Harbert wants laughs at E!

Chief hopes to spark ratings with hit shows, 'News' tweaks

Just 10 days into his new gig, E! topper Ted Harbert made his first appearance at the cable portion of the TV Critics Assn. tour, declaring that he wanted to bring more comedy and attitude to the network.

“I sure wish that this press conference was a month from now so you could really nail me with what plans I have,” he said.

Exec said E! needs to develop some hit shows. “Our ratings are flat; that’s not acceptable to us,” he said. “We need to get into some story-form reality shows. We have to grow the net.”

As for his marching orders from parent company Comcast, Harbert said, “They’re happy with where E! is, but it needs a spark — it needs to get going.”

Exec has already begun to make tweaks to E! staple “E! News Daily.”

“I take that show very seriously,” he said. “We’re studying the pace of the show and the look of the broadcast. There will be subtle shifts over the next month.”

Asked about the departure of Joan and Melissa Rivers, which happened before his arrival, Harbert said, “That’s a problem, but it’s also a great challenge to try and beat.” He added a decision on their replacements will be announced shortly.

In other TCA news:

  • Disney Channel has greenlit production on “The Suite Life,” a comedy series about identical twins who live in Boston’s premier hotel with their single mom, who works as its headlining crooner. Skein, from It’s a Laugh Prods. in association with Disney, begins shooting this summer for a 2005 premiere. Danny Kallis (“Smart Guy”) and Irene Dreayer (“Sister, Sister”) are exec producers.

  • GSN has ordered new cycles of “Celebrity Blackjack” and “Extreme Dodgeball.” Cabler also is developing the nine-ball pool series “Ultimate Pool Challenge.” Stone Stanley Entertainment has come aboard as the production company for horse-racing skein “American Dream Derby,” with Santa Anita locked as the host track.

  • Style Network has picked up four pilots to series. Greenlit from Style’s May development slate (Daily Variety, May 12) are “Ultimatum,” which rolls out Aug. 9; “Diary of an Affair”; “The Hotspot”; and “Love’s a Trip.” Style sister net E! will preem the five-night mini “The Ultimate Hollywood Blonde” on Aug. 1. And the “What the? Awards” has been retitled “The Soup.”

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