E! has been every TV fanatic's source of all-day celeb, Hollywood, and lifestyle dish since 1990. Between E! News, E! True Hollywood Stories, Fashion Police, The Soup (and its predecessor Talk Soup), the unending branches of the Kardashian franchise, and specials like the 100 Sexiest Beach Bodies, the network has provided a hotbed of celeb-skewed entertainment for fans of the boob tube. Now, they're looking to add another element: drama. The network just slated nine new scripted series for development, territory where no E! exec has boldly gone before. Of course the big question is: Will it work?
On one level, this decision to slate series ranging from Kevin Spacey's 1990s Silicon Valley boom drama to an ABC reject series placing Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII in modern-day Hollywood signals a seeming desire to up the network's level of discourse. We've already started to see that shift with focus on families like The Eastwoods (as in Clint Eastwood) and the E! Investigates series with journalist Laura Ling, but the scripted series push is an incongruent move for the network's general reality-based mode of operation.
Granted, E! is not the first network to try and change its stripes. We've watched USA, TBS, and TNT work tirelessly to alter their reputations from "those cable channels that always play Speed and Beverly Hills: 90210 reruns" to viable cable networks with genuine original programming and distinct identities. And E! has been testing the scripted waters with reruns of the ever-classic Sex and the City, NBC's new guilty pleasure Smash (merging with NBC Universal has its perks), as well as Brit Cult hit Absolutely Fabulous, but reality and newsy commentary has remained the priority. And for good reason.
We love E!. From the schmoozy, celeb-loving tone of E! News to the snark and complete disregard for any and all famous folks on The Soup and Fashion Police - and that tone isn't going anywhere. If anything, it seems the network is amplifying it. Their new initiative, which the network calls "Pop of Culture," features new series that toe the line of E! we know so well. Whitney Cummings will bring a weekly talk show to the network to pair her snarky quips alongside Joel McHale's devil-may-care takedown of all things reality and celebrity on The Soup; Kevin Jonas will take us into his new life of wedded bliss on Married to Jonas; and Nigel Lythgoe brings a talent competition aimed at web-famous talent.
The difference between these endeavors and the new scripted slate is that these are expanding on an idea we're all buying into. Throw in the scripted series - which span from historical dramas to glitzy guilty pleasures - and you've got a risky cocktail of new content that will either overwhelm us with intrigue or render us defenseless with confusion. In one corner we have intelligent-sounding series like King David, a "modern-day Mr. Smith [Goes to Washington]" tale written by a former D.C. lobbyist, and Upstarts, the Kevin Spacey/Michael De Luca produced series set in the Silicon Valley digital boom of the 1990s. And in the other, we have Amy Devlin Mysteries, a typical procedural that follows a twentysomething pop culture wiz detective (you would, E!), and Dorothy, a modern-day love story based not so loosely on The Wizard of Oz. Overnight, E! is attempting a rather tall order: It wants to go from special interest cable network to full-fledged programming in a single beat.
While the risk is large, if it pays off, E! could be sitting very, very pretty. But the big question is: Why the risk? As they say, if ain't broke, don't fix it, and E!'s not exactly broke. (Just look at the fifth season of Keeping Up With the Kardashians' average audience of 3.11 viewers, which is nothing to scoff at for a cable reality series.) It does make sense, however, that E! is moving towards more high-minded content, attempting to skew its reputation for flashiness to a more intelligent plane. It's just curious that the overhaul is so expansive and ambitious. Of course, they don't have a colloquialism like ""if ain't broke, but you want to skew your reputation to be a little smarter, try baby steps."" It doesn't have quite the same ring.