EXCLUSIVE: E! Poised to Sign Ryan Seacrest

Dec 20, 2005  •  Post A Comment

In what would be the biggest talent deal in E!’s 15-year history, the entertainment network is poised to sign “American Idol” host and radio personality Ryan Seacrest to a multiyear contract to take over anchoring of the daily “E! News,” host the network’s awards coverage and produce new original series.

The deal, which is not yet complete, would not only reshape the “E! News” weekday series but also overhaul the network’s signature red carpet coverage and programming development, as the network plans to have Mr. Seacrest develop new shows targeting his youthful, music-driven fans. Mr. Seacrest would effectively become E!’s new brand personality.

Details are still in flux, since the deal is currently under negotiation by Mr. Seacrest’s representatives at the William Morris Agency. Mr. Seacrest likely will co-anchor “E! News” along with current anchor Giuliana DePandi, sources said. Mr. Seacrest would also executive produce and host E’s red carpet coverage. But the key to the three-year agreement, sources said, is a generous development deal that would allow Ryan Seacrest Productions to develop shows for E!, Style and other networks.

Representatives for E! and Mr. Seacrest declined to comment.

Though E!’s ratings have recently begun to recover from a longtime slump, the celebrity-news-driven network is in need of a personality infusion. E! is reportedly moving quickly to close the deal, since the next major awards ceremony, the Golden Globes, is next month and the network plans an unprecedented publicity campaign to trumpet its catch.

But the network has also shown a willingness to leave such deals on the table.

In the past two years E! has let two high-profile personalities walk out the door during negotiations: red carpet queens Joan and Melissa Rivers, who departed for rival TV Guide Channel in 2004 for a reported $8 million contract, and radio talk king Howard Stern, who took his top-rated televised show to a video-on-demand format.

Both deals were lost, sources said, due to E!’s reluctance to spend top dollar for veteran personalities with aging demographic appeal.

To replace Joan and Melissa Rivers, Ted Harbert, president and CEO of E! Networks, tapped Star Jones, whose gushing interview style proved celebrity friendly but some critics and viewers found her self-aggrandizing. After the Emmy awards in September, her contract was not renewed.

Still, paired with a super-size awards coverage production team, viewers for E!’s Emmy coverage rose, despite increased competition, from 1.2 million in 2004 to 1.8 million this year.

To help replace Mr. Stern, Mr. Harbert signed party girl Tara Reid for the travelogue “Taradise,” which failed to draw the male viewers who frequent E’s late-night block and was canceled.

Though E!’s viewership declined in 2004 and in early quarters this year, ratings have recently turned around despite the loss of original episodes of Mr. Stern’s program: For the fourth quarter to date the network is up 7 percent among total viewers and 18 to 49 in prime time and has slight growth for the year, up 2 percent, according to Nielsen Media Research. “E! News” is up 28 percent year to date among total viewers and up 59 percent in the fourth quarter.

For Mr. Seacrest, who is best known for hosting Fox’s “American Idol,” the deal comes on the heels of an extraordinarily active three years.

Though his much anticipated syndicated daytime show, Twentieth Television’s “On-Air With Ryan Seacrest,” was canceled due to low ratings in 2004, the setback hardly slowed the 30-year-old personality, who has signed a series of high-profile hosting deals: taking over “America’s Top 40” countdown from Casey Kasem in 2003, replacing longtime L.A. morning show host Rick Dees at KIIS-FM in 2004 and last August signing a multiyear agreement to executive produce and host ABC’s “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” (Mr. Clark, who was absent from last year’s program because he was recovering from a stroke, will continue to co-host the program).

In October Mr. Seacrest made a deal to host several editions of “Larry King Live,” taking on youthful interview subjects such as Jessica Simpson and Ashton Kutcher. Last summer Mr. Seacrest launched his own line of clothing, “The R Line.”