E!: Empowerment or Exploitation?

Nov 10, 2003  •  Post A Comment

E! Networks President and CEO Mindy Herman gave birth two weeks ago and is now dividing her time between telecommuting and attending to her firstborn. The process of nursing, she said, “is even more unrelenting than the search for ratings”-a quest Ms. Herman knows very well.
Since Ms. Herman joined the company in 2000 E!’s total-day viewership among women 18 to 34 has increased by 27 percent. And the channel enjoyed a record-breaking summer with the success of “Celebrities Uncensored” and “It’s Good to Be,” and recently ranked sixth among all cable networks in women 18 to 49 in prime time.
All of this has been accomplished by promoting a female-centric programming slate, albeit one with an odd mix: E!’s prime-time hours are populated with profiles and news that frequently showcase strong and successful women, from Sarah Jessica Parker to Rosie O’Donnell to any and all things J.Lo. At night, however, E! becomes the home of the titillating girls-gone-pixilated series “E! Wild On” and Howard Stern’s stripper-stuffed talk show.
If such shows were on Spike TV, they would be used as an example of the network’s catering to lowest-common-denominator male demographics. But on E! the programming offsets the female-skewing prime-time slate. Still, the question remains: Is E! about empowering women, exploiting them or both?
“I think our programming tries to be truthful, to an extent that women are doing interesting things and we’re a mirror on that,” Ms. Herman said. “We clearly showcase talented, powerful women, but we’re not overtly feminist.”
Ms. Herman’s toughest decision came last year, when she banked on a program that combined the successful female ethos of E!’s prime-time slate with the more bimbotic casting of its late-night programming. That show was “The Anna Nicole Show.”
“[Anna Nicole] was clearly a lightning rod. It was a huge risk, but we got just a ton of female viewers,” Ms. Herman said. “For a lot of the young women that watched it, they understood it was done like a live-action cartoon and enjoyed the bizarre escapist twist of the show.”
“And Anna Nicole has lost 90 pounds,” she added.
Ms. Herman also oversaw the launch of the Style Network in 1998. The network offers a kinder, gentler female point of view without seeming too, you know, Lifetime Network. “It’s a network that incorporates the female point of view, but it doesn’t scream `Not for you!’ to men,” Ms. Herman said.
Mindy Herman
Job title: President and CEO of E! Networks
Date of birth: Feb. 17, 1962
Place of birth: Philadelphia
Length of time in current gig: 3 years
Why her? For E! Ms. Herman bet on an unusual combination of strong female star power in prime time and girly-show titillation in late-night-which paid off in record-breaking ratings.