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‘Insider’ Returns To Two Anchors

Headed into its seventh season, CBS Television Distribution’s The Insider is abandoning the roundtable chat concept introduced last fall and returning to its original two-anchor format, with host Lara Spencer sharing an anchor desk with Chris Jacobs, who came to the show last year as a correspondent and weekend anchor.

“I want to get back to the basics of doing news—it’s just as simple as that,” Linda Bell Blue, executive producer of both CTD’s Entertainment Tonight and The Insider, told B&C.

While The Insider still will report the celebrity news of the day, it’s also going to focus on longer “Backstory” segments. “Think of it as a Vanity Fair story about a star. Viewers will get longer pieces where they find out information about a star that they didn’t previously know,” Bell Blue says.

The show also is introducing another new segment, “Top Ten Fashion Moments,” which traces a star’s history back through the years via their fashion choices. “Women love those segments,” says Bell Blue. “When they are on, I can’t get anyone in the newsroom to listen to me.”

The Insider has gone through several format revamps in its seven-year history, with Spencer remaining the show’s constant. When the show was introduced in 2004, it featured former Access Hollywood and ET anchor Pat O’Brien in Los Angeles and Spencer in New York.

In September 2007, The Insider and O’Brien moved to New York, where he and Spencer co-hosted from a studio in midtown Manhattan. O’Brien departed in fall 2008, after publicly acknowledging personal problems (and being openly critical of Spencer). At that time, Spencer relocated to Los Angeles to host the show, newly in high definition, on her own.

Dancing with the Stars’ Samantha Harris joined the program as co-host in January 2009. Harris also serves as a weekend correspondent for ET.

Last fall, The Insider was moderated by Spencer and hosted by a revolving panel of guests—including comedian Niecy Nash, legal analyst Lisa Bloom and US Weekly correspondent Jill Martin in New York—all of whom offered their opinions and commentary on all things Hollywood. The revolving panel will not return this season.

The change last season came at a time when all of the entertainment magazines were tinkering with their formats, with Access Hollywood adding more opinion and live elements to its show, while Extra pushed toward more interactivity and use of social media.

The last format change did not pay off. “Technically, the panel format wasn’t unsuccessful, it just didn’t make a huge difference,” says Bill Carroll, VP of programming, Katz Media Group. “It did make a difference in differentiating the show from Entertainment Tonight, but it didn’t seem to make a ratings difference in bringing new viewers to the program.”

ET remains the top-rated access magazine at a 4.2 live plus same day season-to-date household average, according to Nielsen Media Research, holding steady year to year. The Insider, however, is tied with Warner Bros.’ Extra for last place among magazines, with both shows turning in a 1.7 season-to-date household ratings average. The Insider is down 6% from last year—the most of any access magazine—while Extra is even. The Insider also has declined the most of any news magazine among women 25-54, with a 9% year-to-year drop.

“I feel like the audience wants news. If we can give them credible, reliable news in a straightforward way, that’s what will be successful,” Bell Blue says.

The shift back to news and bringing Jacobs up to anchor along with Spencer could pave the way for the latter to jump to ET next year. ET’s longtime host Mary Hart will depart after this season, the show’s 30th. Bell Blue wouldn’t comment on persistent rumors that Spencer would replace Hart after this year.

Other names besides Spencer’s that have been floated to replace Hart include Harris, Access Hollywood correspondent Maria Menounos and former Access Hollywood co-anchor Nancy O’Dell.

The Insider isn’t CTD’s only magazine to see some changes. While ET is sticking with its fast-paced format, the show’s Website, an increasingly important property in these days of constantly breaking news, is getting a complete upgrade that will be revealed this month.

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