'Access’ to Red Carpet

Expect Grammy, Oscar surprises

NBC Universal’s Access Hollywood is dancing to a new beat. This year, in addition to its usual coverage, Access Hollywood is producing two pre- and post-Grammy shows for Fuse, Rainbow Media’s cable music channel.

“When it comes to music shows, we cover them better than anybody, and have for years,” says Rob Silverstein, executive producer of Access Hollywood. “It’s a strategy. We needed a playing field we could dominate, and that’s what we’ve done.”

To set itself apart from the competition, Access Hollywood works hard to land big music scoops. During February sweeps, host Billy Bush will air the first televised interview with Britney Spears’ new husband, former back-up dancer Kevin Federline. Leading into the Grammys, Access will spend quality time with hot hip-hopper Usher and this year’s most-nominated singer, Kanye West.

But much of next month will be spent gearing up for the Academy Awards, airing Feb. 27 on ABC. The Oscars deliver a ratings juggernaut for the entertainment magazines.

The nominations were released last week, launching the official media blitz en route to the Oscars. Access’s Bush and weekend co-anchor Shaun Robinson will host the network’s pre-Oscar coverage, though they are not affiliated with ABC. Behind the scenes, Silverstein has shifted what he calls his Access Surprise Team into full gear.

“Right now, they are searching for people and topics that we can bring with us into the winners’ room,” Silverstein says. “It’s all surprises, stuff that nobody else has.”

And Access goes to extraordinary lengths to grab an exclusive. At the Golden Globes, Access surprised Best Actress winner Hillary Swank with a satellite feed of the crew at Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn, where she trained for Million Dollar Baby. Jamie Foxx, named Best Actor for Ray, was confronted by a feed of his friends and family in hometown Terrell, Texas, where he used to play piano. Foxx, audiences learned, was imitating Ray Charles even then. Access promises to take its Oscar coverage up a notch. “We are going to bring some of these people with us and surprise Foxx,” Silverstein says.

Over the past five years, most entertainment magazines have averaged double-digit increases over their season averages for their next-day Oscar coverage.

Paramount’s Entertainment Tonight averages a 19% bump come Oscar time, while Access Hollywood jumps 10%. King World’s Inside Edition typically gets a 17% boost, and Warner Bros.’ Extra! rises 11%.

Last year, every magazine show enjoyed its biggest increase in five years. ET saw a staggering 43% rise over its season average to 7.6; Inside Edition rose 20% to 4.2; Access Hollywood was up 29% to 3.6; and Extra! soared 36% to 3.4. For them, Oscar time is pure gold.