Students studying broadcast journalism usually want to be the next Diane Sawyer or Anderson Cooper. Not Erin Johnson, executive producer of CBS Media Ventures’ syndicated entertainment magazine Entertainment Tonight. She always wanted the job she has right now.
Johnson started her TV career as an intern at a station close to home in Dayton, Ohio, and quickly became a producer. But she always knew she wanted to be in entertainment journalism, so she kept looking for ways to get to Los Angeles. A call to a former co-worker who had moved to San Diego got her to Southern California as the executive producer for a local morning news show. Within the year, she had found a temporary job as a senior producer on Fox’s syndicated program, Dish Nation, which led to a permanent gig at one of the show’s producers, Studio City, where she led marketing campaigns and cut trailers for several syndicated shows.
From there, she moved to a job at Sony Pictures Television’s Queen Latifah, which aired on the CBS Television Stations in the country’s top markets. Through that connection, her dream job landed in her lap: CBS Television Distribution, now CMV, reached out to see if she would want to join ET’s digital team. She started as ET’s director of digital video and programming in 2014. She was promoted to senior producer in 2015, co-executive producer in 2017 and executive producer in June 2019.
Johnson chatted with Multichannel News contributor Paige Albiniak about producing celebrity news in a pandemic, how she approaches producing entertainment news for social media and the value of Zoom.
What were some of the key things you did when you joined ET to create growth on digital platforms? With my background in marketing, I learned how to listen to an audience. I came to ET at a time when digital was being more prioritized so I had the opportunity to overhaul the digital business. The TV show only has a limited amount of time and you can’t always get into things as much as you can on the digital side. On digital platforms, we can let pieces breathe and tell the stories in unique ways that are additive for our audience. I think what brought my success on the digital side was embracing the content ET had always been doing and putting a different type of spotlight on it.
How do you decide which content is going to live where and in what format? We pay close attention to audiences on those platforms and we listen to what they want. So if we’re going to do a sit-down interview with Oprah, for example, we discuss what we need for the TV piece, and then for Instagram and other social media platforms. We always go into those shoots with a plan. I’ve seen that evolve in my time here at ET. It’s now something we talk about every single time. We circle up with people from each arm of our business to make sure everyone is getting what they need.
What would you say is the next platform for ET? I really want us to do more on TikTok — it’s gotten me through quarantine. It’s a real opportunity to introduce ET to a completely different audience. I actually had an interview with a social media producer whose responsibility would be TikTok. It’s hard to expect the person running Instagram to also run TikTok. You need to have people in place to focus on the right goals and initiatives for that specific platform.
What are you binge-watching? Friday Night Lights
All-time favorite TV shows? The Office, The Newsroom, The Golden Girls, Insecure, Breaking Bad
Favorite podcasts? The Daily, Every Little Thing
Books on nightstand/Kindle? Untamed by Glennon Doyle; The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid.
Travel bucket list? Literally anywhere. Just get me out of my house.
How have you managed to produce interesting celebrity news during a pandemic in which there were no live events? I’ve been incredibly proud of how this team has risen to the challenge of still making the show still very interesting. We’re really pushing ourselves and we’ve found ways to do interviews in person. There are some positives to Zoom. Some stars are more comfortable in that setting. And we’ve gotten cool house tours on Zoom.
What do you think you have learned during the pandemic that you’ll continue to do post-pandemic? Even though we all have a love-hate relationship with Zoom, I think we’ll keep using it. We have offices here in L.A., in New York and in Nashville. We jump on Zooms so often and I see that behavior continuing when we’re back in the office. It gives us a way to communicate so that we’re working in lockstep together even though we’re apart.
Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.
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