‘E! News’ drops an anchor amid redo

Five staffers axed; episodes will be taped to air

“E! News Live” co-host John Burke will sign off at the end of January as part of a gradual overhaul of the half-hour.

Five members of the 38-person news staff were let go Monday, while those remaining underwent changes in job descriptions and titles.

In addition, E! Networks prexy-CEO Ted Harbert confirmed Tuesday that the channel’s daily flagship won’t be live much longer. Starting in February, episodes of the five-a-weeker will be taped to air.

Burke’s contract was up and E! execs chose not to renew after he’d spent a year at the cabler. Former co-host Alisha Davis, who started with Burke last January, was also not asked back and ankled late last year.

Longtime correspondent Giuliana DePandi will take over as lead anchor. She will preside in a different studio set, to be unveiled at the end of the month.

Harbert insisted that E! was not scaling back its news biz and that it would continue to be a 24-hour newsgathering operation.

“Our commitment to entertainment, to news and presentation will remain as strong, as it is not just our responsibility but it’s the bedrock of E!,” he said. “But I haven’t found benefit in being live other than the use of the word ‘live.’ I don’t think the audience was getting anything from it.”

Newsmag has aired live since March 2002, when E! underwent a rebranding campaign. It was expanded to 60 minutes but in November 2003 reverted back to a half-hour. When the length of the newscast was trimmed, 10 positions in the news division were eliminated.

Exec said the process of revamping the program began in earnest in November, about four months after he took over E! and sister channel Style. Changes were prompted by what he described as “several other well-done newscasts done by our competitors — I didn’t want to look the same as ‘ET,’ ‘Access Hollywood’ or ‘The Insider.’ ”

“What I don’t want is a studio-based show with a lot of anchor talk. I want this to be a field-based show with all of our reporters out doing stories, putting together packages around the clock,” he continued. “Doing an entertainment news show with the same look and feel as ‘NBC Nightly News’ is not my goal. ”

On the positive tip, “E! News Live” has experienced a marginal uptick in the ratings from last year — 235,000 in 2003 vs. 253,000 in 2004.

Changes, however, are ongoing, and when the retweaked newscast begins next month, “what you see won’t be the final phase in the evolution of the show,” Harbert said.

“Other than a new set, you won’t really be able to tell a big difference between the old show and the new,” he said, adding that a title change is also in order but no decision has yet been made. “There will be more packages and more reports from the field, more coverage from around the world. But that’s it.”

Before joining E!, Burke hosted specs for HGTV, the History Channel and AMC. His AMC series “Behind the Screen With John Burke” nabbed two Emmys. Before that, he was an actor with credits including “The Bold and the Beautiful,” “Days of Our Lives” and the NBC miniseries “Message From Nam.”