The live red-carpet face-off between Star Jones Reynolds and Joan Rivers at the Golden Globes last week was merely the first in a series of duels between the celebrity hostesses. E! has signed Ms. Jones to cover the Screen Actors Guild Awards, Grammy Awards and Oscars, while TV Guide has renewed enthusiasm for Ms. Rivers after her Globes coverage drew record-breaking ratings for the fledgling entertainment channel.
Both channels declared victory following the red carpet title battle that one critic called “The thrilla in chinchilla.” TV Guide Channel drew 797,000 total viewers and E! had 1.67 million viewers, according to the networks. Though TV Guide’s numbers were about half of E!’s, the figure was significant for a network most viewers associate with a hypnotic programming scroll. Also, E!’s numbers were down a bit from the previous year.
“We feel like we brought a whole new group of people to the channel. It’s just fantastic,” said TV Guide Channel General Manager Tom Cosgrove.
Cable network consultant Cathy Rasenberger said TV Guide’s coverage ratings will help the channel, but only to a point. “I don’t think one rating success makes for long-term success. They’ve got to keep generating consistent high ratings across the board,” she said.
Interestingly enough, however, “The Golden Globes Fashion Wrap,” a post-awards show where Joan and Melissa Rivers critiqued couture last Monday, startled TV Guide executives by drawing even more viewers than the duo’s red carpet show-809,000.
To be sure, TV Guide pulled out all the stops to generate awareness for their coverage. Joan and Melissa Rivers were featured in magazine ads, billboards, radio and off-network spots and-in a bit of corporate synergy-on the cover of TV Guide magazine.
Guerrilla marketing was employed as well. On the Friday before the show, limousines pulled up outside the E! offices and out sprang a publicity team wearing Joan Rivers masks and handing out fliers touting “Real Red Carpet” coverage. Mr. Cosgrove said the team’s target was the Initiative agency and that E!’s proximity was just a coincidence.
During the broadcast, the marketing battle continued. TV Guide bought local ads on DirecTV to air on E! trying to get viewers to switch channels. E! did the same on TV Guide. TV Guide was not helped, however, by Ms. Rivers’ references to the network’s modest status, at one point thanking “all 19” of the channel’s viewers. (“It’s Joan’s sense of humor,” said Mr. Cogrove. “I’m not complaining.”)
Critics were divided on who won the day. Salon.com’s Heather Havrilesky said Ms. Jones won “in a knockout.”
“As irritating as Star Jones can be at times, she makes Joan and Melissa look about as charming as a sack of yams,” she wrote.
But New York Post writer Linda Stasi concluded, “Star Jones improved greatly from the Emmy’s-though not enough to make me give up Rivers.”
E! had its missteps too, among them a few wince-inducing moments from comedian Kathy Griffin. Ms. Griffin asked “The Shield” actor Michael Chiklis whether he had ever ordered hookers to his hotel room and declared that 10-year-old actress Dakota Fanning had just returned from rehab-which prompted E! to issue a profuse apology to Ms. Fanning, both on-air and online.
Mr. Harbert said he hasn’t decided whether Ms. Griffin will remain part of the E! team, but noted critical reaction to her performance was generally positive. Mr. Harbert also said he wasn’t concerned that Ms. Griffin alienated celebrity talent at a time when E! is trying to mend fences in Hollywood.
“Kathy is a huge fan of stars and celebrities,” he said. “Overall, with a couple exceptions, Kathy acquitted herself well.”