Access Hollywood’s commitment to inclusion is evident both in the cast of the entertainment show and the array of stories told on it, as the syndicated staple evolves to better reflect the nation that watches it.
Senior executive producer Maureen FitzPatrick described a “shifted landscape” within Access Hollywood that began a few years ago, and saw more diverse staffers hired, and more women promoted into management roles. “We needed our staff and our storytellers to reflect the viewers,” she said. “The viewers are diverse.”
Part of NBCUniversal, Access Hollywood premiered its 25th season in September. Daytime show Access Daily debuted in 2010. For its diverse hosts and coverage, the show is receiving a CultureX Award at the CultureX Conversations virtual event on March 16.
All staffers are encouraged to pitch stories at the morning meeting, meaning a more varied batch of ideas is floating around each day. Host Scott Evans mentions some 50 people in on the meeting some days, many tossing out pitches. “It’s not just senior show staff,” he said. “A P.A. can pitch a segment. A runner can pitch a segment.”
Show: Access Hollywood
Award: Program Reflection of Inclusion in Television
Why They’re Being Honored: The award is presented to Access Hollywood to recognize its diverse cast and its coverage of television industry diversity and inclusion efforts.
Access Hollywood offers the latest entertainment news, along with true-crime headlines. While celebs will always be the primary focus, the story lineup made more time for topics such as fashion, hair and makeup, which meant screen time for individuals who are not household names or faces.
“The audience sees a reflection of themselves,” said FitzPatrick, who joined NBCUniversal in 2018.
That had Access Hollywood well-positioned when viewers’ attitudes toward entertainment shifted in 2020. After COVID hit, Access Hollywood did lots of stories on those FitzPatrick called “the unsung heroes in our country” — first responders helping America handle a grave crisis. Viewers appreciated hearing about people who don’t top-line films or have hit songs. Just after George Floyd’s death in May, Evans contacted executive producer Mike Marson and said the show had to do something meaningful on the Black struggle in America. Marson’s response, according to Evans, was, “We’re already on it.”
In June, Access Hollywood premiered a 30-minute special called “A Celebration of Black Voices.” Offering the viewpoints of a range of Black personalities, from celebrities such as Kerry Washington and Taraji P. Henson, to people behind the scenes in Hollywood, the special also detailed the unrest happening around America.
Evans shared what he saw at protests in Los Angeles. “I was encouraged to speak authentically about what I was experiencing,” he said. “A lot of shows, particularly entertainment shows, wouldn’t use that kind of content.”
Years back, Evans said a segment on hair would feature blonde and brunette locks. Nowadays, “it’s kinky, wavy, curly and straight,” he said. “It feels honest and authentic.”
Access Hollywood has also worked hard to better reflect other minority communities, FitzPatrick said, and LGBTQ viewers too.
The show’s cast reflects America, even if it is a little better-looking. Access Hollywood hosts are Mario Lopez, Kit Hoover and Scott Evans, and the correspondents are Sibley Scoles and Zuri Hall. Lopez, Hoover and Evans host Access Daily.
“The five of them really like each other,” said FitzPatrick.
Some 90% of the Access Hollywood staff has been working from home, and countless interviews have been conducted via digital platforms. FitzPatrick mentioned how frequently the program was pre-empted in 2020 due to COVID updates and press conferences. “We hung in there,” she said. “We’re happy that COVID will soon [subside] and we’ll get people back in the studio.”
Keeping It Positive
Our nation’s struggles have tweaked what people want to watch. Viewers want more positivity, FitzPatrick said, and information on making their home lives a little brighter, whether it is related to cooking or clothing. “In times of change, we shift our programming to meet the needs of our audience,” she added.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s ongoing struggles, depicted in their March 7 interview with Oprah Winfrey, are of great interest to viewers, and the Tokyo Summer Olympics, scheduled to start July 23, are a huge draw, too. “We love celebrating athletes and their backstories and their rise to success,” FitzPatrick said.
She is optimistic Access Hollywood’s momentum will continue once the world gets back to relative normal. It got started when the show set out to reshape itself years back.
“The key is knowing who the audience is,” FitzPatrick said. “That’s our country. Those are our viewers.”
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Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.