This article was updated at 9:27 p.m.
After months of rumors about her fate, E! Networks prexy-CEO Mindy Herman is leaving the cable network.
Her exit, which comes despite reassurances by E! parent Comcast that her job was not in jeopardy, comes just weeks after both E! and sister net Style announced their most ambitious development slates under her watch.
Last week, Comcast exec VP David Cohen told Daily Variety, “These rumors are baseless.”
And as late as Thursday morning, E! staffers said Herman was reassuring them that she had no plans to leave, despite a scathing published report alleging numerous financial improprieties and bad behavior on her part.
But at 2 p.m. Thursday, E! issued a press release announcing Herman’s exit.
Cohen insisted the rumors were untrue and that Herman wasn’t being forced out. “I said we weren’t firing Mindy (last week). And we aren’t firing her now.”
Herman will remain at E! until Comcast hires a new leader. She declined to discuss her compensation, but the reported $20 million she will receive is tied to the revenues the companies have brought in over the last four years. E! and sister channel Style were together worth $1.9 billion in 1999 and are now valued at $4 billion.
Herman dismissed all the charges in Thursday’s front-page story in the L.A. Times — which covered her alleged misconduct in detail — even though she said she hadn’t bothered to read it because she already knew what it would say.
“We have 900-1,000 people on staff, and it only takes a handful of people to be dissatisfied,” she said, chalking the charges up to employees “without the skill set” who were let go during her initial years at E!
And while Comcast denied an exit plan was in place, Herman did acknowledge that the story expedited the news of her resignation.
“I don’t think we would have announced it today if it hadn’t been for the story,” she said. “It’s a holiday weekend, and we had always planned to do it by mid-year to give Comcast plenty of time to do the search before my contract expires.”
Sources say Comcast has been itching to push Herman out for months, even retaining a search firm to find her replacement well before the announcement of her resignation. Comcast denied the action.
“I decided for a lot of reasons that I was going to try something fun, something new,” Herman said. “Historically, I tend to spend three to five years at a business and then try to reinvent myself.”
Before joining E!, Herman ran pay-per-view brand In Demand. She also held several positions at News Corp., including senior VP of business affairs at FX during its launch and exec VP of Fox Television Studios.
As for the top execs left in the mix — chief operating officer Ken Bettsteller and entertainment exec VP Mark Sonnenberg, both Herman’s hires — Herman believes they will remain at the network.
“I don’t think you’ll be seeing a lot of changes on the team,” Herman said. “Mark is the rock of the programming team. It took more than three years to get the team in place, and they’ve done a good job.”
It’s common knowledge that Herman’s contract with E! was up at the end of the year and that she and Comcast had been discussing for months whether she would continue as prexy-CEO of E!
As for the L.A. Times story, Cohen said, “It’s unfortunate that rumors are printed in a newspaper. Not one of them was attributed. Some of the allegations were made in anonymous letters. Mindy has built this company into what it is. We’ve asked her to stay on in the transition. That should speak for itself.”
Sources said Herman had been the subject of an extensive audit for the alleged financial improprieties.
When asked if Comcast would consider legal action against Herman, Cohen declined comment.
Each of Comcast’s cable properties — which include G4techTV — get regular quarterly audits. Since Herman’s arrival, E! has had one short-term hit in “The Anna Nicole Show,” which ran for two seasons, although ratings dropped precipitously after a strong debut. Cabler has taken a tabloid tack under Herman’s watch, with growing numbers of A-list stars refusing interviews with the channel.
And with heated competish from VH1 and Bravo — both of which have moved into E!’s pop culture/celebrity space — ratings for the channel were flat at year-end 2003.
(John Dempsey in New York contributed to this report.)