Demand Drives Celebrity TV News Spin-Offs

On Thursday night, Fox Television ran an hour-long special entitled "Stars Without Makeup." It seemed a direct offshoot of the more aggressive approach to celebrity journalism from the Fuller school. But on television, such a show is the exception. The world of celebrity TV works far more hand-in-hand with official Hollywood.

In a measure of just how close some in the world of entertainment media are to their subjects, it's at the Paramount lot -- alongside movie and TV sets -- where two of the biggest celebrity media TV shows are filmed: "Entertainment Tonight" and its brand new spin-off "The Insider."

The day begins for those shows at the crack of dawn in Los Angeles, 5 a.m. PT. That's when the editorial board meeting for "Entertainment Tonight" and "The Insider" begins.

"Tell everybody who you saw at Mr. Chow's last night," the executive producer of the shows, Linda Bell Blue, instructs "The Insider" anchor Pat O'Brien.

O'Brien cheerfully takes center stage. "We're at Chow's last night. Table 1 was Brad Pitt and Brad Grey. Table 2 was Sara Jessica Parker. Table 3 was me and Bill Gibbons. Who knows who Billy Gibbons is?"

One staffer seems to have an idea: "ZZ Top," he says.

"ZZ Top, thank you very much," says O'Brien. "Lionel Richie was at Table 4. So it was a good night."

"What did you have?" Bell Blue asks.

"Peking duck," says O'Brien. "That's what you have at Mr. Chow's."

More Than 100 Million Viewers

"Entertainment Tonight averages 7 million viewers a day. Combined with viewers of "The Insider," "Inside Edition," "Access Hollywood" and "Extra!," these celebrity news magazines grab more than 100 million viewers a week.

Much of the talk at this meeting not surprisingly deals with the shows' coverage of the Academy Awards.

"Do Ray and Leo split the vote, do you think?" asks O'Brien, then corrects himself: "Sorry, I mean Jamie and Leo," referring to Jamie Foxx, star of the Ray Charles biopic "Ray," and Leonardo DiCaprio, of "The Aviator." Then O'Brien explained: "By the way, the fact that I said 'Ray' means that that is what is on everybody's mind."

A source at "Entertainment Tonight" says the show makes more than $100 million a year. Hence the new spin-off, which launched six months ago. "There's more news than one show can handle," says Bell Blue. "And so we decided to create 'The Insider' as a sister-show to 'Entertainment Tonight.' "

Adds O'Brien, "When they came up with this show and asked me to host it, I thought to myself, 'Is there room for another half-hour of television across this country to talk about Ben Affleck, Jennifer Lopez, and the (Olsen) twins?' And the answer is, yes there is, and there is probably room for a couple of more."

As a local TV reporter in Chicago, O'Brien used to cover legendary Mayor Richard Daley. "There was a time when I was in news where if they said 'You go cover a movie star,' I would say, 'To hell with you, I am not going to do it. That's for the entertainment guys.'" But in today's media world, he says, "The line has been completely erased. It's news, sports and entertainment. It is all the same. It is all entertainment, it is all big money, and there is just no separation between the three anymore."

O'Brien covered sports for 18 years, and then in 1997 switched to celebrities and entertainment fulltime as the anchor of "Access Hollywood." He makes no bones about what the show has to do to preserve its access in Hollywood. "We are 'The Insider,'" he says. "We are here to show behind the scenes in Hollywood. It's as simple as that."

It's a platform that other kinds of celebrities have come to appreciate. In 2004, "The Insider" scored interviews with President Bush and Vice President Cheney, as well as their Democratic challengers, Sens. John Kerry and John Edwards. O'Brien was recently given a tour of the White House by first lady Laura Bush. Many in political journalism resented the access he was able to get, in exchange for perhaps a somewhat more comfortable interview.