wrote, "... this prima donna seems to think her status entitles her to be treated more leniently than other convicts. It doesn't."

For these transgressions, apparently, her lawyer released a statement that she had agreed to the additional three weeks of home confinement.

"People tend to violate supervised release all the time," says John Wortmann Jr., a former federal prosecutor who is now a partner at Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Nicholson Graham in Boston. Repeated violations, he says, risk a return to jail, possibly for as much as one to two years. "As there are more violations, judges tend to get frustrated," he says.

As Stewart's home confinement ends, many media-watchers believe Stewart is about to become even more successful than before she was convicted of lying to federal agents.

"By the time this happened, the whole Martha Stewart style was beginning to show its age," says Robert Thompson, director of the study of popular television at Syracuse University in New York. "What is strange is her being elevated beyond her fan base to world-class celebrity, thanks to a trial and conviction, and brought to a place in our culture that is much bigger than before."

Indeed, Stewart's version of "The Apprentice" could be even more successful than the one in which Donald Trump is boss, says Jay Whitehead, publisher of HRO Today Magazine, a human-resources publication. "Martha has a natural media personality to start with, and she will be just better to watch," says Mr. Whitehead, who will be writing a column called "Martha-nomics" in The Washington Times. He also notes, "More women watch television than men except for sports."

Stewart's risk is viewer fatigue. Of course, it wouldn't be the first time that a TV show has disappeared after a fast start. Whatever happened, for example, to "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire"?

While the same might happen to Stewart's show, media-watcher Tamara Conniff, coexecutive editor of Billboard magazine, points to a public fascination with the media mogul's life. "The courts made an example of her," she says, "but in a weird kind of way made her, from the public perception, the underdog."

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