E! Shakeup: Frances Berwick Expands Purview as Suzanne Kolb Exits

Dan Nelkin/NBC Universal
Frances Berwick

Berwick adds Esquire Network, too, while Esquire president named GM of E!

Another year, another shakeup at NBCUniversal.

Following a network-wide memo from E! president Suzanne Kolb announcing her departure, NBCU Cable Entertainment chairman Bonnie Hammer announced the much bigger picture on Tuesday. She'll be consolidating her cable group once again, this time moving E! and Esquire to the purview of Bravo and Oxygen Media chief Frances Berwick. In her expanded role, which will require the veteran programmer to become bicoastal, Berwick’s title becomes president of NBCU Cable Entertainment’s newly established lifestyle group. As part of the restructuring, Kolb is out, and Esquire chief Adam Stotsky will add E! to his portfolio.

“In a crowded, constantly evolving media landscape, it’s more important than ever to have a business structure that not only delivers results today, but also sets a course with the right leadership for future success,” Hammer said in a statement, adding: “Frances is that rare individual whose creative instincts are as finely tuned as her business savvy. Her impressive track record is all about identifying compelling, innovative content. It’s part of her DNA, and it will be an invaluable asset in this new role and in maximizing E!’s tremendous brand potential.”

The move is the next step in Hammer's commitment to detangling and further distinguishing the NBCU lifestyle networks, which can be easily blurred in their bid to court women through noisy reality shows. At this time last year, she shuttered the Style Network, one of four women’s networks at that time, replacing it with male-focused Esquire. The latter has yet to secure a breakthrough franchise, but is said to be significantly more appealing than its predecessor to Madison Avenue buyers.

In Berwick’s new role, she’ll be directly responsible for original programming and development at E!, which is still best known for its lucrative if fast-waning Kardashian franchise. Kolb had been in the top job at the network for a little over three years, and before that served as the head of marketing. During her tenure, she rebranded the network (a more aspirational tone and "pop of culture" tagline) and pushed it into scripted with the network's first foray, The Royals, set to debut early next year.

Steady as its ratings might be this year, E! has struggled to produce any new hits of late (see What Would Ryan Lochte Do, Hello Ross and Love You, Mean It with Whitney Cummings), and recently lost one of its most recognizable faces, late night’s Chelsea Handler, to Netflix. Another one-time E! star, Ryan Seacrest, has scaled back his presence on the network considerably, and in early September one of E!'s most successful shows, Fashion Police, suffered a massive blow with the sudden death of star Joan Rivers. The series will remain on hiatus until January, when Rivers' replacement will be named.

Looking ahead, Hammer is banking on Berwick to deliver the kind of ratings and programming buzz that she did at Bravo. Since she joined the upscale channel in 1996, she has overseen breakout fare including the Real Housewives franchise, Watch What Happens Live!, Top Chef and former Emmy winner Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. Bravo will make its scripted foray in December with the addition of Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce, which will be followed in 2015 by half-hour comedy Odd Mom Out.

Berwick has continued to add more executive responsibilities over the course of her nearly two decades at the Comcast-owned company, including the 2103 addition of Oxygen, which she’s currently rebranding to target a young, female multicultural viewership. Under Berwick’s stewardship, Oxygen has added Preachers of L.A. and Sisterhood of Hip Hop, which will soon be joined by new originals Fix My Choir, Funny Girls and Street Art Throwdown.

For his part, Stotsky, a 13-year NBCU veteran and a Hammer favorite, will now be responsible for daily operations, including oversight of news, digital, marketing, communications, research and acquisitions, as the general manager of E! He’ll continue his duties as president of Esquire, too, maintaining direct oversight of all areas of the network, which has launched 17 original series since its entry a year or so ago. Among the latter: Knife Fight, Friday Night Tykes and Brew Dogs. In the new hierarchy, the former NBC marketing president will report to Berwick.

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