Celeb Intrigue Fuels Magazine Growth

Insider and Inside Edition rise, others hold steady

Following a year of high-profile celebrity romantic entanglements, enhanced promotion, and program upgrades, magazine shows are the healthiest genre in syndication. So say executives, producers and researchers at studios responsible for Paramount's Entertainment Tonight and The Insider, King World's Inside Edition, NBC Universal's Access Hollywood and Telepictures' Extra.

No matter how you cut it—season-to-date versus the same period a year earlier, all of 2004-05, or November to November—every show in the group either improved or held steady through Dec. 11. The talk, court and game-show genres can't claim that.

Compared to the same weeks in fall 2004, third-ranked The Insider gained the most, rising 8% to an average 2.8 rating. Inside Edition,benefiting from early fringe and access upgrades in 20 large and midsize markets, including New York, has climbed 3% to an average 3.5. The others, including ET, which has topped every sweep since November 1990, are even.

After the shows suffered ratings hits following the September 2004 debut of The Insider, the improved numbers are a welcome sign for the industry. But while magazine programs remain fresh with originals year-round, don't expect to see more anytime soon; besides the shows being expensive to produce and distribute, costing as much as $1 million per week, the field is already overcrowded. Twentieth Television's news-heavy Geraldo at Large, for example, is still trying to get a foothold in a packed field.

Most link the magazine programs' revival to the ongoing romantic sagas of Brad, Angelina, Jen, Tom, Katie, Paris, Britney, Nick, Jessica and the rest, which have trumped last year's most memorable celeb moments: the death of Christopher Reeve, a sex scandal surrounding Fox News' Bill O'Reilly and Michael Jackson's trial. “Entertainment magazine shows are driven by content,” says Terry Wood, president of creative affairs and development at Paramount Domestic Television and King World Prods. “[2005 was] the year of the relationship.”

Jim Paratore, executive VP of Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution and president of Telepictures Prods., which syndicates Extra, concurs. Pointing to the improved ratings, he cites “a whole new generation of celebrities whose lives have become interesting.”

Magazine shows were able to stem viewer erosion, in part by cashing in on their long-term relationships with the stars at the center of the storms­—looking for exclusives and new angles to capture core women viewers. For more than a year, viewers have feasted on the Brad Pitt-Angelina Jolie-Jennifer Aniston drama. The story has taken on new life with Aniston's emotional venting on recent movie tours, Jolie's U.N. children's crusades, Pitt thinking of adopting Jolie's kids, and the “will they or won't they” marriage rumors.

Paratore thinks the addition of a fifth entry (Insider) helped “amp up” the level of competition among the programs this season. That resulted in better promotional tactics, he says.

Access executive producer Rob Silverstein, who emphasizes breaking news, says his show benefited from a big promotional blitz around its 10th anniversary, plus moves on both sides of the camera. The series rose 4% to an average 2.7 from November to November, following what Silverstein calls a “trying time” that saw the departure of co-anchor Pat O'Brien (now on Insider), the instillation of a new anchor team and a staff raid by other shows.

Silverstein is also optimistic about the future, with awards season starting in January with the Golden Globes and a big February surrounding extensive on-location coverage of NBC's Winter Olympics. Like Access did in Athens, Silverstein intends to once again “make stars out of the athletes for a few weeks.”