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E! head Shea ankles

Prexy search to begin

NEW YORK — After nine months as acting president of E!, Fran Shea is ankling her post.

Shea, who reorganized the E! executive reporting structure and was expected by many to inherit the permanent E! president job, said her decision to leave the job was “highly unusual.” Her decision, she said, was prompted by her desire to spend more time with her family.

“I was very torn about my priorities but this is a job that needs someone that is very committed time-wise,” Shea told Daily Variety. “I love E! too much to compromise my time to it.”

“People who know me will think this makes perfect sense,” Shea added. “For people who don’t, it probably doesn’t.”

Consulting deal

Shea will help Brian Roberts, president of Comcast, which has a controlling interest in E! and is the station’s managing partner, search for her replacement. She has signed an exclusive two-year consulting deal with E!, yet will remain acting president until another person is hired.

Shea replaced Lee Masters in the fall of 1998 after he moved to John Malone’s Liberty Interactive. Despite conducting a search for a replacement for Masters, Roberts decided on Shea, E!’s senior VP of programming since its launch 10 years earlier. At the time of Master’s departure, Shea was out on maternity leave. Upon her return, she insisted on the acting president title.

“From the beginning, Fran had accepted the helm of E! Networks under the condition that she would accomplish the task at hand and then transition into a new role,” said Roberts.

During her tenure, Shea’s executive shakeup resulted in the departure of many senior employees, among them affiliate sales chief Deb Green and head of marketing Dale Hopkins.

“When Lee and his team started the network, the management was set up for a start-up,” said Shea. “Ten years later it had to be restructured to be a growth company.”

An easier exec search

Shea noted that one reason she wished to formally announce that she will step down from the top E! job was to make it easier to search for her replacement. Candidates may be loathe to pursue the job if they have the perception that Shea was a shoo-in for the permanent president job.

The top E! job is hotly coveted by many senior execs in TV. While the channel is still a niche cable web with small ratings, observers said that the web is poised to become a mainstream entertainment cable web more akin to USA or TNT.

E! has 60 million subscribers and recently launched a new network, Style.

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