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E! Plans a Busy Summer

Anna Nicole Smith might have been too much reality for E! Entertainment Television viewers. The Anna Nicole Show, with its bizarre star who is hard to watch and even harder to turn off, grabbed headlines and big ratings last summer. But now, E! is going back to its celebrity roots with a new batch of series for summer and fall.

Facing a glut of reality shows on broadcast—as well as other cable networks—this summer, E! will proffer up entertaining documentary-style shows like It's Good to Be…, looking at how wealthy stars spend their loot, and Hollywood Wives, on the lives of the women behind Hollywood's leading men. There are a few reality entries, notably Nearly Famous 2: More Vegas Showgirls, the second installment of E!'s peek at what it's like to be a showgirl.

"We're trying to broaden our storytelling," said E! CEO Mindy Herman. "On broadcast, there's more shock value and train-wreck value than storytelling."

Her team of in-house producers is prepping 14 new series, E!'s largest one-time programming slate ever.

Summer has always been an important season for the network. Last summer, E! averaged a 0.5 rating in prime, a bit higher then its recent 0.4 for April, according to Nielsen Media Research. And this summer, with E! facing even more competition, Herman said the network needs to offer viewers more fresh fare.

"It used to be if True Hollywood Stories
was working, let's make 100 more," she recalls. "Now there is a lot of desire for new and original shows."

Other new offerings include 101 Shocking Moments,
an hour-long show that relives show business's most memorable moments, and the Reality Magazine Project, where E! cameras follow the staff of a major entertainment magazine (possibly red-hot US Weekly) as they hash out the week's news and put out the issue. One of Herman's picks to hit: Celebrities Uncensored, a weekly, hour-long look at a star's real life.

The new shows, "won't break through in a shocking, over-the-top way like The Osbournes or Anna Nicole did, but they will resonate," Herman predicted.

MTV and VH1 are also trafficking heavily in celebrity these days. MTV is plotting a new reality show with newlywed musicians Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey. And at the revamped VH1, celebrity-hooked shows are now a major part of the menu.

Herman shrugged off the competition, contending other channels routinely dabble in E!'s space. "Diane Sawyer sits down with virtually every True Hollywood Story subject and Madonna was just interviewed on Dateline," she noted.

E! will create between six and 13 episodes of each new series. Because the shows are created or co-produced by its E! Studios, if a particular series pops, the net can quickly craft more episodes.

E! has also renewed Star Dates and The Michael Essany Show for second seasons. No word yet if Anna Nicole, now in season two, will return for a third trip. But the former playmate has dealt with disappointment before.