E! Networks in State of Flux

Aug 9, 2004  •  Post A Comment

With Joan Rivers departing E! and Ted Harbert arriving as CEO, changes are ahead for E! Networks, which owns E! Entertainment Television and Style network.

Mr. Harbert is a former chairman of ABC Entertainment and president of NBC Studios. He brings a much higher profile to E!, thanks to his extensive background in network TV.

Mr. Harbert said E! ratings are “flat,” and that the network is searching for a hit series. He said new shows “Scream Play” and “Dr. 90210” are showing mixed results, adding that “Scream Play” may be short-lived. “We don’t have the highest hopes for it,” Mr. Harbert said.

E! has been known for developing talent in-house, including Greg Kinnear early on, followed by John Henson, Hal Sparks and Aisha Tyler, and it established Ms. Rivers as the doyenne of the red carpet, accompanied by her daughter Melissa. Mr. Harbert said E! is close to a high-profile replacement for Ms. Rivers. “There is all sorts of interesting talent out there,” he said. “We will have this done in a week to 10 days; we will make an offer.”

If he can stabilize E! and make some progress, a bigger role could be in store for Mr. Harbert. Comcast has been looking for a programming guru to oversee its investments in that arena. Some suggest that Mr. Harbert might be the one to fill the guru shoes. That would mean that he could be overseeing a joint venture with Gemstar on the one hand and competing with it on the other.

Sources close to the situation said Comcast has cooled on the search for a programming chief and is concentrating more on finding someone to administer the sales and affiliate side of the cable programming business. Mr. Harbert noted his duties involve only E! and the Style network.

He is also well aware of plans for the new TV Guide Channel, having watched Ms. Rivers recede in his rearview mirror around the same time he first signed on at E! Asked whether the new TV Guide Channel is keeping him staring at the ceiling late into the evening, Mr. Harbert replied, “It doesn’t take much to keep me up nights.”