Showbiz Tonight: Still Provocative, Three Years Later

By SteveK 

On February 21, 2005, Showbiz Tonight made its debut onto the cable news landscape. Three years later, it remains one of the few shows which unabashedly combines entertainment and news, and has become a ratings hit for Headline News in the process.

When it started, it was on at 7pmET and competed, fairly unsuccessfully, against the EXTRA’s and Access Hollywood’s already popular on the networks. It also had a different motto, which was “If it happened today, it’s on Showbiz Tonight.” Now the program has settled in comfortably at 11pmET, and calls itself, “TV’s most provocative entertainment news show.”

“There are so many choices in the cable universe right now,” says Showbiz Tonight EP Dave Levine. “If someone wants to watch politics, they can turn on CNN, and they have. We’re getting an audience that is interested in the stories we cover.”

And those stories have helped Showbiz Tonight grow more than any other cable news show, up 64% year-to-date compared to the same period last year. Since 2008 has begun, the show is up 15% more, according to Levine.

Levine watches with interest, as other news programs incorporate entertainment stories into their broadcasts. “When it happens it heightens awareness of the stories,” he says. “As a result, people will come to us when there’s a big story. It’s just feeding the interest.”

SBT has accomplished a rare feat in the world of cable news. Levine figures 75-80% of the original staff is still working for the show, three years on; Levine and host, AJ Hammer, among them. “There has been stability since day one, and its a testament to the show, and to CNN that allowed the show to grow,” Levine says. “It’s not often that you get a chance to do that.”

A primary goal of the show has been to keep it fresh for viewers. It airs at 11pmET and repeats at 11amET. But Levine says the show will broadcast an entirely new show the next morning if the news dictates, such as the night after the Grammys.

And for Showbiz Tonight, awards shows are election nights. For this weekend’s Oscar show, live Sunday night, the crew will produce an updated program three hours later for the west coast.

Related: Gail Shister interviews Hammer for TVNewser…