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TV Notes: 7/30/03

Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Production around town

Not only is TLC's "Trading Spaces" in Pittsburgh to tape upcoming episodes this week, two syndicated shows will be putting people on camera at the Regatta.

Frank Nicotero, a Pittsburgh native and host of "Street Smarts," returns to town to tape man-on-the-street interviews for the fourth season of his series today through Sunday.

"Elimidate," a syndicated dating show that held a contestant search here earlier this summer, also will return this week to tape contestants on dates, according to Dawn Keezer, director of the Pittsburgh Film Office.

(Rob Owen, Post-Gazette)

News makes alliances for big star interviews

As the battle for celebrity interviews intensifies, NBC and ABC's news divisions are turning to entertainment news programs for help landing stars.

That was why "Access Hollywood" correspondent Pat O'Brien was asking the questions when Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez cooed about their relationship on "Dateline NBC."

Concerned about NBC News' relationship with the NBC-owned "Access Hollywood," ABC News quickly moved to reach an agreement to share celebrity chats with another syndicated program, "Entertainment Tonight."

"It was important just to level the competitive playing field," ABC News spokesman Jeffrey Schneider said. "If there was even a perception that the 'Access Hollywood' and NBC deal gave them an advantage, we needed to counter that."

ABC's success may have gotten this whole game started in the first place.

In Barbara Walters and Diane Sawyer, ABC News has two legendarily successful seekers of celebrity "gets." Over the past year, prime-time chats with stars such as Whitney Houston and Sharon Osbourne did unexpectedly well in the ratings.

NBC, which is positioning Katie Couric to be its in-house Barbara Walters, has aggressively sought to get into the game.

The competition increases the leverage of the big stars.

"The celebrities who are 'big gets,' who know that everyone is after them, want the most they can get from their interviews," said Andrew Tyndall, a news consultant and president of ADT Research. "They want to be everywhere on the week of the release of their big movie."

Increasingly, a big interview receives exposure on morning shows as well as on prime time.

"Access Hollywood" and "Entertainment Tonight" are additional bargaining chips; networks also can entice the stars with airtime during the period between the evening news and prime time.

"It's easier for them," said Rob Silverstein, executive producer of "Access Hollywood." "They don't have to do hair and makeup three separate times. It's a simpler way of doing business."

Owned by the same company, it was easy for "Access Hollywood" and NBC News to work together. O'Brien and David Corvo, executive producer of "Dateline NBC," are old friends and colleagues.

With O'Brien, NBC gets another reporter with extensive contacts with stars and publicists. His exclusive interview with Eminem was also played on NBC News programs.

The arrangement paid off for the Affleck and Lopez interview, which was among Nielsen Media Research's top 10 programs two weeks ago.

There's nothing particularly new about networks blurring the line between news and entertainment. But the assignment of O'Brien to a full hour under the NBC News banner drew implicit, if not explicit, criticism from rivals.

ABC News has said its correspondents, not anyone from "Entertainment Tonight," would conduct their celebrity interviews. "Obviously, we have a different approach than NBC," Schneider said.

ABC made the deal with "Entertainment Tonight" even though the syndicated program is owned by Viacom, which also owns CBS News.

CBS hasn't made similar ar-rangements for a couple of reasons. Its executives privately aren't convinced that a deal with an entertainment show is much of an advantage, for one thing. And CBS is less of a player in the celebrity interview game; they're a poor fit for the network's newsmagazines, and its low-rated morning show, "The Early Show," has little booking juice.

(David Bauder, Associated Press)

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