New E! topper returns to unscripted roots

Net vet Ted Harbert will return to his reality roots when he makes the leap to E! Entertainment TV on July 12.

As expected (Daily Variety, July 1), Comcast and E! Networks announced Thursday that Harbert would assume the post of CEO-president, in charge of both flagship net E! and sister net Style, in the next two weeks.

News leaked Wednesday that the seasoned programmer would soon be hanging up his producing hat in favor of taking the top job at E!, replacing Mindy Herman, who resigned in May (Daily Variety, May 28).

While Harbert is credited with launching such scripted breakthrough skeins as “NYPD Blue,” “Thirtysomething,” “Home Improvement” and “Roseanne,” the exec says he has more experience in the reality realm than people think: Harbert ran ABC’s alternative division for several years before earning expanded duties over the web’s entertainment division.

“I was in charge of numerous specials and reality shows at ABC, from ‘America’s Funniest Home Videos’ to all of the Oscars coverage,” he said. “I’ve done more of this kind of programming than people generally know about, and it happens to be a form of programming I love.”

After ankling his position as head of NBC Studios last year, Harbert set up Ted Harbert TV at 20th Century Fox. The company most recently produced the Jessica Simpson pilot for ABC. That company, which has a year left on its contract, will dissolve with the exec having already received blessings from 20th president Gary Newman and TV head Dana Walden.

“I’m going to miss the day-in day-out interaction with writers, but the truth is, I do love running an operation,” Harbert said.

Exec told Daily Variety that the opportunity to lead E! — a network with considerable room for improvement — “would be silly to turn down.”

“I think E! has more room to grow than any other network, broadcast or cable. I’m a sucker for something with that kind of growth potential,” he said. Harbert added that another key component in his decision was the chance to get back into business with Comcast cable president Steve Burke, with whom he had worked while the two were at ABC. Burke was running ABC Broadcasting while Harbert was head of entertainment in the mid-’90s.

“I thought it was a huge loss when Steve left ABC,” Harbert said. The pair didn’t work closely but “forged a relationship closer than the time we spent together might merit. He’s definitely my kind of manager.”

In a statement, Burke called Harbert “an excellent choice to head E! Networks as it begins the next chapter of its growth.”

Harbert’s first priority will be to tidy E!’s reputation for tabloidism, a rep that’s blacklisted the cabler in the camps of many A-list celebs.

“I think what Steve expects out of me is maturity, experience and good taste,” he said. “I think E! does many things well, but my self-imposed mandate will be to make the network the same destination for entertainment that ESPN is for sports viewing.”

Key to that, he says, will be to build and constantly refresh the network’s roster of signature shows. Harbert will be present at this month’s TV critics’ press tour to tout new weekly E! series “Dr. 90210″ and the “What the…” awards.

Before he established Ted Harbert TV, exec spent four years running NBC Studios and produced shows for DreamWorks Television.

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