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The Insider Takes Manhattan

CBS Television Distribution's The Insider will show an East Coast bias this fall when Los Angeles-based Pat O'Brien joins co-host Lara Spencer in a new Manhattan studio. The move is part of the newsmagazine's effort to capitalize on New York-centric entertainment news and the show's ratings growth in the nation's top station market.

O'Brien, who just signed a new multi-year deal to remain with the show, has co-hosted the Entertainment Tonight spinoff from Los Angeles, while Spencer has been stationed in the Times Square Studios. The duo will now host from the Minskoff Theatre in Manhattan, which has unobstructed views of Times Square.

Among the reasons CBS Television Distribution (CBSTD) executives have cited for moving The Insider eastward is the show's 17% ratings jump (2.4 to 2.8) in the New York market from May 2006 to May 2007.

“We have shown growth in New York, and we feel our New York audience is growing,” says Insider Co-Executive Producer D.J. Petroro. “So it makes good business sense.”

The producers will also look to take advantage of what they see as an increase in the availability of celebrities in New York, thanks to Big Apple-based press junkets and the chances of snagging stars after they appear on talk shows like Live With Regis and Kelly or The View.

“The lead story will be the lead story, whether it is out of Los Angeles, New York or Denver,” says Linda Bell Blue, executive producer of both The Insider and Entertainment Tonight. “But so much of the news in entertainment these days comes out of New York.”

While the New York setting will play a big role in the show, CBSTD executives also like the chemistry that O'Brien and Spencer have displayed when they have hosted from the same city.

“When we have the two of them [broadcasting] out of New York together, with the Times Square energy and the banter, and that's how you get ratings,” says Petroro. “It wouldn't matter if Regis [Philbin] and Kelly [Ripa] were in Chicago or Los Angeles, it is their banter together, and that's what we hope to capture with Pat and Lara.”

The main production operations of the show will remain in L.A., where it will actually be put together every day, and the hosts will travel to the West Coast as needed for events such as awards shows or big celebrity interviews.

The show will also feature a new look when it returns on Sept. 10, with new animation, graphics and a new theme song that producers hope will evoke more of a New York feel.

A marketing campaign tied to the season premiere will trumpet the move to New York. Other targeted campaigns will run in such markets as Seattle and Atlanta, where the show will get a plush new time slot directly behind ET.

O'Brien's new deal comes months after a round of speculation in January that he would not return to the show and two years after an infamous stint in rehab for alcohol abuse.

The buzz was loud enough that CBSTD issued a statement saying talks were ongoing, but Bell Blue says speculation about O'Brien's departure was simply false: “There was never any doubt about Pat coming back.”

Like other shows in the newsmagazine genre, The Insider is bracing for some new competition this fall from Warner Bros.' rookie TMZ. And Bell Blue will be watching closely.

“I don't know what TMZ is going to be, but I look forward to seeing it,” she says. “We don't spend much time looking over our shoulder at what the other guys are doing. We will just continue to do what we do best.”