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E! makes itself a $40 million player

Network acquires 'Knocked Up,' 'Almighty' rights

NEW YORK — E! Entertainment TV has engineered the biggest programming purchase in its 17-year history, shelling out close to $40 million for the first network window to “Knocked Up,” “Evan Almighty” and “Man of the Year.”

Deal also includes later windows to six other titles from NBC Universal Domestic TV Distribution: “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry,” “Miami Vice,” “Because I Said So,” “Pride & Prejudice,” “Georgia Rule” and the direct-to-DVD sequel “Bring It On: All or Nothing.” E! and NBC Universal declined to comment on the deal.

The key title in the package is “Knocked Up,” which E! premieres in October 2009. Ted Harbert, president and CEO of E!, has coveted “Knocked Up” since it started production because Universal shot a number of scenes at E!’s studios on Wilshire Boulevard. The movie’s lead female character, played by Katherine Heigl, is an on-air talent with E! Nearing the end of its run, the movie has grossed a whopping $148 million at U.S. theaters.

E! was so gung ho about “Knocked Up” that it negotiated a rare four-year- exclusive contract, with no carve-outs by Universal so that no other network, broadcast or cable, will get a crack at the title from 2009-13.

U does have carve-outs for “Evan Almighty,” and Universal has already made a deal with USA for a post-E! window to “Man of the Year,” starring Robin Williams as the president of the U.S.

USA also has the first plays of “Chuck and Larry” and “Miami Vice,” which come to E! later in the window. Similarly, Oxygen has the first window to “Pride & Prejudice” and Lifetime to “Because I Said So” and “Georgia Rule.”

A bonus for E! is that some of the movies in the U deal will be available to other networks owned by Comcast, E!’s parent company. For example, some runs of “Chuck and Larry” and “Miami Vice” will likely turn up on G4, the network aimed at male techies. And “Pride & Prejudice” and “Georgia Rule” would be naturals for E! sibling network Style.

E! has started buying selective older titles in the last two years, scheduling such pictures as “The Wedding Singer,” “Election,” “The Birdcage,” “Honeymoon in Vegas” and “Four Weddings and a Funeral.”

In general, E! favors light comedies and movies steeped in pop culture.

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