In the Loop

Harbert's True Hollywood Story

Ted Harbert is known for his deep Hollywood connections. They are about to be tested. Harbert was tapped last week as the new CEO of E! Networks, replacing ousted chief Mindy Herman, who is exiting amid allegations she abused her power and company funds.

It's up to Harbert to repair E!'s image in Tinseltown. Thanks to shows like Celebrities Uncensored, E! has alienated stars and their handlers. But Harbert isn't worried, claiming his ties to "studio heads, feature producers and key talent" are solid. That's something Comcast wants—badly. "He can help take E! to the next level," says Comcast President Steve Burke, who worked with Harbert at ABC.

Since stepping down as NBC Studios head last year, Harbert has been producing shows at Twentieth Television. When Burke heard Harbert might want the E! gig, the Comcast exec jetted out to L.A. Over breakfast at the Beverly Hilton, the two started charting E!'s future. Harbert knows E! desperately needs hits, and he wants the big-name celebrities. "My job is to establish that turf as ours," he says. "Poachers, beware."

But while Harbert is skilled at finessing talent and scripts, the cable business is a new game. Still, his TV résumé is impressive: chairman of ABC Entertainment, producer for DreamWorks, president of NBC's in-house studio. Harbert says he can deliver, even with cable's smaller budgets. "The new generation of viewers, under 30, grew up watching television that was relatively low cost," he says. "It just requires more imagination and better execution."

Surf and Turf

NBC is adding car accidents and swimsuit models to the reality-TV universe. The search for America's Worst Driver could, as far as we're concerned, start and end in Boston. Though already shot, the special has no air date. If it works, Driver could be expanded into a series.

On the second show, bathing beauties will compete for the opportunity to appear in Sports Illustrated's famed annual swimsuit issue. It's still in the works, but a knowledgeable source claims the show will outclass its presumptive rival, UPN hit America's Next Top Model. Dare to dream.

The swimsuit effort is being developed by agent-turned-producer Gavin Polone's Pariah Productions.