Syndie Mags Scramble on News of Jackson's Death

Ratings for all shows - except ‘TMZ' -- spike by double-digits

The syndicated news and entertainment magazines scrambled Thursday afternoon to include news of the death of legendary pop star, Michael Jackson, in their shows, most of which were near completion by the time the news was confirmed. The work paid off, however, as most of the magazines were up by double-digits over last year.
Ironically, Warner Bros.' TMZ -- which broke the story on its related Web site, -- came in last place, averaging a 1.5 rating/4 share among households in the metered markets for all telecasts, according to Nielsen. That's a gain of 7% year-to-year, far less than the improvement seen by the other magazines. TMZ was even beat by its sister program, Extra, which improved 27% and came in fourth at a 1.9/5 among the genre's six shows.
TMZ likely benefited most on its Web site, but a spokesperson for says the organization doesn't release its Web traffic numbers because that information is considered proprietary.
CBS Television Distribution's Entertainment Tonight had the night's biggest number, averaging a 3.7/8. That's up 61% from its year-ago time period average. In New York, Entertainment Tonight won its 7:30 p.m. time period on WCBS with a 4.7/9, up 74% from last year. That beat everything in the time period, including the usual victor, CTD's Wheel of Fortune at a 4.4.
Entertainment Tonight and its sister show, The Insider, each said they had the last exclusive photo of Jackson, showing the unresponsive star on a gurney with paramedics trying to revive him. While ET led the pack, CTD's The Insider came in fifth at a 1.7/4, a 42% ratings boost over last year at this time. CTD's other syndicated news show, Inside Edition, was in second place with a 2.9/7, up 26% from last year.
"We used extreme caution in reporting this," says ET Executive Producer Linda Bell Blue. "You can never be wrong on a story this huge. I don't feel like we have to be first on this - we have to be right."
When the story broke, ET had already completed its show for the night - a half-hour special on the life of actress Farrah Fawcett, who passed away that morning after a long battle with cancer. The show's staff quickly assembled a story on Jackson, and then re-fed the show to New York City and the East Coast at 3 p.m. and then the West Coast at 5 p.m.
"What's important for me as an executive producer is the race to update the feed," Bell Blue says. "The ability that ET and Insider have to send our shows out with updated information is what separates us from the competition."
ET also helped the CBS Evening News put together a quick special on Jackson, with ET correspondent Kevin Frazier reporting from ET's Studio City studio, and The Insider's Lara Spencer on the set of the CBS Evening News with Harry Smith.
"In addition to updating our own shows we went in and worked with the network, who called and asked for our help. In CBS' overall news structure, we're the experts on entertainment," Bell Blue says. "What ET brings is the connections to the star."
NBC Universal's Access Hollywood was in third at a 2.2/5, up 22% year to year.
The story broke while Access Hollywood's Executive Producer Rob Silverstein was on vacation.
"I had just left the tennis court after getting destroyed in tennis and my Blackberry had gone into a complete epileptic fit," Silverstein says. "At the beginning, there was no true confirmation. I'm not going to pronounce someone dead unless I'm 100% sure that it's accurate."
Access Hollywood did not include a Jackson story in its East Coast feed, but did update its West Coast feed.
Plans for Friday's show include Jackson's last filmed interview, which he conducted with Access Hollywood's Billy Bush in Ireland in 2006. The show also will feature an exclusive interview with Jackson's former publicist and manager, Raymone Bain, who sued Jackson for $44 million in unpaid bills in May. The show also talked to Grammy producer Ken Ehrlich, who watched the second half of Jackson's final concert rehearsal at the Staples Center on Wednesday night.
At Extra, the show had just completed its 1 p.m. feed, which focused on Fawcett's death, when news about Jackson began to leak. To handle that, Extra put the breaking news into its "rumor control" segment asking "was he rushed to the hospital and is he gravely ill?" and included that in its 3 p.m. feed.
Extra's producers then cut a piece on Jackson as its lead story and moved its three stories on Fawcett to the second, third and fourth positions.
"We did three different feeds to make sure we got the latest information out there," says Extra's Executive Producer Lisa Gregorisch Dempsey.
Meanwhile, Extra's anchor Mario Lopez, who had been vacationing in the Turks and Caicos, flew back to anchor the show.
"He had to come back for this, obviously," Gregorisch Dempsey says.