Bill Tush and Scott Leon of CNN’s ‘Showbiz’ discuss the network at 20
May 19, 2000
(CNN) – Since CNN started broadcasting in 1980, a lot has changed, particularly the nature of entertainment coverage. Since that time the public appetite for news of favorite personalities has grown. Combining CNN’s expertise for hard news with public interest, Scott Leon and Bill Tush balance the line between gossip and information. "Showbiz Today" and "Showbiz This Weekend" are respected outlets followed by industry insiders, as well as a multitude of fans across the country.
Bill Tush joined the network in 1983 after a nine-year stint at TBS Superstation in Atlanta. He anchors "Showbiz This Weekend," and is a senior entertainment correspondent for "Showbiz Today," CNN’s live entertainment news program featuring top celebrities.
Scott Leon is vice president of CNN Entertainment News and executive producer of "Showbiz Today." He is instrumental in developing coverage of entertainment events and been with the network since its inception.
Chat Moderator: Thank you for joining us, Bill Tush and Scott Leon.
Chat Moderator: How has the coverage of entertainment news changed at CNN over the past 20 years?
Scott Leon: Initially, the coverage was light and more feature-oriented. As the years progressed, we took a more aggressive, hard news approach to covering entertainment news, covering it with the same editorial considerations that we cover politics, crime, health, etc.
Bill Tush: I think there is more entertainment news on CNN than there was 20 years ago, and it's taken more seriously. The average viewer is more in tune with the business side of movies. Everyone knows what the number one movie is now. Twenty years ago, no one cared.
Question from Just: Yes, Scott, but is it REALLY necessary to give health updates, dirt updates, and "all the dirt" on the celebrities?
Scott Leon: "Dirt" is a subjective viewpoint. We report on what's news. Unlike other entertainment news shows, we don't necessarily delve into private lives, unless it becomes major news.
Should we be reporting on why Matthew Perry of Friends has been in the hospital for the last two weeks? The answer is of course, yes.
Question from Just: Shouldn't "entertainment" be entertainment? Isn't the hard-nosed approach better suited to politics and crime?
Bill Tush: I think there is a line to be drawn, where it is news, but it is entertainment news. People like to know about celebrities and what goes on with them. We stay away from just doing gossip.
Question from JrTy__D: When an actor can become president (Reagan) and celebrity status is money in the bank, how much is entertainment "news" actually "creating" news?
Scott Leon: That's an interesting question. In the last decade, entertainment figures have had more impact on social agenda and politics than at any other time, particularly in the Clinton administration. That may be a by-product of American society becoming, in general, a celebrity and fame-driven society.
Question from JimL: Why do we need to know what's up with Matthew Perry?
Scott Leon: You don't, but there are many people, fans of the show, and fans of the artist's work, who would be interested in that.
Bill Tush: I have no interest in what the New York Mets are doing with their batting average, because I have no interest in sports. Other people don't care about entertainment, but there are millions of people who ARE interested.
You can see it, because there are how many entertainment shows? How many entertainment magazines each week? Actually, I do care about the Mets. It's hockey I don't care about. :-)
Question from Genie2: Do you not think that all the reporting about celebrities is just that? GOSSIP?
Scott Leon: No, I think that a lot in this industry, a lot of what passes as entertainment news is indeed gossip, particularly, lately, on the Internet. But, what we do at CNN is report on not only the newsier aspects of the business, like the Screen actor's Guild strike, but also on an actor's latest work, a musician's latest album. That's not gossip. That's what's going on in the industry.
Question from PixyStix: Are you "entertainment reporters" by choice?
Bill Tush: I originally set out to be a funeral director, but through a twist of events, I never got my embalmer's license. So I chose this. :)
Scott Leon: That's a sad story. :) As for me, I started journalism and acting in college, and this was the logical direction for my career to take.
Question from JrTy__D: Will streaming video on demand over the Net change the face of entertainment? Of entertainment coverage?
Scott Leon: It already is! We're finding that where we used to have to compete with "The Today Show" and "Entertainment Tonight," now we have to compete with Web companies.
That's good, because it gives artists, actors, and musicians another outlet to promote their work, and for those of us who are also tied into interactive entities, as we are here at CNN, it gives the opportunity to not only present stories on "Showbiz Today," but also present that same artist on CNN.com.
Bill Tush: I think that when the ratings are down, it's not that we're losing viewers to other shows, it's that we're losing them to the Internet.
Question from I: If you think that celebrities have that influence with the public, why not do a program on their favorite charities and why they chose them, how they help, and what good they have done for the people receiving the charity?
Bill Tush: We've done that.
Scott Leon: I don't know about a "program," but at "Showbiz Today," we've done many pieces focusing on celebrities and their causes. Many years ago, there was a show on TBS that was also run on CNN, called "Good News." That was a major part of it.
Question from JimL: How does a media organization determine what people are interested in?
Scott Leon: There's always been philosophical discussions in journalistic circles, about whether you should report on what people SHOULD know, or what they WANT TO know.
My way is to find a compromise. We report on stories that we feel are important, that they need to know about, such as the actor's strike, but also provide them with the stories they want to know about, such as Tom Cruise's next movie, or Madonna's current album.
Bill Tush: Realize, our show is very big inside the industry. People in the entertainment business, when they want news, tune into us. We've got an audience there.
Question from Genie2: Scott, has the training to be a funeral director helped you in any way to be into the reporting of entertainers?
Bill Tush: When you're interviewing people who don't want to give you long answers, you learn how to keep talking. So, yes. :)
Question from DigiTell: Do you feel the press contributed to Princess Di's death?
Scott Leon: One of the problems that I've always had is stereotyping of anything. "The press" is too broad of a term to describe everyone who tries to pass themselves off as a journalist.
The people following Diana were overseas tabloid paparazzi. They were not journalists. Lump in every journalist together like that, and it's unfair to the thousands of ethical, honest, hard-working reporters who do their job in a professional and ethical manner.
Bill Tush: I think the driver of the car, who was in the bar for five hours before he got behind the wheel, contributed to her death.
Chat Moderator: What is the new direction for the coverage of entertainment news?
Scott Leon: I can tell you one thing... we'll see that it becomes harder and harder for journalists to have uncontrolled access to celebrities and stars. I think we'll see journalists having to be more aggressive and persevering to get through the publicity blockade and manipulation that stars place in front of us, to get to the true story.
Question from Just: Doesn't CNN realize that "entertainment" usually means ordinary people doing unusual things? Like "Millionaire" or "Real People?" These shows had the ratings!
Scott Leon: Number one, is Real People still on the air? :) We at "Showbiz" do a lot of pieces on not just celebrities, but people you've never heard of, who contribute to the entertainment world.
A good example is a piece we recently did on a blind acting teacher in Hollywood, who has taught actors such as Val Kilmer. He teaches actors how to act blind.
Bill Tush: I think Just is confused. "Millionaire" and "Real People" are entertainment shows. We're an entertainment news show. We're there to inform.
Chat Moderator: Will entertainment news become even bigger or has it reached its peak?
Scott Leon: Particularly with the Internet and broadband and the oncoming convergence of Internet and TV, I think it will get only bigger. It will get to the point where you'll sit at home, and instead of seeing our entire show, you'll see a story that we do on, say, Tom Cruise's new movie, "Mission Impossible II," and then type in and get more information from our archives, etc. If anything it will get bigger.
Bill Tush: I agree with Scott that it's going to get bigger, but I also believe that there will come a day when people will get burned out with celebrities. One day... after I'm retired, I hope. :)
Chat Moderator: Any final thoughts for our audience?
Bill Tush: My final thought came from watching Jerry Springer today. If you want to marry your sister, go ahead, but you can't do it more than once. Thank you, and good night. :-)
Scott Leon: My comment is the same one that I made the day after the Grammy's. I still feel that the Polka category in the Grammy's is getting short shrift. I really encourage you to write to encourage them to add the Polka category.
Bill Tush: In the words of Frankie Yankovich, the Polka king, "In heaven there is no beer, that is why we're here."
Chat Moderator: Thank you for joining us, Bill Tush and Scott Leon!
Bill Tush: Good-bye!
Bill Tush and Scott Leon joined the chat from the New York bureau via telephone. CNN.com provided a transcript. The above is an edited transcript of the chat.
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