I’m happy to be back on the Michael’s beat today now that school is back in session (Yippee!) and the cool big kids have returned to the cafeteria. While Fashion Week and the Couture Council luncheon kept the stylistas away, the scene at 55th and Fifth was lively and fun with the usual suspects (Andrew Stein, Chris Meigher) and media mob (Matt Blank, Jack Kliger) holding court in the dining room.
I was very excited about meeting TV Guide Magazine president and publisher Paul Turcotte to talk about how the iconic magazine is “taking advantage of another Golden Age of Television.” Paul arrived with a copy of the latest issue with coverlines about the Fall Sneak Peek and NFL Preview inside. It brought back fond memories for me for more than one reason. Back in the day, it was something of a Friday night ritual in my house to see who would snag the latest issue of the digest-size TV Guide out of the grocery bags when my father came home from the supermarket. It was usually me and I devoured every word and (shades of Frank Constanza!) made note (with a pen!) of when there was something special coming up I wanted to watch. Fast forward a few decades and I landed a gig as a contributing editor at the magazine covering a mixed bag of celebrity interviews, daytime television and the red carpet.
When I told Paul about my long history with TV Guide, I mentioned I’d recently been thinking about the oral history of 9/11 I’d done for the magazine with the reporters who covered the biggest story of our time from Ground Zero (Ashley Banfield, Ron Insana, Lester Holt and Ann Curry among many others.) He showed me a story in the new issue by Denis Leary entitled, “How TV Helped America Heal After 9/11.” For the next two hours we talked about the incredible changes that have taken place in television in the last decade and how TV Guide is now uniquely positioned to reach the most passionate viewers in light of the embarrassment of riches in the medium today.
“It’s always been a question of: Does television reflect society or does society reflect television?” said Paul as we settled in for our lunch. “Back in the ’60s and ’70s the quality of writing [on television] was incredible and we’re seeing that again today.” That, he explained, has helped fuel the head-spinning expansion of offerings — currently 480 scripted shows including network, cable and streaming programming and too many unscripted shows to count. All of which is very good news for TV Guide: “There has never been more of a need for guidance on what to watch,” said Paul.
Today with subscriptions up and a total weekly readership of 12 million, things are clearly on the upswing. “We went to back to our roots of ‘what’s worth watching’ and are curating content,” Paul explained. “We recognize the viewing patterns of today with Netflix [and other subscription services]. [Covering] programming goes way beyond networks, day and dates.”
Paul was named president of TV Guide Magazine late last year, having had deep roots in the entertainment biz as publisher of Premiere as well as having been publisher of Men’s Health, Yahoo Internet Life and The Daily Front Row. I asked him why he thought the magazine had teetered on the brink of obsolescence a few years back before its current renaissance. “When they kept trying to be a listing guide and then when the gossip magazines took off and they wanted to play in the celebrity space, they lost their way.”
This is not your fathers — or grandfather’s — TV Guide. Earlier this year, the magazine revealed a sleek new look, new insider-y features and celebrity contributors all designed to help readers discern what’s worth watching on broadcast, cable, premium, streaming and on-demand. “The magazine has evolved” and is dedicated to serving the “intentional watcher” who loves to go deep into their favorite shows, said Paul.
To that end, Paul pointed to the addition of Producer’s Spotlight to the mix, where showrunners, who have become television stars in their own right, reveal what goes into making hit shows and offers news about their upcoming projects. My favorite new feature, Meet the Crew, celebrates the unsung heroes of television who help make hit shows bonafide obsessions. There’s also plenty of features penned by stars including a recent popular piece on The Bachelor where husband and wife Donnie Wahlberg and Jenny McCarthy gave their he said-she said take on the show (they’re superfans) and hosted a live chat on social media.
With almost half of all television viewers still watching their favorite shows live, Paul said that along with TV Guide’s “primary focus” of giving those dedicated TV watchers everything they need — and want — about watching their favorite shows, the magazine also prides itself on alerting viewers to the shows they should be watching. Editorial director Nerina Rammairone was an early and ardent fan of Outlander and championed the show to the staff, even giving the Starz’ series a coveted cover before it became a breakout hit. “She was the only one. She said, ‘This show is going to be a huge hit,’ and it was,” said Paul. The stars of the new show from Fox’s Lethal Weapon, Clayne Crawford and Damon Wayans were selected for this week’s Fall Sneak Peek cover, a clear vote of confidence for its shot at success among plenty of newcomers.
While some entertainment publications seem to straddle the worlds of consumer and trade press, TV Guide is very clear about its audience. “EW plays a different game, it does covers months before a show airs,” said Paul. “We do covers [that align] with the [premiere] dates. It all comes back to the reader.” In case you were wondering the magazine still runs listings — but only covers primetime.
TV Guide has also increased its visibility within the industry and is a constant presence at events like the upcoming Emmy Awards. “We’re using existing events to bring in non-endemic business to play in that world.” To wit: Paul brought BBVA Compass, one of the top 25 banks in the country, to serve as sponsor of The Television Industry Advocacy Awards. Before joining TV Guide, Paul created the awards with The Creative Coalition. Now in its second year, it will be hosted by TV Guide and TV Insider (the magazine’s online presence) honoring industry leaders for the roles in advocating for social change. Nominees include Transparent’s Jill Soloway and Dancing With the Stars’ Derek Hough. The Goldbergs’ star Wendi McLendon-Covey will host the ceremony.
“I was always a big supporter of celebrities using the voice for social justice,” said Paul as we finished our coffee. “The idea behind recognizing those who are using their voice is to encourage other celebrities to do the same thing.”
Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:
2. Peter Brown
3. Eva Mohr
4. Jim Abernathy
5. Showtime’s Matt Blank
6. Andrew Stein
7. Lew Margolis
11. Literary Ladies Who Lunch: editrix-turned-author Katie White (Long time no see!) and Open Road CEO Jane Friedman
14. British Heritage Travel CEO Jack Kliger who chatted with Paul and me after our lunch. In the ‘All Roads Lead to Michael’s Department:’ It was Jack who hired Paul to helm Premiere and originally hired him for the top spot at TV Guide.
16. David Poltrack
18. Todd Bishop
20. Jolie Hunt
21. Euan Rellie; Act Two: Quest’s Chris Meigher
22. Jerry Burke
23. Drew Schiff
24. Martin Puris
25. Gordon Davis
26. Nick Varney
27. Paul Turcotte, Leslie Gwinn and yours truly
Faces in the Crowd: Liz Wood in from Washington, DC at the bar … and new Michael’s regular Julian Niccolini with Pete Peterson in the Garden Room.
Diane Clehane is a FishbowlNY contributor. Follow her on Twitter @DianeClehane. Send comments and corrections on this column to LUNCH at MEDIABISTRO dot COM.