At the ripe old age of 34, CBS Television Distribution’s Entertainment Tonight is getting a makeover, part of a continued effort to ensure syndication’s top-rated entertainment magazine reflects the popularity of social media and changes in entertainment news reporting.
“The goal is to contemporize the look of the show,” says Hilary Estey McLoughlin, CTD president of creative affairs. “The show used to be on a big platform, like a stage. Now it more like a newsroom in the round. And the talent is really involved in the process of putting the show together. I think it’s a real evolution.”
That’s the charter of the show’s first new executive producer in 19 years, Brad Bessey. Entertainment Tonight is TV entertainment news’ premium brand, says Bessey. All of the changes he’s made to the show since assuming his post last April reflect the view of keeping it that way—including moving Kevin Frazier from The Insider to sister show ET as Nancy O’Dell’s cohost, to refreshing ET’s logo and graphics packages, to redesigning the set and changing the way the show’s anchors and reporters talk to each other and to the audience.
Bessey started at ET as coordinating producer in 1995 and rose to become coexecutive producer, alongside Linda Bell Blue, from 2005-10, when he left to launch CBS’ The Talk. He was named EP of The Insider (retitled omg! Insider for a season under a partnership with Yahoo’s popular website omg!) in January 2013 and then added oversight of Entertainment Tonight to his duties six months ago. Linda Fuller is Bessey’s co-EP on ET, while Monique Chenault serves that role on The Insider.
“One of my mottos is ‘everything matters,’” says Bessey. “Every moment that the show is on we have an opportunity to show people who we are, so every choice matters.”
Subtle style changes are already visible on ET given that viewers, having grown used to social media, expect to feel like they are part of a more intimate reporting process. Instead of standing on a set and delivering the news of the day via a teleprompter, Frazier and O’Dell are having conversations between themselves and with the show’s reporters. There are also far more on-set interviews and from-the-fi eld reports, such as O’Dell’s recent coverage from the U.N. Climate Summit.
“We hardly had people on the set before,” says O’Dell. “Now if we don’t have someone on a daily basis, it’s surprising. It gives the show more of an authentic feel.”
“This whole brand was originally built on a relationship that people had with [former coanchor] Mary Hart,” says Frazier. “Things moved from that to just running through a thousand stories a day and pounding the viewer with videos. Now we’re going back to those relationships.”
A more diverse mix has also come to both shows, with Frazier moving over to ET, and Louis Aguirre joining Thea Andrews on The Insider from Fox affiliate WSVN Miami. Bessey also recently hired CNN’s Nischelle Turner, who starts next month.
“I naturally gravitate toward voices that aren’t mine,” says Bessey. “I know my own voice really well, but it’s just as important to the creative process to include many other voices.”
Other changes have been more pronounced. The show’s warm and elegant new set, designed by Anton Goss, premiered at the beginning of this season. At the same time, Los Angeles-based broadcast design agency Troika did a wholesale revamping of the show’s on-air graphics, changing the colors from bold reds, blues and oranges to a more premium-feeling champagne and teal. The set and the graphics were developed together to give the show an integrated feel.
“The mandate from the client was to pay respect to the show’s heritage while becoming more fresh and current,” says Seton Kim, Troika’s creative director.
Bessey understand’s Entertainment Tonight and The Insider’s value as overall entertainment brands that extend across TV, digital and social platforms. ET has retooled its website (etonline.com) with a more active redesign coming in the next six months. The site currently attracts more than 23 million unique visitors a month, says Bessey. (The Insider’s Web home is at celebrity.yahoo.com/the-insider.)
“In each show, we are providing a sense of connection with the audience, while also offering real information, takeaway and perspective,” says Bessey. “I want our viewers to feel moved or inspired in some way. They have to feel like they haven’t wasted their time by being with us.”
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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.