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Interview Series Next for Seacrest

Mar 20, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Three months after E! Networks hired Ryan Seacrest in a multifaceted talent branding deal, the channel is readying its first original project with the broadcaster: a series of Barbara Walters-style celebrity interview specials.

The as-yet-untitled specials will feature Mr. Seacrest hanging out with youth-appeal stars, visiting their homes and sitting down for in-depth interviews.

E! President and CEO Ted Harbert, who oversaw Ms. Walters’ specials while entertainment president at ABC, said he is excited about the project, which Mr. Seacrest will produce.

“I worked on Barbara Walters specials for years, and what I loved about those shows is you get to really know the person, you get the tour of the house and their lives,” Mr. Harbert said. “I think Ryan can bring that style to a whole new generation of viewers.”

Last January the Comcast-owned network announced the hiring of the “American Idol” host to fulfill three roles: to lead E!’s signature red carpet awards show coverage, co-anchor “E! News” and produce new original series and specials. But despite considerable promotion, Mr. Seacrest has yet to bring a ratings sea change to the channel.

Among the four red carpet specials hosted by Mr. Seacrest covering industry award shows (the Golden Globes, the Grammys, the Screen Actors Guild Awards and the Academy Awards), three were down slightly from the year before.

Tracking his first three days as co-anchor of “E! News,” the show was down about 10 percent from its average rating over the previous four weeks-though those weeks were during awards season, which tends to spike “E! News” viewership.

Compared with March of last year, “E! News” was up about 17 percent overall and up 23 percent among adults 18 to 49. But it’s also fair to note that E! News has been on a ratings climb since Mr. Harbert ordered a series makeover early last year, assigning Giuliana DePandi as sole anchor and switching from live format to taped to allow a faster pace.

Mr. Harbert said the “E! News” numbers are not a concern.

“I couldn’t care less about the ratings three days in,” Mr. Harbert said. “Ryan coming to the network has been seen by all as an aggressive brand play. We paid full retail to get one of the biggest broadcasters out there. Viewers haven’t had a chance to see him [on E!] that much yet due to his ‘Idol’ schedule.”

Jack Wakshlag, chief research officer for Turner Broadcasting System, agreed it was too early to judge Mr. Seacrest’s “E! News” performance.

“How a show starts has little to do with its long-term success,” he said. “We need to wait until the numbers settle down before trying to make a call.”

Brad Adgate, senior analyst for Horizon Media, said with the current reign of “American Idol,” the time is right for E! to try to cash in on Mr. Seacrest.

“The timing is perfect because he’s on ‘American Idol’ … and I think it’s a smart move to put him [on E! News],'” Mr. Adgate said. “But either you like ‘E! News’ or you’re not that interested in it, I’m not sure how much of it is personality-driven.