10 Years of ‘Access’: Where Stars Come to Chat

Nov 7, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Rob Silverstein has one of the most stressful jobs in entertainment television.

As executive producer of “Access Hollywood,” Mr. Silverstein is responsible for getting out five weekday half-hour shows and an hour-long weekend edition that are timely, entertaining and unique.

It’s never been easy, but in a world where many younger viewers now turn several times a day to Web sites like Gawker.com, Defamer.com and Perezhilton.com to read celebrity gossip and see the latest photos of their favorite stars, TV newsmags such as “Access Hollywood” are no longer the first place to look for breaking entertainment news.

Mr. Silverstein, who got his start as a sports producer at CBS-owned KMOX-TV (now Belo-owned KMOV) in St. Louis, feels that so far the only true competition he’s ever had is Paramount’s rival celebrity newsmagazine “Entertainment Tonight.” But now that viewers can log on at work to find out the latest about Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, Mr. Silverstein admits a change in the market-

place is coming. Whether it’s

good or bad for “Access Hollywood” remains to be seen, but Mr. Silverstein said the shift offers opportunities, since blogs and online chatter can generate buzz for stories earlier in the day that “Access Hollywood” can profile later in the afternoon or evening.

“It can help us,” he said of the proliferation of entertainment blogs and sites. “This gives people a reason to go home and watch our show. Anytime anything out there brings people to a conversation about something, it can only help people have an interest in tuning in that night.”

“Access Hollywood” makes a point of keeping up with breaking stories and the latest news on the blogs, Mr. Silverstein said.

“We have somebody here who checks them all day long and e-mails me,” he said. “There’s been a couple things on there that we’ve checked into that have been good stories.”

But Mr. Silverstein was quick to point out that lightning-fast Web sites are often heavy on scoops but light on accuracy.

“You’ve got to be careful,” he said. “There’s a lot of stuff on there that’s wrong. You have to verify everything.”

“Access Hollywood’s” continuing competitive advantage is its relationships with celebrities, Mr. Silverstein said, and their willingness to come on the show to tell their perspective.

What the show has been able to do is provide interviews that viewers won’t see anywhere else, including Tom Cruise’s discussion with co-host Billy Bush about Scientology, Jennifer Aniston’s first interview after her breakup with Brad Pitt and the only televised chat held with both Ben Affleck and then-fiancé Jennifer Lopez.

“People like to see the stars,” Mr. Silverstein said. “It’s one thing to read about them. On our show they get to see them and hear from them. As long as we’re giving fresh information in an entertaining ‘Access Hollywood’ style, we’re heading in the right competitive direction.”

The idea of forming a relationship with one of the more popular entertainment bloggers has been mentioned more than once in Mr. Silverstein’s office, but for now, any sort of partnership is only talk, he said.

“Who knows?” he said of working with an independent online site. “One day we may end up teaming up with these blogs. We haven’t had official talks. Just internally, we’ll look and we say, ‘OK, maybe there is something we could do together.’ But no one has been contacted.”

In the meantime, “Access Hollywood” is using other platforms too. The show’s Web site, for instance, is much more than a repository for bios of the show’s on-air talent. A primary focus has been on constantly refreshing the “Access Hollywood” site with extensive photo galleries, something visitors have shown a particular interest in, Mr. Silverstein said. How much it generates additional over-the-air viewership, however, is debatable.

“We’ll do more Web page hits in a month now than we would in six months only a year ago,” he said. “But I don’t really think it’s a ratings draw.”

For the start of the 10th season, “Access Hollywood” teamed with Verizon Wireless for its two-week bus tour, which featured programming made specifically for the wireless provider’s V Cast service, which allows users to download video and audio images from special Verizon cellular phones. The experiment was a good exercise, Mr. Silverstein said.

“I can’t say it got us more viewers, but the trip proved fruitful for us in a number of ways, and the Verizon relationship was so strong, I could see that growing.”

Creating more cellular-service-specific content is very likely, he said, since it serves both the show and the service provider.

“There is no losing here,” Mr. Silverstein said. “You’re only going to see more and more of that.”

The impending technical opportunities are a primary concern. “Access Hollywood” is participating in an NBC Universal study looking at the impact of changing technology and what such changes can mean for NBC content.

“Access Hollywood” won’t have an iPod edition for downloading anytime soon, but the idea of delivering content via the latest technology is clearly percolating at the back of Mr. Silverstein’s mind.

“I’m not saying it’s going to happen right away,” he said. “But every meeting I go to, it is on the agenda. How do we as ‘Access Hollywood’ capitalize on this, and how do we get our viewers to know we’re doing it? It’s definitely being talked about. We need to lead the way on this.”