E! brings slate of new celeb series

Cabler says reality shows pulled viewers away

NEW YORK — Declining ratings in the first third of the year have spurred E! Entertainment TV into creating a dozen weekly series for the summer and fall, an unprecedented development slate that will catapult E!’s yearly programming budget to $70 million or so.

E! slipped by 10% in total viewers for the first quarter of the year, and by 12% in adults 18 to 49, after showing solid gains in calendar 2002.

Mark Sonnenberg, executive VP of programming for E!, attributed the dropoff to the humongous success of broadcast-network reality shows like “Joe Millionaire,” “American Idol” and “The Bachelor,” which “fed people’s insatiable appetite for reality” and pulled lots of viewers away from E!, particularly young women.

Also, Sonnenberg said, some E! viewers gravitated to the all-news networks to keep up with the war with Iraq.

E! is fighting these declines by producing programs that “will deliver to our audiences a view from inside showbiz,” Sonnenberg said.

“The goal of these shows is to make people feel smart about what’s really happening on the other side of the velvet rope.”

He cited a half-hour show called “It’s Good to Be,” which will take cameras inside the homes of celebrities and even follow them on shopping sprees. Sonnenberg calls it a modern-day version of 1980s syndicated hit “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous.”

Another new series, “Celebrities Uncensored,” will glom onto various celebs around as they go about their daily lives and try to catch them in unguarded moments.

This one-hour show, Sonnenberg said, will be an antidote to the standard round of interviews that actors subject themselves to when they have something to plug, staying on message and not veering into personal matters.

E! will also collaborate with an entertainment magazine by making on-camera personalities of reporters and editors as they uncover showbiz stories. Sonnenberg declined to name the magazine, but the Walt Disney Co. owns a stake in both E! and Us magazine.

“Love Chain” will delve into “the mating habits and broken romances of top celebrities” by “enlisting the help of gossip experts, psychics and fortune tellers,” acording to E!.

E!’s makeover show, “Facing Fame,” will turn ordinary people into spitting images of their favorite stars through the ministrations of top Hollywood special-effects makeup experts.

And, although E! has no plans to produce scripted TV series, its “Infamous” show will re-enact such notorious celebrity incidents as “Anne Heche’s mental breakdown” and “Eddie Murphy’s transvestite/traffic arrests.”

Other newcomers include “Your 15 Minutes Are Up,” which focuses on former stars of reality shows whose moment of fame has evaporated, and “From Soap to Stardom,” featuring profiles of the celebs who started their careers on soap operas, among them Demi Moore, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Meg Ryan and Ray Liotta.

Sonnenberg said these newcomers will supplement such returning nightly bellwether series as “The Howard Stern Show,” “E! True Hollywood Story” and “E! News Live.”

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