On April 4, while many in the entertainment business were preoccupied with news of Katie Couric’s move to CBS, the folks at “Entertainment Tonight” and “Access Hollywood” had another priority: the FiFi Awards.
In case you missed them, the FiFis are the Oscars of the perfume business. TV’s stalwart showbiz skeins spent about 95 seconds on them — more time than either spent covering Couric.
Though both shows tout themselves as carrying showbiz news, there’s not a lot of showbiz, and even less news (i.e., things that happened in the prior 24 to 48 hours).
Of four recent episodes chosen at random, the longest segment was a 3-minute, 13-second piece devoted to Ed McMahon’s wife, Pam, who recounted her struggles with overeating and molestation as she managed to get in a plug for her new diet drug, Crave Busters.
Each episode runs a bit over 20 minutes, minus commercials. The April 4 “ET” spent 2 minutes and 42 seconds on current events (and that’s if you count the 95 seconds on the FiFis as “news”). In other words, that’s about 13% news — making it the TV equivalent of a juice drink.
That same day’s “Access,” produced by NBC U, served up 5 minutes and 50 seconds of newsy soundbites, including a 90-second report on Couric.
On March 30, “ET” racked up 3 minutes of news, while “Access” had 5 minutes and 22 seconds.
Current events get less airtime than self-promotion. The April 4 “ET” spent nearly 4½ minutes touting everything from upcoming segments to a new ET cell phone news service. “Access” averaged just under 3 minutes of tubthumping,, including pop-up promos during the middle of segments promoting the coming segment.
In its early days, “ET” covered news such as the “Twilight Zone” helicopter crash. Now it has a softer focus, as the show often gets first crack at celeb junkets and film clips. It had interviews from the set of an upcoming “Dynasty” reunion five days before “Access.” (Maybe it’s a coincidence that “ET” cousin CBS is airing the special.)
“Access” makes much of its newsy edge, frequently running an “Access Breaks News” crawl across stories it deems important.
What’s more, “AH” features a CNN-like news crawl during its middle segment recounting a dozen or so top showbiz headlines, often taken (without attribution) from Daily Variety.
- In addition to segments touting movies and TV shows from other parts of the corporate family — a Tim McGraw special on NBC, a clip from tonight’s “CSI” — there’s an abundance of stealth marketing. In a report on the Teri Hatcher-Ryan Seacrest “romance,” “Access” interviewed Lisa Rinna, who happened to be on the set of NBC U’s Martha Stewart chatfest. And who better to talk up Britney Spears’ “comeback” on the set of NBC’s “Will & Grace” than ad guru Donny Deutsch, host of a CNBC talkshow?
With Rachael Ray’s new talker from sibling studio King World ready to bow, the chef regularly pops up on “ET” to talk about all sorts of random events (including Couric’s departure from NBC).
To be fair, neither show is simply an inhouse marketing tool. “ET,” for example, has recently had exclusives on Warner Bros.’ “Poseidon” and Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean.”
- Reporters don’t just cover the story — often they are the story.
“ET’s” Vanessa Minnillo did more than file a report on the FiFi Awards: She was a presenter. Her report included footage of an “ET” camera crew interviewing her on the red carpet.
The same night, “Access” Gotham reporter Tim Vincent covered a “Dress to Kilt” charity fashion show. He also was a runway model at the event, a fact he duly noted in his report.
- Both treat their logos and theme songs like national treasures. It’s not unusual for “ET” to spend several seconds on a glamour shot of its logo, bathed in the sort of gauzy light usually reserved for a Barbara Walters special. Celebs are regularly goaded into humming “ET’s” theme or riffing on the “Access” intro (“Lights. Camera. ‘Dynasty!’ “)
- Old stars don’t fade away — they just reveal new secrets. Both skeins cater to baby boomers’ apparent love affair with celebs of the past by lavishing airtime on the likes of Elizabeth Montgomery (“her secret affair!”) and Humphrey Bogart (“the lost footage!”).