Heading off a threatened boycott, E! Entertainment Television has struck an agreement with the Los Angeles chapter of the National Organization of Women to develop programming addressing women’s issues in the entertainment industry.

The two parties have not yet talked specifics about what form the new programming may take. That will come later–when representatives from the feminist org meet with the cable channel’s programming staff to brainstorm about the possible new E! shows.

Both parties say they want programming reflecting an awareness of women’s issues in an industry frequently blasted for being a white male bastion.

Los Angeles NOW president Tammy Bruce said she hopes to convince the cabler to tackle widespread industry sexism, probing, for example, why there are so few women in the highest levels of power. Another topic might be sexual harassment — a subject that has received a lot of industry attention lately because of a few high-profile lawsuits.

“We are convinced of Lee Masters’ (E! chief exec) sincerity, but it’s in their laps,” said Bruce. “We’re not going to suggest programming looking at Elizabeth Taylor’s hairdo.”

NOW may hope it can motivate E! to probe the entertainment business in a more hard-hitting way, but that would be a reversal of the cable channel’s approach to covering the industry. E!’s programming has expanded in recent years beyond the movie trailers that were its foundation, adding documentaries and news programming, among other elements, in a quest to become a bona fide network.

E! chief exec Masters stressed that E!’s goal is not “to hang the industry.” The cable channel’s view is that it has agreed to be more aware of the women’s issues in the biz, and to present positive images of females who toil in Hollywood. As an example, E! might develop a series of profiles about industry women, Masters said.

“They asked for a dialogue and we’re having it,” said Masters. “We will create a forum to touch on these issues, but it doesn’t mean the programming has to be negative. It’s got to fit into the genre of what we do.”

E! took this action to head off a threatened boycott by NOW after the cable channel added “The Howard Stern Interview” to its programming lineup.

NOW tried to convince E! to postpone its hiring of the shock jock–noted for his off-color jokes about females–and threatened a boycott of E! and its advertisers.

The opening up of the dialogue “does not eliminate our concern about Howard Stern,” said NOW’s Bruce.

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