H’wood in E! bay

Cabler taps outside creatives for slate

The cable net that made Anna Nicole Smith appointment viewing is banking on America’s fascination with celebs — of all kinds — with its new development slate.

E! Entertainment Television — which traditionally has developed and produced most of its programming inhouse — is making good on its promise to work more with outside companies on the new projects.

“Last November, we made a conscious decision to make development our No. 1 priority and to open our doors for the first time ever to the Hollywood creative community,” said Mark Sonnenberg, executive vice president of entertainment for E! Networks.

“E!’s development team, led by Kary McHoul and Jeff Shore, has tapped into some of the most creative minds in Hollywood to generate this inspired and diverse list of projects,” he added. (McHoul is VP of program development for E! Networks. Shore serves as VP of development for E! and exec producer of “The Anna Nicole Show.”)

“Star Dates” — described as a cross between “Where Are They Now?” and “Blind Date” — is among a dozen new programs under way at the cabler. Fox TV Studios and George Verschoor (“Murder in Smalltown X”) are producing.

Also in the works are shows from Wheeler-Sussman, Peter Engel Prods., Leeza Gibbons Enterprises and Primedia Television.

“2002 has so far been an amazing year for E!, highlighted by our breakthrough image campaign directed by Robert Altman, and highest ratings in the network’s history for our hit reality sitcom ‘The Anna Nicole Show,'” said Mindy Herman, president-CEO of E! Networks.

“The 12 new series currently in development reflect and embrace the new level of excitement at E!,” Herman continued. “We look forward to soon unveiling the series that will be the perfect companion to ‘The Anna Nicole Show.'”

Highlights of the new projects on tap at E! include:

  • Channel has committed to at least six episodes of “Star Dates,” a half-hour show featuring some of the most memorable single celebrities revealing their dating secrets.

  • “America’s Favorite Houseguest,” from Engel Prods., features well-known comedians spending the weekend with a family preparing for a special event. That could mean a comic helping a 13-year-old draft his bar mitzvah speech.

  • Like “Star Dates,” a minimum of six episodes of the “Michael Essany Project” are on the way. This weekly series from Gibbons Enterprises offers a behind-the-scenes look at a unique cable access show that stars Valparaiso, Ind.-based teen Essany. A die-hard Johnny Carson fan, Essany — with the help of his mother (sound and camera) and father (craft services) — coaxes Hollywood personalities into his living room.

  • “Nearly Famous II,” the follow-up to reality miniseries “Nearly Famous: Vegas Showgirls,” is an E! inhouse production. It will put the spotlight on young hopefuls trying to make it in a to-be-determined entertainment profession.

  • E! also will produce “Hometown Premiere,” which is based on a concept by Mark Efman and Mark Farrell (co-exec producers-showrunners of Nickelodeon’s “The Nick Cannon Show”). The series rolls out the red carpet for rising stars who travel back to their roots to share some of their success with family and friends.

  • E!-produced “Hollywood and Beyond” will feature a weekly panel of psychics, paranormal investigators and clairvoyants who swap otherworldly celeb insights.

  • On “Celebrity Dish,” from Strand Communications, famous chefs will share recipes, diets and comfort foods of their famous bosses as they take viewers into celebs’ kitchens, dining rooms and palettes.

  • “Hollywood Supper Club,” produced by E!, is described as a get-together with Hollywood insiders and celebrities as they sit down to an evening feast and conversation about all things entertainment.

  • “The Short Show,” also an E! production, highlights the best and latest short films from around the globe.

  • In “Headgames,” from Painless Prods., hypnotist Ricky Kalmon woos everyday people into believing they are their favorite stars.

  • Wheeler-Sussman’s “Stargazers” equips celebrities with a hidden camera as they hit the streets to catch the reactions of everyday people who cross their paths. Viewers of the show won’t be told what celeb is toting the lens, but will no doubt get hints along the way.

  • “Auto Pilot,” from Primedia, will focus on the up-and-coming TV-watching generation by offering small-screen junkies a chance to submit videotape of their original idea for a show.

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