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Style’s Schwartz to Step Down

Feb 14, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Though the ratings are up, Stephen Schwartz is stepping down as programming head of the Style network. He will instead produce for the network under a new one-year development deal, confirmed Ted Harbert, president and CEO of E! and the Style network, last week.

Mr. Harbert also announced that Style has ordered a unique new pilot, “Beauty Insider,” that is expected to tap a “third revenue stream” for the channel.

Mr. Schwartz’s start-up New York-based production banner, New Harbor Entertainment, which Mr. Harbert described as “an inside production company,” will launch with a number of current Style network productions and a commitment to develop some new shows.

The Style makeover series “Fashion Police” will now be produced by Mr. Schwartz, who will move production to New York. Other current series, as well as one new title in development, will also join the New Harbor slate, although no details were available last week.

“Steve is such a fantastic producer, we both agreed a production company is where he could make the best contribution to us,” Mr. Harbert said.

Style’s development department will now report to E! Networks Senior VP of Programming Development Lisa Berger, while scheduling and acquisitions will report to Senior VP of Programming Salaam Coleman Smith.

“All my life I’ve wanted to do this, and all of the stars were in the right place,” said Mr. Schwartz, who executive produced TLC’s “Trading Spaces” and “What Not to Wear” before coming to E! Networks in 2003. “It’s a great opportunity.”

Mr. Harbert said “Beauty Insider” will be shot inside a Sephora beauty store in Hollywood. In addition to showing makeovers, the series will include a direct marketing element in which viewers can order featured products through a Web site or toll-free number. That will generate a third revenue stream for the network, in addition to subscriber fees paid by cable operators and advertising sales.

Mr. Schwartz, who until now was senior VP of programming for Style, noted this will be the network’s first series to get involved in direct-to-the-consumer product sales. “It’s an experiment,” he said, “but with how the world is changing and with TiVo, it’s a great idea.”

Unlike most departing programming executives, Mr. Schwartz is not exiting amid a ratings slump. The Style network, launched in October 1998, has a modest audience compared with sister network E!, but has quietly increased its average prime-time viewership by 56 percent (to 64,000 viewers) since last July, when the network began receiving a rating from Nielsen Media Research. It reached the 40 million-household penetration benchmark last month.

The increase in viewership is credited primarily to two reality shows: “Clean House” and “How Do I Look?” Both are more than a year old and have gradually grown their audience. Both hit record highs last month.

“Perhaps the most thrilling thing about this job has been watching Style take off,” Mr. Harbert said. “Having these shows hit .4 and .5 on a .1-rated network is pretty extraordinary.”

The shows debuted under Mr. Harbert’s predecessor, Mindy Herman, though Mr. Harbert launched a multimillion-dollar marketing campaign to help increase awareness and audience size.

Style and E! are jointly owned by Comcast and The Walt Disney Co. and are managed by Comcast. They will soon fall under the supervision of newly hired Comcast programming czar Jeff Shell, who Mr. Harbert said has promised to allow him to continue to make programming and scheduling choices.

What will change, Mr. Harbert said, are promotional efforts. With the consolidation of programming under Mr. Shell and advertising sales under David Cassaro (see story, Page 22), there will be much more emphasis on cross-promotion among the sister networks. That means a show on E! or Style might be promoted to the audience watching the Outdoor Life Network, G4 or the Golf Channel, while those channels’ promos may run on E! or Style.

“I think it is extremely important,” Mr. Harbert added, “for [Comcast-owned and

-operated networks] to act more as a collective rather than just individuals.”