AP Television Writer
LOS ANGELES (AP) — "Extra" producer Lisa Gregorisch-Dempsey is as likely to hand a visitor a book about health discoveries as she is to share the TV show's latest ratings data.
As unlikely as it seems, the veteran producer has combined the two passions by adding medical stories to the traditional entertainment news magazine mix of Hollywood divorce, scandal and lifestyle updates.
Like so many others, Gregorisch-Dempsey has seen illness hit close to home: Her father suffered a stroke; her mother died of lung cancer; and she stood by friend Katie Couric when the news anchor's husband, Jay Monahan, succumbed to colon cancer a decade ago.
"I've been obsessed with this kind of stuff since Katie's husband got cancer," said the veteran TV producer. That led her to add regular medical segments to "Extra," the daily syndicated show hosted by Mario Lopez (syndicated; check local listings for times).
Dubbed "Lifechangers," the reports are intended to put viewers "in touch with not just doctors, but the doctors' doctors," Gregorisch-Dempsey, senior executive producer for "Extra," said.
"Here's how I justify it, aside from trying to save lives: Celebrities can get to these doctors, you can't get to these doctors. I think that this information has been kept in the closet too long."
While viewers still can count on the scoop about Candy Spelling and daughter Tori, or how Heidi Klum manages motherhood, they also learn about new cancer treatments, how to boost fertility and, for sizzle, next Thursday's segment on foods to increase a woman's sex drive.
Although wrapped in the breathless delivery familiar to Hollywood TV news magazine fans — "And listen up, ladies, there's a high-heel hazard to your health!" — the intent is serious, Gregorisch-Dempsey said.
So are the doctors involved.
Dr. Neil Martin, chairman of the neurosurgery department at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, said he wants to help viewers realize "they are in charge of their own health" with choices they make in diet, exercise and other areas.
His work on "Extra" also helps "raise the medical IQ of viewers" by making complex information understandable, Martin said. But, he added, "The best health care is when the patient is informed and in a partnership with their doctor."
"Lifechangers" has contributed to the show's increase in viewership among its target demographic of young adult women, which rose 13 percent in February compared to a year ago, Gregorisch-Dempsey said.
Lopez, who brought "accessibility" and his Hollywood connections when he took over as host in the show's 15th season in 2008, is a big factor, she said, as is an effort to connect with viewers online.
"I still have to sell a show," said Gregorisch-Dempsey — and, while she's at it, try to keep her audience healthy.
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Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.