E! opts to make Seacrest its idol

Net signs 'Idol' host to its biggest deal since Stern

Thanks to E!, Ryan Seacrest is now the “Idol” rich.

“American Idol” emcee Ryan Seacrest is a reported $21 million richer, thanks to a deal with E! Networks that calls for him to serve as poster boy for the channel over the next three years. It’s the cabler’s biggest deal since Howard Stern 10 years ago.

E! is building a studio for him to house his production company and from where he will do his KIIS-FM show.

What is it about Seacrest that makes him worth millions?

“He’s a smart guy, and most important, he’s hungry,” says E! prexy-CEO Ted Harbert. “And he’s no pushover. After negotiating this deal with him, boy, do I know that.”

Harbert had his Seacrest epiphany last spring. “I thought to myself, we don’t have a star on this network. That’s a problem.”

So Seacrest’s mug was plastered all over E!’s presentation salon at last week’s TV critics press tour in Pasadena, Calif. And there was no shortage of questions for the guy everyone’s calling the heir to Dick Clark, especially as the two had appeared together on ABC’s “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve.” At least he has better credentials than Carson Daly, the last one to get that moniker.

Host will serve as lead anchor and managing editor of daily flagship “E! News” and as “air traffic control” for all the cabler’s red carpet awards show coverage. (That’s when he’s off “Idol” duty and not DJing on radio or filling in for Larry King.)

And like Comedy Central’s Stewart, Seacrest will have a hand in programming the network. “What I do in my mind, it’s very easy,” Seacrest told reporters last week. “It’s not brain surgery.”

Of course, L.A. and New York are paved with swanky studios of failed deals with other non-brain surgeons. Remember Connie Chung and CNN? Or Bryant Gumbel and “The Early Show”?

So what if his talkshow “On-Air With Ryan Seacrest” was aborted in eight months ago?

Or that 20th TV, which built a studio for him at Hollywood and Highland lost millions when the show sank?

One exec at a rival entertainment cabler called Seacrest “a very expensive safe bet.”

“I don’t get what Ryan says about E!, let alone about himself. He seems nice, but is nice what E! really needs?”

However, Harbert has no qualms.

“How will he affect our ratings? I have no idea. I don’t care though and here’s why: I’m sitting talking with you about him. This man’s becoming America’s host.”

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