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Passion of the Newsmags

The super-competitive world of syndicated magazine shows grew even more cutthroat last week as the programs scrambled to outdo each other to report on Mel Gibson's DUI debacle. After their midday satellite feeds to stations July 28, when they reported the actor/filmmaker's early-morning arrest, all hell broke loose. That's when the AOL-Telepictures celebrity Website broke the news about Gibson's anti-Semitic tirade.

Forced to put the breaking news on the programs' Websites that weekend, staffers interrupted their days off to head into work at CBS Paramount's top-rated Entertainment Tonight and The Insider, which also utilized CBS Radio and syndicated radio reports to provide updates. They worked feverishly to play catch-up. Having taken ownership of the story early on, Websites immediately saw increased traffic. TV magazines are hoping for a similar lift when Nielsen national ratings are released soon.

Early last week, ET and The Insider dedicated the first 10 minutes of their half-hour shows to Gibson. They, along with numerous other media outfits, staked out the Malibu sheriff's substation, where Gibson was booked and reportedly made off-color comments to a female sergeant. They later scored interviews with two women the actor encountered the night of his arrest.

NBC Universal's Access Hollywood, on the other hand, took a more cautious approach. Access was in summer mode and found itself short-staffed. But executive producer Rob Silverstein insists it was a philosophical decision to devote only two minutes per night to Gibson on Monday and Tuesday. “This has far-reaching implications,” Silverstein says. “[The Anti-Semitic comments] can be used by people across the world … If there was not a war now in the Middle East, it would have been awful enough.”

He adds that magazines run the risk of becoming “parodies of themselves” by airing “over-the-top” presentations for a story that is already sensational enough. “There's a sensitivity chip that's missing,” Silverstein says, echoing magazine-show favorite Jennifer Aniston's comments in Vanity Fair about ex-husband Brad Pitt.

Access' rivals disagree. They say Gibson is a huge story and viewers are hungry for information. “The strength of the story … is that there are lots of angles and issues,” says Charles Lachman, executive producer of King World newsmagazine Inside Edition, which devoted five minutes to Gibson on July 31. “We want to be as comprehensive as possible. You can't deal with this story in a minute and a half of tape time.”

Because they're reliant on publicists for access to stars, the magazine shows took pains to ensure that their coverage was balanced. Co-executive producers Brad Bessey (ET) and D.J. Petroro (The Insider), lieutenants of executive producer Linda Bell Blue, say the programs relied on their long relationships with Gibson, his representatives and colleagues. By midweek, however, none had scored an interview with anyone in Gibson's family.

Producers are betting on who will land the first interview with Gibson (so is B&C; see Flash on page 5) or get the Sheriff's department video. Extra senior executive producer Lisa Gregorisch-Dempsey is confident that the video “get” will belong to her colleague Harvey Levin, the managing editor who broke the news (see Take Five, page 3). As Extra and TMZ are both part of the Time Warner family, she hopes Extra benefits, too: “[Harvey's] right down the hall from me.”