How Showbiz TV Is Adapting to a Changing News Climate

Entertainment Tonight hosts 2-Publicity-H 2019
Courtesy of Entertainment Tonight

Entertainment Tonight invented the showbiz newsmagazine genre, and 38 years later it remains the top-rated show of its type.

The explosion of media options this decade has caused viewership for shows like ET, Access and Extra — all of which have been around more than 20 years — to decline some (along with most of ad-supported programming).

All three shows are down substantially in viewers this decade, a decline similar to every series shown on broadcast television. The entertainment newsmagazines have had fairly stable audiences the past couple seasons, and ET ranks in the top 10 among all syndicated shows for 2018-19.

But they have remained solid players in syndication despite those realities and a proliferation of more gossip-focused shows like TMZ.

Then there's the even newer entrants, Daily Mail TV and Page Six TV — the former co-produced by Dr. Phil's Stage 29 Productions and the latter from the New York Post and Endemol Shine — looking to compete with TMZ for breaking gossip. 

Producers of those shows say they face the same challenges in the era of the never-ending news cycle just as network news programs do. They're also using some of the newer tools at hand to keep their shows current.

"We have for some time recognized that it's critically important to be operating on multiple platforms to give a comprehensive understanding of entertainment news throughout the day," says Sharon Hoffman, the executive producer of ET. "So there's no such thing as sitting on a story till we air tonight. If it breaks we get it out very quickly on social. We put out a story as quickly as possible online."

In terms of ratings, the more established entertainment-news shows outdraw their newer counterparts for the most part. Entertainment Tonight is the clear leader, drawing about 4.4 million daily viewers this season. Access Live averages 2.6 million, Access 1.8 million and Extra 1.5 million.

They make for four of the top five shows in the entertainment-news space, with only 12-year-old TMZ (1.8 million) joining them. In syndication, seniority has its perks: Those shows tend to air in more heavily trafficked prime access time slots, while relative upstarts like Daily Mail TV (1.4 million viewers) and Page Six TV (900,000) are more frequently in less desirable spots.

Lisa Gregorisch-Dempsey, senior exec producer of Extra, notes the show has a dedicated digital correspondent who can handle breaking news and do longer segments about shows like The Bachelor. In November ET launched ET Live, a free streaming app that keeps entertainment junkies and digital natives updated all day.

"We'll break news that way, and if it's big enough it will also go in the show," says Gregorisch-Dempsey. "Because it's a never-ending news cycle, the stories I'm thinking about putting on the show at 7 in the morning are dated by 7 that night. We're updating probably up to 3 o'clock L.A. time, which is 6 o'clock, an hour before we go on, in New York."

Access and Access Live recently parted ways with longtime exec producer Rob Silverstein, with producer Maureen FitzPatrick taking over those duties. Those shows have also hinted at format changes to be more responsive to round-the-clock news. "I'm excited to take its legacy to the next level with innovative new ideas that give viewers even more ways to connect with all their favorite entertainment stories," FitzPatrick said in a March 19 statement announcing her promotion. 

Both ET and Extra schedule initial tapings as late in the day as they can to make airtimes, and both shows send additional feeds to West Coast stations as news warrants.

"We work to make it a really exciting watch and something you don't want to walk away from. That goes into the way you tell stories, pacing, producing at a high level," says Hoffman. "And being fluid is critical to being relevant."

For shows like Entertainment Tonight and Extra, the differentiator is access. "We're the ones who get the celebs," says Gregorisch-Dempsey of the longer-running shows. "The [newer] shows gossip about celebs, they report on them, but when it comes to actually having access and being able to get new information on the story everybody's talking about, we have them."