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E! Prepares To Mix Scripted Fare Into Reality-Show Recipe

NBCUniversal’s E! said it would launch three new series and a set of specials as part of its new programming in the year ahead while it continued to focus on development as it casts about for a new hit franchise on the order of its various programs centered around the colorful Kardashian family.

The network, which the cabler’s parent has been seeking to turn into a more upscale venue since receiving the network as a result of its purchase by Comcast Corp. in 2011, is placing a bet on scripted fare – a significant maneuver for a network that has largely depended on reality series to stock much of its schedule.

The Royals,” E’s first original scripted drama, is set to launch in early 2015. Starring Elizabeth Hurley, “The Royals” is produced by Lionsgate and will depict a set of members of a modern-day royal family as their lives are buffeted by a 24/7 media cycle as well as social-media dynamics. The series is executive produced, written and directed by Mark Schwahn and executive produced by Brian Robbins and Joe Davola.

New programs will “continue to feel like they bring you the fun, celebrity access people want from the channel, whether it be through a comedic lens or an event lens,” said Suzanne Kolb, president of E! Entertainment, in an interview. She described “The Royals” as “the perfect scripted show for us” and said network executives will “continue to round out” the schedule with “reality frachises” and specials that play up live entertainment. And the network’s Kardashian antics will continue, Kolb said.

A second scripted series in development that executives are focused on is “Songbyrd”; a pilot was recently completed. The show tells the story of Lauren Byrd, a prolific writer of love songs whose own love live is a mess. The ensemble cast includes Bethany Joy Lenz, Rumer Willis, Robert Hoffman, Wes Brown and Tracie Thoms. From Universal Cable Productions,”Songbyrd” is from writer Krista Vernoff and executive produced by Craig Zadan and Neil Meron. “Songbyrd” features the experiences of Grammy winner Diane Warren, who serves as a consulting producer. Director is Andrew McCarthy.

E! also has a scripted miniseries about the rise of fashion’s Gucci family in development, along with a New York-based edition of the network’s “Rich Kids” series.

Ad buyers think E! has been in an experimental mode in recent months, trying to find new programming ideas to make it less reliant on its Kardashian series. Among the programs it has tried are reality series featuring the family of actor/director Clint Eastwood; athlete Ryan Lochte; and Kevin Jonas, the eldest of the Jonas Brothers, and his new bride. “It’s a case of needing to refresh” after finding a groove with the Kardashian family, said, Sam Armando, senior vice president and director of strategic intelligence at media-research agency SMGx. “It is taking a bit longer than they might have liked.”

In June, E! will launch “Escape Club, a one-hour series in which 12 twentysomethings get to escape their lives and pursue their dreams at a tropical resort. In the new one-hour series Produced by Shed Media, Pam Healey, John Hesling, Dan Snook and Matt Odgers are executive producers.

In September, the network will launch “Botched,” an eight-episode one-hour series that focuses on the quest to correct extreme plastic surgery gone awry. Plastic surgeons Dr. Terry Dubrow and Dr. Paul Nassif will work with victims of ill-fated cosmetic work in an attempt to undo and fix their results. Executive produced by Alex Baskin, Douglas Ross, Greg Stewart and Mark Herwick for Evolution Media.

New specials set for the months ahead include a 90-minute documentary on male entertainers in Las Vegas, called “Men of the Strip.”

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