Haul of Fame

Extra and Access Hollywood: popular shows with no fans.

Access Hollywood’s Nancy O’Dell and Pat O’Brien

Nobody loves Extra or Access Hollywood. People watch them remorsefully, try to ignore them, or hate them. The two shows appear together in the vulnerable hour between network news and prime time. (Though syndicated, they show up mostly on NBC affiliates.) In spite of our professed indifference and contempt, Extra and Access fight on, tirelessly, even valiantly, to deliver stat-heavy “entertainment news,” coupled with shots of runways, red carpets, concert footage, stars at home, stars in court, sports highlights, and clips from music videos, movies, and television. The shows format and reformat and accelerate their formats until, taken together, the shows are all format: PCP-paced segments cut with icy, racing graphics that suggest the artillery in Blaster Master or Doom.

But if these two speedy shows have a warlike sensibility, there is nonetheless great harmony between them. Extra and Access run together without interruption, suggesting a pixilated world without beginning or end. Extra is a Warner Bros. warhorse, a show whose broad mandate has it cover everything from fitness to technology to shelter to hard news. Access Hollywood limits itself mostly to entertainment celebrities. Both shows were intended as peppier, harder-hitting answers to the revered franchise of Entertainment Tonight.But while Extra and Access retain some of ET’s sweet veneer of Daddy’s Real News (actual grown-up anchors and reporters), they dispense with formal introductions and farewells, and they replay for days on end their week’s best bites and clips, over and over, like a crazed villanelle. Dozens of times per show, the logos zoom, the theme music fires. On Extra, stars even chant “Extra! Extra!” on cue (an abasement that only Ozzy, no surprise, can pull off with style). And of course many of both shows’ segments look so much like movie trailers—and are movie trailers—that any division between show and ad is just gone.

And then there is the shell game of the teases, those flashes of upcoming reportage meant to keep you glued to your seat through the commercial breaks. Sometimes Access and Extra will tease a segment that seems to be coming up after the break, but then, after the break, the truth emerges that it’s not coming until tomorrow. It’s a tease for a tease. And sometimes, after the teases—when you’re sure a break is due—the program mysteriously continues.

The effect of all this is that you’re halfway through watching Access before you even know it—and then you’re well into Extra, without intending to watch it either. But I often find it hard to click off or get up when Access/Extra are on. The shows provide decent information for anyone interested in movies and television. You get capsule reviews, glimpses of many movies, box-office numbers, who’s producing what, a general rhythm of street-level shoptalk in Los Angeles. Both shows are also classified as newsmagazines, meaning that they compete for Emmys with Dateline and 20/20.

Extra anchorLeeza Gibbons

The embodiment of the Extra/Access ethos may be Extra’s”Executive Consulting Managing Editor” and anchor Leeza Gibbons, who has a talent for keeping things moving and selling her stories without too much fuss. Gibbons is still fairly fresh from Leeza, late of the venerable Entertainment Tonight, and decidedly a free agent. She’s more executive than starlet, and some of her role registers in her appearance. Both her eyes and her face are narrower than those of the other entertainment newswomen, notably her colleague Dayna Devon and Access’ Nancy O’Dell, both of whom are truly uncanny physical reformattings of ET’s Mary Hart, the godmother of all sparkly, yellow-haired, moon-faced show-biz tour guides. True, people from Nigeria would probably have a hard time telling Gibbons apart from the others, especially at this pace, but she seems a shade more serious—and her strained, executive-producer look suggests that the shows are as headache-inducing to produce as they are to watch.

With workdays running longer, viewers often get home too late to lend support to the embattled newsmen Jennings, Rather, and Brokaw. Instead, the post-work sofa set, looking for news at happy hour, might find its attention seized by almost-news—the kind of shows that supply enough numbers (box-office figures, prices of houses) to suggest that we’re being informed about something. Even if, when we get up from the sofa, we can’t remember exactly what it was.