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Martha: The exit will be televised
The domestic diva snuck into prison five months ago, but she's not planning to sneak out.
March 2, 2005: 6:03 PM EST
By Krysten Crawford, CNN/Money staff writer
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CNN's Rudi Bakhtiar takes a closer look at how the domestic diva will spend her next 5 months in home detention.
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NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Five months ago Martha Stewart one-upped the media by checking into prison before the television cameras had arrived.

On her way out this week, she's planning to let the world watch.

Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, the lifestyle company that Stewart founded and led until a personal stock scandal forced her to step down, is planning to provide a flat-bed truck for the media to use to get a good shot of Stewart as she enters the chartered plane in West Virginia that will take her home, CNN has learned.

Stewart will finish a five-month sentence this week after being convicted of lying to federal investigators about a personal stock sale in late 2001. Her official release date is Sunday. But because that falls on a weekend, prison officials could release her as early as Friday.

In preparation, the flat-bed truck will be positioned at the Greenbrier Valley Airport near Stewart's minimum-security prison, according to airport manager Jerry O'Sullivan.

A spokeswoman for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (Research) declined comment.

But O'Sullivan said the truck will be parked 100 feet from the passenger entrance of Stewart's plane and will be available to television crews on a first-come, first-served basis.

O'Sullivan would not say which day the truck will be set up, nor which day he expects Stewart's plane to be ready for her departure.

Stewart, 63, convicted a year ago on charges related to her sale of ImClone stock in December 2001, was sentenced last summer to five months in prison and five months of home detention. She chose to serve her time early rather than await the outcome of her appeal, which is pending. Stewart has maintained throughout the ordeal that she did nothing wrong.

In announcing her decision to go to prison, Stewart said she wanted to put the scandal behind her. Both her public image and the company's finances had been badly damaged by her legal case and what critics saw as her open defiance.

In hindsight, Stewart may have made the right decision. Legal and marketing experts note that prison has done wonders for her reputation, which appears to have improved in recent months.

A step in the right direction

Going to prison was a "smart" move, said Robert Passikoff, the founder and president of Brand Keys, a New York marketing firm that has tracked consumer opinions of the Stewart brand.

The outcome of her trial wasn't just that she was found guilty, said Passikoff, "she was also found to be mean-spirited." Prison has "well humanized her, softened her and turned her from a villain into a victim and that's a positive thing."

And while Martha Stewart Living is still reporting steep losses, the company has reason to be optimistic that a financial turnaround is near.

To that end, the company has lined up two high-profile television shows starring Stewart and set to air next fall on NBC. Both shows -- one a syndicated daily talk show and the other a spinoff of "The Apprentice" reality show -- are being developed by Mark Burnett, the mastermind producer of a string of hits, including "The Apprentice" and "Survivor."

Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, which just a few months ago appeared to be distancing itself from Stewart's name, is welcoming its namesake back with open arms.

In the March issue of Martha Stewart Living magazine, editor-in-chief Margaret Roach said she looked forward to Stewart's "homecoming" and announced that Stewart would begin writing a column for the publication starting with the April issue.

The makeover isn't over

It's not yet known what other public relations efforts company officials have in store for the domestic doyenne.

According to Brand Keys research, Stewart's image has steadily improved in recent months after hitting a low a year ago. But the Stewart brand still has a way to go before it reaches pre-scandal levels, said Passikoff.

"There needs to be more polish put back on the image," he said.

Britt Beemer, the founder of marketing firm America's Research Group, agrees.

"I think they've got to be aggressive and to make Martha more accessible initially," said Beemer, who thinks Stewart's image has improved largely because she has been silenced these past months. "America has got to know that she's not the same defiant Martha she was before. That's the challenge. If she can be humble through all of this, I think America will forgive her."

Upon her release from the Alderson federal prison camp in West Virginia, Stewart must head for her estate in Bedford, N.Y. She'll spend the next five months confined to her home, although the court has ruled she can leave for up to 48 hours of work a week.

Stewart, who will wear an electronic ankle bracelet to ensure she doesn't violate her detention, can have visitors to her home, criminal defense lawyers say.

For more on Martha's home detention, click here.

For more on Stewart's saga overall, click here.  Top of page


Martha Stewart
Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Incorporated
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