Entertainment programs have a heady following

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On a recent evening, Ashley Olsen railed against The National Enquirer, Will Smith reveled in his $45 million opening weekend, and Julia Roberts showed off her twin bundles of joy for the first time.

Their platforms: syndicated entertainment newsmagazines, a genre that's more than two decades old and, unlike some of the cosmetically enhanced beautiful people it covers, seems to be aging gracefully. At a time when entertainment coverage has become a commodity, overflowing from weekly magazines, Internet sites, cable and broadcast TV, a number of Hollywood-centric syndicated shows are thriving in the advertiser-friendly format.

Ratings for these shows are down across the board since the launch last September of yet another program in the niche, Paramount Domestic Television's "The Insider," and a change in Nielsen Media Research's measurement tactics. The shows remain strong advertiser draws, though, for their five-day-a-week consistency and their young, entertainment-loving female viewers.

Despite heavy competition, category leader "Entertainment Tonight," also from Paramount, on average pulled in more than 7.6 million viewers per night during a recent sweeps period. Shows like "The Insider" and NBC Universal Domestic Television Distribution's "Access Hollywood" have become brand integration vehicles for such blue-chip marketers as Maybelline, Target Stores and T-Mobile USA. Ad rates for a 30-second spot can reach as high as $150,000, and marketers like Procter & Gamble Co., General Motors Corp. and every Hollywood studio quickly snap up the available inventory.

Ad-skipping devices like TiVo have made brand integration more important to marketers, and unscripted shows often make the best candidates for such deals. Those involved in creating the shows say the integration must fit with the tone and flow.

"We create the segments first, and if they can be sponsored, great," says Rob Silverstein, executive producer of "Access Hollywood." "If the segments can't, we'll still do them."

The show's executives have had some recent discussions with Fandango about a sponsored movie segment on Fridays, for instance.

"The brand can be front and center, but not in a way that overshadows the content," says Terry Wood, president-creative affairs and development at Viacom-owned Paramount Domestic Television and King World Productions. "You have to both agree on what's best for the viewer."

Entertainment newsmagazines fill an important place in TV stations' schedules, says Bill Carroll, VP-director of programming for Katz Television Group, New York. The half-hour shows aim to funnel viewers from early-evening news programming into the lucrative prime-time hours.


"TV stations schedule these shows in key access time periods" between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. ET, Mr. Carroll says. "That's the ultimate vote of confidence."

Rather than being dismissed as pseudo-news shows, the entertainment magazines have increased their clout by covering issues of the day. For instance, presidential candidates in last fall's election stopped for interviews with "The Insider's" Pat O'Brien and "Access Hollywood's" Nancy O'Dell, Mr. Carroll notes.

In their time periods, entertainment newsmagazines are good counterprogramming to the older-skewing game shows and off-network reruns of sitcoms like "Seinfeld" and "Everybody Loves Raymond." Marketers, especially autos, health and beauty aids, entertainment, and electronics, buy time to reach the entertainment-hungry viewer.

"The audience is disproportionately valuable," says Jim Paratore, exec VP of Time Warner's Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution and president of Telepictures Productions, home of "Extra." "Advertisers really like these upscale viewers."

Advertisers also connect with the controversy-free content and the high glamor quotient. "It's fresh, live, day-of programming," says Ray Dundas, senior VP-group account director, national broadcast, at Interpublic Group of Cos.' Initiative, New York. At the same time, he watches the ratings closely "to see if the interest is waning" because of the glut of entertainment coverage, where even prime-time shows like CBS' "60 Minutes II" and NBC's "Dateline" air celebrity stories.

The syndicated shows try to distinguish themselves in various ways. Executives at "Access Hollywood" say they saw a void in music coverage and made that a high priority, gathering younger viewers with segments on Eminem, Britney Spears and Jennifer Lopez.


"We do a `SportsCenter' type of coverage-with winners and losers," Mr. Silverstein says. "And we never go off-message: We have Hollywood in our name, and we're strictly entertainment news."

The 24-year-old "Entertainment Tonight" uses its longstanding relationships with celebrities and Hollywood's creative community to gain special access to their lives and projects. Producer Joel Silver, for instance, recently brought some cast members, including Paris Hilton, from his upcoming remake "House of Wax" to "ET" and the show's spinoff, "The Insider," for some behind-the-scenes peeks at the movie, says Linda Bell Blue, executive producer of both shows.

"It's all about the relationships you have with people and the trust that's built up over time," Ms. Bell Blue says. "That makes them want to tell their story here first. And we're also a place where stars come to set the record straight."

"The Insider," which runs back-to-back with "ET" and has been renewed through the 2007-08 season, dips into entertainment but also covers human interest stories and trends.

"Extra," in its 11th season, sticks closely to its "entertainment agenda" coverage of awards shows, premieres, new TV launches and stars. The show, which started its run during the O.J. Simpson double-murder trial, also has its roots in news coverage, Mr. Paratore says.

Telepictures several years ago launched a spinoff, "Celebrity Justice," specifically to handle arrests, court cases and other shenanigans. And rejoining the fray this spring will be "A Current Affair," being given new life by News Corp.'s Twentieth Television.

While the shows have some years under their belts, their anchors and correspondents are getting younger and more culturally diverse, trying to more closely mirror the audience they want to attract. "Extra" hired rock star heartthrob and Sugar Ray frontman Mark McGrath last fall to co-host with Dayna Devon, and NBC Universal promoted Billy Bush last summer to co-host of "Access Hollywood."

They share the spotlight with such veterans as Mary Hart, who's been with "ET" since its first season, and Deborah Norville, who recently singed on for an 11th and 12th season with "Inside Edition," distributed by King World Productions, a division of Viacom's CBS Enterprises.

Trend watchers say the shows serve up timely information in a frothy way. "You can get a pop culture roundup with little commitment of brain power or time," says Jane Buckingham, president of Youth Intelligence, a trend analysis company. "It's escapist, yet it gives you a knowledge currency."

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