12 to Watch 2005: Ted Harbert

Jan 10, 2005  •  Post A Comment

When E! Networks President and CEO Ted Harbert heard VH1 was airing a special called “100 Greatest Red Carpet Moments,” he was incredulous. “Where the hell did they get the red carpet moments?” he asked his staff.

For years E! had a lock on “red carpet” programming and celebrity clip-show packages. But lately the network has faced a barrage of concept poachers–from VH1’s countdown shows to TV Guide’s signing of Joan and Melissa Rivers to Bravo and A&E’s increasingly pop-culture-driven slates.

“They’re invading our turf, and we hope to beat them back with aggressive programming and marketing plans,” Mr. Harbert said.

When Comcast, which controls E!, brought in Mr. Harbert in July to replace Mindy Herman, insiders suspected his studio experience would be an olive branch extended toward a talent community wary of gossip-driven programming. Mr. Harbert was most recently a producer at 20th Century Fox Television, and before that president of NBC Studios.

Indeed, it would seem his strategy is to edge the network away from clip-driven shows and more toward reality programming and comedy-reality shows, which have proven at times to be tricky to execute.

“For the past 10 years E! has done an excellent job on clip shows, but I think E! has strip-mined that archive and has to do different shows that are still on the E! brand,” Mr. Harbert said.

He’s also learning to deal with new budget models. Jeff Gaspin, who as president of NBC Universal Cable and cross-platform strategy oversees Bravo, said the transition from broadcast can be rough.

“When broadcasters go to cable they get a real budget shock,” Mr. Gaspin said. “But Ted seems to take it in stride, and it sounds like he’s doing well.”

Mr. Harbert is also grappling with a longtime E! challenge–how to handle the late-prime programming of “Wild On” and “Howard Stern.” Mr. Stern remains the channel’s biggest draw, but the block is firmly off-brand. Mr. Stern’s contract is up next year.

“I’m right in the middle of that analysis,” Mr. Harbert said. “It’s rare to get that many young men in prime time, but [Mr. Stern] does change E! into something else.”

In addition, Mr. Harbert is studying the network’s overall look and feel. “We are spending money [to update our] graphics and music,” he said. “We’ve been behind in the quality of our music on clip shows, and the editing could be a little faster-paced.”

Just the Facts …

Title: President and CEO, E! Networks

How long in current position: Six months

Year of birth: 1955

Place of birth: New York

What to watch for: Mr. Harbert’s programming influence will be on full display as the E! slate becomes his own.

Who knew? He mows his own lawn weekly with a John Deere riding mower.