Tuning in to TV: E! plans new music, reality series

The Kardashians’ television neighborhood is getting a refurbishing.

The E! Entertainment network has expansion plans that include a music series from “American Idol” producer Nigel Lythgoe, a reality series with the eldest member of the Jonas Brothers and a talk show starring Whitney Cummings.

E! also is sticking with what works. It announced last week a three-year deal to keep the Kardashian reality TV empire in-house.

“You’ll see us keep our fun and keep our attitude,” said E! President Suzanne Kolb. “I think you’ll see us be a little broader. We feel like E! is to pop culture what ESPN is to sports, and I think we need to fully realize that.”

E! is part of the NBC Universal group of cable networks, which have been enormously profitable for parent Comcast Corp. The network has a strong brand name and good distribution, so it has potential to increase its revenue, said Derek Baine, an analyst for SNL Kagan, a company that researches the economics of TV networks.

"I think you just can't really know what it's going to feel like until it's over," actress Teri Hatcher says about ending "Desperate Housewives." (Associated Press)

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“I think you just can’t really know what it’s going to feel ... more >

While E! is growing, it is not at the level of fellow NBC Universal networks such as USA and Bravo. USA is averaging 2.33 million viewers this television season, Bravo has 992,000 and E! stands at 649,000, according to the Nielsen company.

The most high-profile attempt to broaden E!’s offerings will be revealed July 9 with the premiere of Mr. Lythgoe’s “Opening Act.” Each week, producers will pick an unknown musical act that has posted work online, surprising the artist with the chance to open a concert for acts such as Rod Stewart, Brad Paisley and Nicki Minaj. The series, which features Mary J. Blige, follows the acts as they prepare and execute the potentially career-changing gigs.

In August, E! premieres “Married to Jonas,” featuring Kevin Jonas and Danielle Deleasa, a hairstylist in training who met the musician while vacationing in the Bahamas. They married in 2009, and the series, produced by Ryan Seacrest, depicts the couple juggling work and family.

The two programs are targeted choices; E! executives consider music one area of entertainment that the network has been deficient in following.

“MTV and VH1 have moved away from their core a little bit, and that has provided opportunities for people like us to expand ours,” Ms. Kolb said.

While E! is not getting into sports, it has increased its news coverage of athletes.

Part of the reason is to attract more men. That is also some of the thinking behind a more “gender-neutral” design of network graphics that will debut on the same day of “Opening Act,” Ms. Kolb said. Men are also more interested in E!’s topical programming such as “The Soup,” and Miss Cummings‘ series will follow “The Soup” on Wednesday nights.

Titled “Love You, Mean It With Whitney Cummings,” it’s a talk show with celebrity guests and sidekick Julian McCullough.

Another California family getting the reality show treatment is actor Clint Eastwood and his wife, Dina, a former television anchor. “Mrs. Eastwood & Company,” which begins May 20, also features the actor’s two daughters and a singing group that Dina discovered on a trip to South Africa and is now managing.

E! generally finishes among the top 15 of networks among its 18-to-34 target audience, and Ms. Kolb said one of her goals is to move into the top five. The network generally gets solid circulation — a healthy number of people tune in for one show or another — but not enough people stay around to watch other shows, she said.

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