'Entertainment Tonight' Gets Into the Comic-Con Spirit

It wasn’t long ago that San Diego Comic-Con was considered one giant nerd-fest, a weekend convention where loyal geeks and fanboys and girls went to celebrate their favorite comic books, graphic novels, video games, superheroes and the like.

No longer. Comic-Con still serves that purpose—offering all sorts of fare to deeply loyal fans—but it’s also become the Super Bowl of television marketing, the place where networks and studios flock to promote their latest wares, covering the airport, commuter train and downtown in promos. If a series has the slightest whiff of genre to it, Comic-Con is the place to take it.

That’s why entertainment magazines are also heading to San Diego from July 20-24 to cover all the action.

CBS Television Distribution’s Entertainment Tonight, which reaches more than 4 million viewers per night and has a monthly social audience of 70 million, will have the entertainment magazines’ biggest presence at the annual convention.

“It’s not the first year that we’ve gone big at Comic-Con, but it’s the biggest we’ve gone,” says Brad Bessey, executive producer of Entertainment Tonight and its sister program, The Insider.

The show expects to have some 20 people on the ground in San Diego, posting stories to the show’s online platforms—including ETOnline.com, YouTube and Facebook Live—as well as producing segments for the show’s nightly half-hour strip.

Nearly a year in the making, the show for the first time is setting up a branded space at the Hard Rock Hotel’s second floor “Watchtower,” which features floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking San Diego’s downtown Gaslamp Quarter.

There, ET cohost Kevin Frazier and on-air and online reporters Leanne Aguilera and Ashley Crossan will chat with celebrities and stage on-site stand-ups. Passers-by will be able to look up and see celebrities being interviewed. Cohost Nancy O’Dell will remain in Los Angeles to anchor the show from the studio and handle any non-Comic- Con news. ET also is staffing an online newsroom in Burbank to support their on-the-ground producers in San Diego.

“If you are at Comic-Con, you won’t be able to avoid it. You’ll look up and see the ET branding,” says Shana Naomi Krochmal, editor- in-chief for ET Online.

Also in that space, ET is creating a social activation that will encourage celebrities to turn themselves into superheroes via a photo booth that adds some graphic elements to their selfies.

“It’s really an opportunity for the celebrities who are coming in to do these interviews to also step in and become superheroes or super villains,” says Krochmal. “We’ll be able to present them with a great image and we’ll also be able to have great interactions with them.”

And those should fi t right into Bessey’s wheelhouse. “What I do for the broadcast is curate the best of the best and put it all in context for the broadcast audience,” says Bessey. “Even if you haven’t been glued to our online coverage, you’ll get an understanding in general of what this Comic-Con experience was.”

While ET will dedicate some of its show to Comic-Con on July 21-22, the big show will come on Monday, July 25, once the Con has closed.

“We expect there will be all of these huge moments over the weekend that we’ll have to cover on Monday night,” says Bessey. “We’ll bring everyone up to speed on what this event was as a whole.”

Meanwhile, Warner Bros.’ Extra will join its marketing compatriots at the show. Warner Bros. Worldwide Television Marketing was one of the first TV studios to understand the opportunity of Comic-Con. For the past several years, Warner Bros. has had a huge presence on the show floor, with a two-story booth where talent comes by to hang out, meet fans and sign autographs throughout the weekend.

Extra will have eight to 10 people producing online and on-air content from San Diego as well, and will broadcast from TheWB yacht, where Warner Bros.’ talent will come by to chat.

NBCUniversal’s AccessHollywood is sending reporter Scott Manze to San Diego to cover the weekend for the show and its online platforms.

Paige Albiniak

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.