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Can the ‘Original Gangster of Gossip’—Page Six—Stand Out in the Celebrity TV Crowd?

RealClearLife’s Demi Vitkute goes behind the scenes at Page Six TV.

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On September 18, America’s most iconic, 40-year-old gossip column Page Six introduced its fans with the newest extension of the brand—Page Six TV—the new nationally syndicated half-hour program, which now airs in more than 200 local markets on the Fox Television Stations across the U.S. On the same day, CBS Television Distribution, launched an hour-long program DailyMailTV, a version of The Daily Mail, a popular British tabloid that has made a major push into the U.S. since 2011.

Page Six TV is hosted by comedian and Sirius XM radio host John Fugelsang and entertainment industry insiders—New York Post reporter Carlos Greer, Variety writer Elizabeth Wagmeister and Bravo’s “Fashion Queens” Bevy Smith, who is also a host on Sirius XM.

Even though it has only been two months since the launch, the hosts have bonded quickly. During the live taping on November 8, they radiated good energy that was contagious. Elizabeth Wagmeister came out on set while still wearing her gigantic teddy bear slippers before changing into heels. Bevy Smith was taking selfies with the audience members and John Fugelsang rhetorically asked if his hair looked like Paul Manafort’s. The show’s executive producer Michael Bachmann says “the vibe between those guys, between Carlos and Elizabeth, and Bevy and John is just getting more and more electric … It’s unusual for TV people to be in such good moods.”

Ratings, that have been high so far, signal that there is space for these rookie TV shows in the marketplace. Despite being up against the World Series in many markets, Page Six TV delivered a series-high of 1.1 million viewers nationally. It jumped 14 percent to a new season-high 0.8 live plus same day household rating, and narrowed the gap on leader DailyMailTV, which eased 9 percent from its series high the week before to a 1.0—according to Nielsen Media Research, in the session ending Nov. 5.

The leap into the crowded celebrity TV marketplace by two major tabloid newspapers comes during a complicated time in the industry. Declining newspaper circulation and print advertising revenues have pushed publications to innovate its digital strategies and then recently, to pivot to video. But the strategy of pivoting to the video has also often failed for various reasons, including high costs of video production and difficulty monetizing from Facebook, where most of the audience is. The business of traditional TV networks is threatened by the rise of streaming-media services, like Netflix or Hulu, and mergers that have given a lot of power to distributors, such as Comcast and AT&T, which are moving into content.

But syndicated TV remains attractive to advertisers, who find TV commercials more effective than online ads because they can reach mass audiences quickly. Ad spending on first-run syndicated TV programming is up 6.5 percent through the first seven months of 2017 to $1.9 billion, according to Standard Media Index.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times in August, Frank Cicha, senior vice president of programming for Fox Television Stations, said Page Six TV will have the topicality of a news program, giving viewers incentive to choose it over DVR and streaming alternatives they can watch anytime.

However, Page Six TV announced that it is making its streaming debut on November 16, exclusively on Hulu.

Endemol Shine International has licensed Page Six TV to Hulu, where each daily 30-minute episode will be made available to stream on Hulu the day after its broadcast debut.

“We’re thrilled to be joining Hulu’s lineup, giving Page Six TV viewers an opportunity to catch up on episodes they may have missed the day before on local broadcast stations,” says Endemol Shine North America CEO Cris Abrego. “Page Six TV has quickly asserted itself as must-see daily viewing for millions nationally and Hulu’s subscribers will now have the opportunity to enjoy all of the breaking news and fun that comes with each episode.”

The show is modeled after Page Six, the iconic New York Post gossip column and website. The print edition of Page Six debuted on January 3, 1977. The Daily News had a Hollywood and celebrity column, but it wasn’t a gossip column. Page Six introduced the public to stories that weren’t just about celebrities, but about people in power.

“One source tiptoeing down the corridors of power and phoning in what he saw to Page Six was Roy Cohn, the prominent lawyer who had been Joe McCarthy’s primary henchman. Once scorned in the pages of Schiff’s Post, he had become a regular presence in the tabloid’s pages and hallways,” wrote Frank DiGiacomo, former Page Six reporter, for Vanity Fair in 2004.

Roy Cohn was also Donald Trump’s lawyer. Trump was an up-and-comer then, who Page Six frequently covered. In 1983, Trump Tower was completed and in 1988 news exploded about Trump’s affair with Marla Maples, which led to a record number of Post front pages.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that a brand so established like Page Six took an opportunity to extend to TV. If anything, as Brad Adgate, an independent media consultant, asked—“Why didn’t they do this a decade ago?”

Kay O’Connell (Fashionably Late with Rachel Zoe) and Michael Bachmann (Dish Nation) have been named executive producers of Page Six TV and Kathleen Rajsp (The View) has been named co-executive producer. They join previously announced executive producers Jesse Angelo, who is publisher of the New York Post, as well as Endemol Shine North America’s Michael Weinberg and Rob Smith.

Page Six is the original gangster, the O.G. of gossip,” said executive producer Michael Bachmann. It has the backing of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, which was split into two publicly traded companies in 2013—News Corp and 21st Century Fox. The New York Post is owned by News Corp and Twentieth Television (the TV syndication arm of 21st Century Fox) distributes Page Six TV.

Michael Bachmann
Page Six TV executive producer Michael Bachmann in his office (Demi Vitkute)

Adgate said that Page Six is one of the most branded newspaper pages ever. “Having a major media conglomerate behind it certainly gives them an advantage over say something like the Daily Mail,” he said.

Page Six TV ran a successful three-week trial run in the summer of 2016 after which Jesse Angelo, the CEO of the New York Post and the executive director of the show commented: “As an extension of the legendary column, Page Six TV is another step in the evolution of the New York Post into a multiplatform media company reaching more than 43 million unique visitors online each month with a vibrant social media presence.”

But how will Page Six TV stand out among other celebrity TV shows, like Entertainment Tonight or Access Hollywood?

Michael Bachmann, who previously worked on Dish Nation, another Fox gossip show, says what differentiates them from other shows is that they have real journalists on the show, who have a deep knowledge of the topics and do their own reporting. He says at a lot of other shows, the producers write the stories and the hosts read the prompter.

Carlos Greer said he makes phone calls first thing in the morning, during the 7 a.m. meeting, “which is not always easy because a lot of people are still sleeping.”

All of the hosts have other jobs. Greer writes for the Post, Elizabeth Wagmeister for Variety, and John Fugelsang and Bevy Smith run off to host their own radio shows after the taping.

Fugelsang says he works 12-hour days. “I don’t sleep is what I’m saying.” He says his stand-up comedy is mostly political so it’s nice to get a break from politics while hosting a pop culture show.

The launch of the show coincided with one of the most groundbreaking stories coming from Hollywood—the Harvey Weinstein sexual assault scandal. Bachmann said they had exclusive access because New York Post editor Emily Smith was talking to Harvey Weinstein directly. “When that case first blew up, she was literally talking to him and he was calling her … not only could she give you the story like everybody else, she could say what he sounded like, and she talked to Georgina, his wife.”

Page Six’s phrase is “If you don’t want in on Page Six, don’t do it.” Bachmann says “it’s kind of a funny phrase in the sense that we do really try to make sure that we’re reporting accurately. We’re not trying to do slimy stories.” He said they always look for ways to move the story forward instead of reporting on what everyone else has already covered.

Bachmann is not concerned about the competition. He said, “There’s room for all of us. I think Daily Mail‘s success is our success, we’re in the same space.” But he said they’re different from DailyMailTV because it does more hard news stories. Page Six TV does broader stories, including sports, real estate, fashion, music. “So all these different buckets differentiate us from those other shows that are just doing Hollywood stories,” he said.

Page Six TV also has better prime times than DailyMailTV. The show runs at 7 p.m. in New York and Los Angeles while DailyMailTV airs at 2 p.m. in New York and at 3:30 a.m. in LA.

Bachmann says he’s excited about celebrities who are up-and-coming. He said, “It’s fun to find people that a lot of people don’t know about yet and then kind of have that celebrity as a celebrity that Page Six is always covering.” He thinks Cardi B is not getting enough coverage. Bella Thorne is another young celebrity that Page Six TV has kept an eye on. “I admire her kind of resolve to not care what people think but also just be yourself,” Bachmann said.

One of Wagmeister’s favorite celebrities is The Rock. She admires his different business ventures and how he carries himself through his career. “Every person you talk to about him raves about him, says he’s the kindest person, cares about others more than himself and it’s really true. And I think he’s a really good example for you can never stop working even once you’ve achieved success.” On Twitter, he calls her #thewag. “People kind of make fun of me for that,” she laughed.

Greer loves Janet Jackson, but says that “sometimes you can get a little disappointed by celebrities. I like when they’re just down to earth and genuine and they’re not being nice for the sake of being nice.” He mentions recently hanging out with Brooke Shields in the Bahamas, where he was covering the relaunch of The Cove Atlantis resort and where Bevy Smith was celebrating her birthday.

“You would walk down to the pool and see Brooke sort of just chilling out, talking to the staff. She knew their names,” he said.

Whether the scoop is good or bad, covering celebrities is always an exciting job.

“I get up at 5, at 4 a.m. in the morning to come in here, to do the show every day, and you don’t need an alarm clock because you’re excited to do it and you feel like you’re doing something cool,“  said Bachmann.