As she inspected the stage where she would later address the Democratic National Convention, a look of recognition flickered across Hillary Rodham Clinton's face when she peered out to see who had asked how she was.
"Good! Glad to see you," she called out to Kevin Frazier of "Entertainment Tonight."
She always enjoys seeing him, Clinton added. It was such a paydirt moment that the syndicated newsmagazine used it at the top of its show last week _ not once but twice. When you cover celebrities, there's nothing better than letting viewers know that a celebrity recognizes you.
And who are bigger celebrities this year than the people seeking the presidency?
The turf for magazine shows like "ET," "Access Hollywood" and "The Insider," usually more interested in Angelina Jolie or Lindsey Lohan, has expanded from red carpets to campaign rallies. The new interest is evident in all the convention coverage.
Oprah Winfrey's endorsement of Obama was a key moment in turning the attention of these shows to politics, said Bill Carroll, an expert in the syndication market for Katz Television. "Wherever the celebrities are, that's where the celebrity magazines are going to be," he said.
Richard Dreyfuss, Ben Affleck, Sarah Silverman and Anne Hathaway were among those interviewed at the convention last week. Yet the shows weren't simply star-struck. When nearly 40 million people watch Barack Obama's acceptance speech, it's more than a celebrity issue.
"You have to tap into the water-cooler stories that the people are talking about," said Charles Lachman, executive producer of "Inside Edition." "If you don't, you won't have much relevance for your viewers."
Obama's campaign feels like it's reliving the glamour of the Kennedy years, said Rob Silverstein, executive producer of "Access Hollywood" "That's an attraction for us," he said.
The programs are one more stop on a long media road for presidential contenders, who are expected to show they have a sense of humor on the "Tonight" show or "The Daily Show." The syndicated newsmagazines reach 4 million to 5 million people each day, offering generally painless, puffery _ although there are pitfalls. Obama said he regretted it soon after allowing his children to sit in on an "Access Hollywood" interview.
With the more serious campaign issues addressed on network newscasts that usually run in the same evening hours, the newsmagazines must look for something different.
Hence a voiceover like this for Maria Menounos' report on "Access Hollywood" last week: "Is there an Obama celebrity backlash? We investigate."
One "Inside Edition" story last week had Les Trent standing in a backstage elevator to report on how Clinton had been "trapped" there. Actually, it couldn't move for a moment because it was overloaded and some passengers had to get out.
The newsmagazine convention reports included a vertigo-inducing travelogue that shifted from the silly to the serious to the barely consequential in a matter of seconds. A celebrity will give a sound bite, a designer will comment on Clinton's fashion choices, Jimmy Carter will talk about convention memories and there will be tape of some of the speakers' big applause lines.
Michelle Obama will walk by, barely breaking stride, say into a microphone that Clinton "did an outstanding job today" and it will be touted as an interview.
Three newsmagazines showed pictures of Clinton aides holding up different-colored dresses on the convention stage before deciding which one would look better with the bright blue backdrop.
The less celebrity-driven "Inside Edition" looked back on the car accident that killed vice presidential candidate Joe Biden's wife and daughter, noting that Biden has speculated publicly that the driver of the truck that hit his family could have been drinking when there's been no evidence of that.
The newsmagazines are essentially interested in letting people learn a little of a potential president's personality, Lachman said.
"Access Hollywood" took advantage of being a corporate partner with NBC, using Tom Brokaw last week to give his opinion on the value of celebrity endorsements. The show also interviewed Luke Russert, son of the late Tim Russert, who's working for NBC News at the convention. Silverstein said he tried to hire the young Russert before he went to NBC.
From a campaign's perspective, the shows offer great attention, said Howard Wolfson, who was communications director of Clinton's campaign.
"Hillary was on these shows as much as we could get her on them," he said. "They have a large audience, and at least for some of the folks watching it, it's a main source of news and information."
Obama hasn't dealt with "Access Hollywood" since drawing some criticism for allowing his children to be interviewed on the show, Silverstein said. He suspects that the campaign will be back if they need to face some specific audience.
"You want to work with them in a way that's appropriate," Wolfson said. "You don't want to do interviews that are goofy or diminishing. But they have a great audience. And they probably aren't interested in talking to John McCain that much."
Not so, the producers said.
They'll be in St. Paul, Minn., for the Republican National Convention.
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EDITOR'S NOTE _ David Bauder can be reached at dbauder(at)ap.org
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