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.
Will you watch scripted series on E!?
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NBC’s new sitcom Whitney, created by and starring comedian Whitney Cummings, will be welcoming another standup to the cast for an upcoming episode: Lisa Lampanelli, who, like Cummings, has built her comedy career on embodying the antithesis of “traditional femininity,” will play the part of a dog pound manager under whose jurisdiction it falls decide whether or not Whitney and her live-in boyfriend Alex (Chris D’Elia) can adopt a dog. Lampanelli’s episode is slated to air in late October or early November. Whitney airs at 9:30 p.m. ET/PT on NBC. -Vulture
One of the most interesting developing reality projects surrounds a family who isn't famous in the traditional reality fashion: the Mandelas. The series will star three adult grandchildren of anti-apartheid activist and former South African president Nelson Mandela: Dorothy Adjoa Amuah, Zaziwe Dlamini-Manaway and Swati Dlamini. The three young women (aged 27, 34 and 32, respectively), will use the program as a plateau for creating identities for themselves independent of their grandfather's legacy, but not at the expense of their family's dignity. Swati tells Deadline, "We're definitely not the African Kardashians." Seeing as Dorothy has a law degree and an MBA, Zaziwe is a mother of two and involved in the Mandela-Dlamini Associates company, which specializes in international business consulting services, and Swati, also a mother, is setting up a foundation concerning housing, education and medicine programs, that really goes without saying. The series is expected to air early in 2012. -Deadline
Melinda McGraw enjoyed a formidable stint on Mad Men as Don Draper’s mistress Bobbie Barrett—the ‘60s were big on alliterative naming. The actress will be taking another guest role as a woman with a complicated romantic history with a series’ leading man (maybe that’s just her very specific M.O.). McGraw will be guest starring on NCIS as one of many ex-wives of Special Agent Gibbs (Mark Harmon) on a November episode titled “Devil’s Triangle.” McGraw’s character Diane will, incidentally, also be the ex-wife of NCIS recurring character FBI Agent Tobias Fornell (Joe Spano). So…the crime probably isn’t going to be the most complicated thing in this episode. NCIS airs on Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CBS. -TVGuide
Earlier this month, FX’s Rescue Me was set to rest after seven fruitful seasons, and costar John Scurti is already back onscreen. The series’ lovable Kenny Shea will make a guest appearance on House, playing a clinic patient—presumably with bizarre disease; bizarre enough to attract Dr. House’s (Hugh Laurie) attention, anyway. Scurti’s House episode will air sometime in Nobember. House’s eighth season premieres Monday, Oct. 3 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Fox. -TVLine
Kidney surgery wasn't enough to keep Steven Spielberg from making an impassioned plea for diversity. The 53-year-old director skipped the red carpet arrivals but mustered the strength to make it to the podium at the 31st NAACP Image Awards on Saturday in Pasadena, Calif.
Only a few days after having a kidney removed, the filmmaker -- looking no worse for his recent wear -- urged his peers in the industry to continue to "expand the opportunities of the portrayal of diversity in all medium." His call to action came after receiving the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's Vanguard Award for his "pioneering courage to promote social justice through creative endeavors."
"A couple of days ago, I was in the hospital,'' the director said. ``This is the first time I've been out since my operation and it feels like a dream, an absolute dream.''
Spielberg was praised by the NAACP for tackling issues of diversity in films such as "The Color Purple" and "Amistad" -- even if more than a decade ago, questions as to whether Spielberg, as a white guy, was qualified to direct the story of black women in "The Color Purple" seemingly undermined the flick's chances for the 1985 Academy Awards. (It got 11 nods -- and zero wins.)
The night's big-screen acting awards, meanwhile, went to "The Best Man's" Nia Long and "The Hurricane's" Denzel Washington. The former pic was also the overall winner for outstanding motion picture. Washington's award, after his Golden Globe win for best actor, bodes well for his Oscar chances as wrongly imprisoned boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter.
Less recognized by the NAACP on the night of the Image Awards were the accomplishments of the television industry. The group had previously announced that it had trouble finding enough minority characters on the small screen to honor. On the television front (such as it was), "ER's" Eriq LaSalle and "The Steve Harvey Show's " Steve Harvey were the winning actors in the drama and comedy categories, while "Touched by an Angel's" Della Reese and "Sister, Sister's" Tia and Tamera Mowry were the recognized actresses for drama and comedy series, respectively. Overall, "The Steve Harvey Show" was tapped best comedy, "Touched By an Angel" best drama.
Another notable winner: Rosa Parks. The real-life crusader, whose refusal to move to the back of a Alabama bus in 1955 sparked the modern-day civil rights movement, was honored for her work as an actress in a guest spot on CBS' "Touched By an Angel."
The Image Awards honor the work of minorities in film, TV, music and books. The awards will be presented in an April 6 telecast on Fox.
Here's a complete list of the 31st NAACP Image Awards winners:
Outstanding Motion Picture - "The Best Man" Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture - Denzel Washington, "The Hurricane" Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture - Nia Long, "The Best Man" Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture - Terrence Howard, "The Best Man" Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture - Angela Bassett, "Music of the Heart"
Youth Actor/Actress - Jurnee Smollett in "Cosby"
Outstanding Comedy Series - "The Steve Harvey Show" Outstanding Actor in a Comedy Series - Steve Harvey, "The Steve Harvey Show" Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series - Tia Mowry and Tamera Mowry, "Sister, Sister" Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series - Cedric "The Entertainer," "The Steve Harvey Show" Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series - Jackee Harry, "Sister, Sister" Outstanding Drama Series - "Touched by an Angel" Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series - Eriq La Salle, "ER" Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series - Della Reese, "Touched By an Angel" Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series - Clarence Gilyard, "Walker, Texas Ranger" Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series - Rosa Parks, "Touched By an Angel" Outstanding Television Movie/Mini-Series/Dramatic Special - "Introducing Dorothy Dandridge" Outstanding Actor in a Television Movie/Mini-Series/Dramatic Special - Sidney Poitier, "The Simple Life of Noah Dearborn" Outstanding Actress in a Television Movie/Mini-Series/Dramatic Special - Halle Berry, "Introducing Dorothy Dandridge" Outstanding Actor in a Daytime Drama Series - Shemar Moore, "The Young and The Restless" Outstanding Actress in a Daytime Drama Series - Tonya Lee Williams, "The Young and the Restless" Outstanding Variety Series/Special - "1999 Essence Awards" Outstanding Performance in a Variety Series/Special - Steve Harvey, "It's Showtime at the Apollo" Outstanding News, Talk or Information Series - "BET Tonight with Tavis Smiley: Black Men in Crisis" (BET) Outstanding News, Talk or Information Special - "True Life: I Am Driving While Black" (MTV) Outstanding Youth or Children's Series/Special - "Teen Summit" (BET) Outstanding Performance in a Youth or Children's Series/Special - Lynn Whitfield, "The Planet of Junior Brown"
Outstanding Literary Work, Fiction - "Blues: For All Changes" by Nikki Giovanni Outstanding Literary Work, Non-Fiction - "Yesterday, I Cried" by Iyanla Vanzant Outstanding Literary Work, Children's - "If a Bus Could Talk: The Story of Rosa Parks" by Faith Ringgold
Outstanding New Artist - Eve - "Ruff Ryder's First Lady" Outstanding Male Artist - Brian McKnight - "Back At One" Outstanding Female Artist - Whitney Houston, featuring Faith Evans and Kelly Price - "Heartbreak Hotel" Outstanding Duo or Group - Destiny's Child - "The Writing's On The Wall" Outstanding Rap Artist - Will Smith - "Wild Wild West" Outstanding Jazz Artist - Quincy Jones - "From Q, With Love" Outstanding Gospel Artist - Traditional - Vickie Winans - "Live in Detroit II" Outstanding Gospel Artist - Contemporary - Yolanda Adams - "Mountain High ... Valley Low" Outstanding Music Video - "Wild Wild West" - Will Smith (directed by Paul Hunter) Outstanding Song - "Spend My Life With You" - Songwriters: Eric Benet, George Nash Jr., Demonte Posey (Artist: Eric Benet) Outstanding Album - "The Best Man - Music from the Motion Picture" - Various Artists (Columbia).