Has Ashton Kutcher 'Punk'd' the Paparazzi?

Ashton Kutcher's new E! show turns the tables on the paparazzi and the media.

ByABC News
January 8, 2009, 12:20 AM

March 6, 2008 — -- Paris Hilton had an improbable dinner date in L.A. Saturday: a gray-haired, orange-robed "shaman" who blessed her and urged her to give a diamond necklace to a total stranger.

Like most everything she does, the event was captured by dozens of cameras. News quickly spread to London tabloids, TMZ.com, the New York Daily News and websites of the Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle, who wondered if she'd found religion or was seeking spiritual guidance.

"He's really changed my life," Hilton told paparazzi from her car, adding she offered the necklace "because the greatest gift is to give."

Turns out, as some outlets later discovered, the "mystic" was an actor named Maxie Santillan Jr., who has appeared on "CSI" and "My Name Is Earl." And though some accused Hilton of getting "Punk'd," the joke's on them: The entire scene was staged for a new show from "Punk'd" producer Ashton Kutcher premiering Sunday on E! (10:30 ET/PT).

"Pop Fiction," an eight-episode series, is a prank show targeting paparazzi and gullible media outlets. It's made with the eager help of stars, who were the laughing stocks of Kutcher's former MTV show. This time the shoe's on the other foot, and the series has been kept so tightly under wraps that E!'s own website fell victim to the Hilton hoax and other planted stories that producers won't yet divulge.

In all, says Kutcher's producing partner Jason Goldberg, about 20 celebrities -- including A-list actors whom he declines to identify -- are in on the joke and in "full control" of the pranks. After the producers quietly circulated word of the show's concept, interest among celebs "was pretty heavy."

"You're speaking their language. We live in a culture that's driven by media and obsessed with celebrity, to the point where they don't have private lives anymore," Goldberg says.

"Two people going out to eat turns into, 'They're engaged.' It's a feeding frenzy. It's dangerous and it's irresponsible in some cases."