LOS ANGELES – Before “Entertainment Tonight” broadcasts the latest celebrity news and Hollywood gossip, Erin Johnson asks herself a question: Would people in Sidney enjoy this?
Johnson, a Sidney High School alumna, was named executive producer of “Entertainment Tonight” in June. As the leader of the longest running entertainment news magazine show on television, Johnson works thousands of miles from her hometown and has traveled the world to pursue stories, but she still maintains a special bond with Sidney. It’s the place where she first dreamed of the life she’s come to have and the place she first gained the skills needed to make those dreams come true.
Johnson developed her love for television as a child growing up in Sidney when family bonding included gathering on the couch to watch shows together.
“I’ve been pop culture obsessed forever,” Johnson said. “I told my parents I would find a way to get paid for watching TV.”
She credits her Sidney High School education in helping fulfill that vision. Her teachers, especially in the English department, taught her how to tell stories and write well while encouraging her to pursue her passions.
“They were always so supportive and motivating me to look outside and do things I really believed in and wanted to do,” Johnson, who was the SHS Class of 2000 valedictorian, said. “No one once ever told me you should change or dream or you should think of something different.”
Johnson built on the foundation of her Sidney City Schools education by studying broadcast journalism and politics at Washington and Lee University in Virginia before returning to Ohio to begin her career as a producer at ABC affiliate WKEF in Dayton. She then worked as a producer at NBC affiliate WLWT in Cincinnati before becoming a morning show producer at Fox 5 San Diego.
“That was a really awesome start for me, honestly, because you learn so much working at the local level,” Johnson said of her first jobs in television.
After working in local news in Dayton and Cincinnati, San Diego was Johnson’s first foray into the lifestyle industry. She then moved to Los Angeles and continued progressing in the field with multiple director and producer roles for Dish Nation and Studio City.
“I have a pretty diverse background so I can kind of tap into all of those skills to help me do the job now,” she said.
After moving to LA, Johnson worked on marketing campaigns for syndicated shows such as “Ellen,” “Live with Kelly & Michael,” “The Dr. Oz Show,” “The Arsenio Hall Show,” “Katie” and “Hot in Cleveland.” She also worked on NBC’s promotions for the Olympics in London and Sochi, Russia.
The Sidney graduate joined CBS in 2014, contributing to shows such as “Entertainment Tonight,” “Dr. Phil,” “The Doctors,” “Rachel Ray” and “Inside Edition.” She oversaw Etonline.com’s entertainment news videos and social media strategies, increasing video streams from 450,000 to 25.4 million a month.
“It’s not just about television shows anymore,” she said. “It’s also about the digital imprint of these shows.”
Johnson spent the past four years as a senior producer and co-executive producer for “Entertainment Tonight” – winning a pair of Daytime Emmy awards. She was promoted to executive producer in June.
“Erin’s experience producing the TV show and having worked on the digital side of the business made her the obvious choice to take the reins at ‘Entertainment Tonight’ and lead the brand into its next decade,”Rich Cervini, executive vice president of programming and production, CBS Television Distribution, said in a press release. “She has a passion for entertainment news and a drive to be No. 1 that we are confident will keep the show on top.”
In her new role, Johnson is directly responsible for the entire ET brand including its broadcasts, website, streaming and social media.
“It’s definitely extra work, and right now we’re getting ready for the new season launch,” she said. “It’s all been really fun and exciting to be a part of.”
As a part of an iconic program that’s older than she is, Johnson’s goal for the 39th season of “Entertainment Tonight” is to keep a familiar feel while freshening up the show. When the season premiers on Sept. 9, ET is going to debut a new version of its theme song that stays true to its roots while bringing a fresher sound for the new season.
To promote the change, Johnson and her staff are getting celebrities to sing the theme song, an idea inspired by Tom Hanks’ habit of singing the tune prior to all his interviews with “Entertainment Tonight.”
It’s been fun getting to meet celebrities such as Hanks, George Clooney and other people she grew up admiring, but Johnson said she doesn’t have time to get starstruck as her job keeps her plenty busy.
“My goal is to put out a show every night that people really, really enjoy watching,” she said. “It’s informative and also an escape.”
“Entertainment Tonight” isn’t just about fashion and gossip, Johnson said, and she enjoys getting to showcase celebrities such as Patricia Heaton whom she traveled with to Rwanda. The actress visited the African nation with World Vision in February to help bring clean water to needy communities.
Johnson has loved traveling the world with “Entertainment Tonight” but relishes the opportunities to come home to visit her parents, sister and brother-in-law who all live in Sidney. She tries to make it back multiple times a year, including around the holidays, and has a trip home planned later this summer.
And she appreciates that the highest rated station for ET in her early run as executive producer has been Dayton’s WHIO – which broadcasts in her hometown.
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