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A new script for E?

Variety editorial

A correction was made to this editorial on June 2, 2004.

Few TV shows have terrorized Hollywood’s movie star community as effectively as “Celebrities Uncensored,” a reality skein on E! shot by the paparazzi who prowl the Sunset Strip, capturing embarassing footage of celebs carousing on the wrong side of a limo door or a velvet rope.

“Celebrities Uncensored” was part of the scorched-earth, tabloid-style news mandate of outgoing E! Networks prez and CEO Mindy Herman. With Herman’s departure, there’s a new opportunity for E! to re-examine that mandate.

The focus on celebrity gossip in shows like “E! True Hollywood Story” and “It’s Good To Be” boosted ratings during Herman’s four-year tenure. They also infuriated actors like Will Smith, Renee Zellweger, Halle Berry and George Clooney, who boycotted the cabler and banned it from studio premieres.

When it was launched in 1990, E! had the opportunity to become the CNN of showbiz cable news: Instead it has become the National Enquirer, taking the low road to ratings through an endless succession of breathless celebrity worship and showbiz fluff. These programs now dominate the sked and are endlessly recycled. This week alone, E! will broadcast seven different “True Hollywood Stories.”

A change in management at E! could shake things up.

Programs like “Celebrities Uncensored” or “It’s Good To Be” should certainly remain on the air as long as the ratings support them. But would it really be ratings suicide to augment the fluff with a more refined diet of programs that offer sophisticated musings on pop culture, the cult of celebrity and the business of entertainment?

“Ebert and Roper,” “60 Minutes” and “Nightline” have mined this these topics artfully over the years. So should E!

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