This Fall, More Magazine Fans Will Get ‘Access’

Natalie Morales set to move into the anchor chair as long-running entertainment show adds markets
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NBCUniversal is taking advantage of a confluence of factors to significantly expand Access Hollywood Live this fall.

Starting in September, the daily entertainment magazine show is increasing from 42 stations covering 31% of the country, to 78 stations covering 54% of the country, says Sean O’Boyle, executive VP and general sales manager, NBCUniversal Domestic Television Distribution. The show also airs on Reelz Channel.

That number could grow a bit more between now and then, although most stations have their programming lineups settled for the upcoming season. But a significant host switch that will bring longtime Today news anchor Natalie Morales aboard will inject a new and interesting energy to the show.

The time was right to expand Access Hollywood Live, which has been hosted by Billy Bush and Kit Hoover in the five years since its launch, says O’Boyle.

“There’s a combination of factors happening right now,” O’Boyle says. “There’s a lack of product in the marketplace, stations are craving more day and date programming and this is a quality franchise and a fun show.”

What’s more, it’s live—something that more and more stations are demanding in a TV environment where viewers are always seeking the very latest news. Also, it’s a proven commodity—it feels like a live talk show about pop culture, and it’s up 7% among daytime’s key demographic of women 25-54 this February sweeps compared to last, and up 17% in that demo on WNBC New York and 15% on KNBC Los Angeles. Next year, Access Hollywood Live will air at noon instead of 2 p.m. on KNBC, said executive producer Rob Silverstein.

Several daytime shows—NBCU’s own Meredith Vieira and Crazy Talk and Disney-ABC’s FABLife—are ending their runs after this season, leaving holes on many stations. The only new nationally cleared show for next season is NBCU’s Harry, starring Harry Connick Jr., which Fox bought in the country’s biggest markets. That means that many stations—including those in the NBC and Fox owned groups—have time slots to fill.

Other station groups that have picked up Access Hollywood Live include Hearst, Sinclair, Tegna, Meredith, Raycom, Capitol, Quincy, Gray, Scripps, OTA, Nexstar, Hubbard, Tribune and more. The show airs for one hour each weekday and is sold to stations on a 7.5 national/7.5 local barter split, according to O’Boyle.

Anchors Away

The expansion comes on the heels of NBC confirming that Morales would become anchor of Access Hollywood and coanchor, with Hoover, of Access Hollywood Live. Morales is moving to Los Angeles with her family for the new job. She’ll also be West Coast anchor for NBC’s Today, and she’ll contribute to other NBC newscasts.

“One thing I’m good at is picking talent and we’re really confident that Natalie and Kit will be a great team,” says Silverstein, who’s known Morales through Today and met with her for several hours to talk through the switch. “The show has always been female-friendly, but now maybe even more so. I think it will be incredibly successful.”

Morales will be sole anchor on Access Hollywood, but there too she’ll often be joined by Hoover as well as the show’s other correspondents: Liz Hernandez in Los Angeles and Scott Evans in New York. Morales has plenty of experience covering entertainment, having been a fixture on Today in the lighter, later hours, and having covered many pre-awards red carpets.

Meanwhile, Bush, himself the longtime anchor of Access Hollywood and Access Hollywood Live, is switching seats, moving to New York to join Today. That news is expected to be made official at NBC’s upfront presentation on May 16 at Radio City Music Hall. Both Bush and Morales will contribute to NBC’s coverage of the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in August before moving into their respective new roles, says Silverstein.

O’Boyle was hard at work expanding Access Hollywood Live before anyone knew that Bush and Morales would be essentially swapping places, but the scenario appears to have worked out well for all involved.

“Stations were very cool with it,” he says. “A couple of stations closed the deal after hearing that Natalie was joining the team.”

NBCUniversal is taking advantage of a confluence of factors to significantly expand Access Hollywood Live this fall.

Starting in September, the daily entertainment magazine show is increasing from 42 stations covering 31% of the country, to 78 stations covering 54% of the country, says Sean O’Boyle, executive VP and general sales manager, NBCUniversal Domestic Television Distribution. The show also airs on Reelz Channel.

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