ET: It Changed Show Biz and Changed the Syndie Biz As Well


The days when the average person went blissfully unaware of the business of Hollywood are gone, and you can thank (or blame) Entertainment Tonight. The newsmagazine played an important role in changing the way the entertainment industry is covered.

Before the show's 1981 debut, few people could talk about the past weekend's box office or the number of units a record sold. And almost no one, outside of pencil pushers in the business, had heard of television's upfront ad-selling season.

Today many of those concepts are common knowledge, directly because of ET.

"Entertainment Tonight
became one of the pioneers of a modern way of turning entertainment industry news into this enormous new industry, which would eventually manifest itself in entire channels like E! and imitations like Access Hollywood," said Robert Thompson, director of the center for the study of popular television at Syracuse University.

The brainchild of Al Masini, the former president of rep firm TeleRep, the show may have had its biggest impact in the way it changed how syndicated shows are distributed.

Masini was the first to have a daily show distributed by satellite.

"No more than maybe a couple of months before we were going on the air, we realized a lot of the stations couldn't receive the show, so we ended up arranging for these people to have satellite dishes," said John Nogawski, president of Paramount Domestic Television.

"That's the only way syndication is done now," said Katz Television Group Vice President and Director of Programming Bill Carroll. "[Before that] literally every television station had what was called a film director. That person was in charge of physically getting tapes and queuing them, running them and putting them on a bus and sending them to the next city."

Masini's vision for the show was to provide more than gossip. He wanted a hard-nosed news program and brought in Jim Bellows to serve as ET's managing editor, a position he held from 1981 to 1983.

Bellows was a newsman from the old days. He long ago sat at the editor's desk of the New York Herald Tribune
and the Los Angeles Herald Examiner. Bellows helped the show cut through the fluff and get to the news.

"If you watched Entertainment Tonight
every day of the week, after all the goofy sort of things, you learned an awful lot about the entertainment industry," said Thompson.