E! Network to Undergo 'Brand Audit' Under NBCU's Bonnie Hammer (Exclusive)

10:47 AM PST 06/01/2011 by Lacey Rose
Douglas Friedman
Bonnie Hammer

The Kardashian network will expand with a push toward scripted programming and a more upscale tone.

Bonnie Hammer hasn't nailed down a new chief for the E! network, but she's already full speed ahead on a revamp.

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter for this week's cover story, "The Split Personality of Chelsea Handler," the NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment chairwoman says the network that she inherited following the NBC-Comcast merger will undergo what she dubs a "brand audit," much the way her USA did seven years earlier.

"I would say that E! is a wide open book right now in terms of where we go," she says of her plan to figure out what the female-leaning network is -- and perhaps more poignantly, could be. "E! is very successful right now; it’s not broken in any way, shape or form. But the goal is to do to E! what we did to USA over the past seven years: take it from a successful channel and have it just completely break out."

If Hammer's ambitious plan pans out, E! will be a top 10, if not a top five, cable network in the not so distant future. While she says she'd like the network to stay true to its entertainment roots, she plans to expand a channel best known for the Keeping Up with the Kardashians franchise into scripted programming over the next two to three years. 

She admits that she wishes she had had her scripted team in place to be able to launch Handler's Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea adaptation on her network instead of on its sister net, NBC. But in keeping with the newly merged company's push for synergy, she will use E!, which already offers two Handler shows, to promote the mid-season sitcom, and hope that there is a halo effect.

"I would say there are a lot of possibilities in terms of where we can go," Hammer adds of her plan to move the network to adopt a more "broad, upscale, fresh tone." 

Working in Hammer's favor is a sterling reputation for such turn-arounds at both Syfy and USA. The latter, which began in 2004 with a push to provide more "blue skies," "upbeat" fare after research told her the network was "predictable," earned Hammer accolades, press, and, most of all, ratings. Proof: on-brand series, including Burn Notice and White Collar, have helped make USA the No. 1 cable network.

Now Hammer will have to do it all over again at E!. And in addition to fielding research about the 24-year-old TV brand, she will have to narrow her search for a new chief to oversee the network's evolution. Two sources close to Hammer say she's still conducting interviews for a replacement for Ted Harbert, now NBC Broadcasting Chairman, with E! marketing chief Suzanne Kolb said to be among the leading candidates.

Email: Lacey.Rose@THR.com
Twitter: @LaceyVRose

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