E!’s New President Has Her Eye on Scripted Programming

Suzanne Kolb wants more than the Kardashians

For a network that has built a name on reality television, branching into scripted programming can be a complicated venture. But E! Entertainment's newly appointed president, Suzanne Kolb, says she doesn’t think her audience will riot. “I personally don’t believe that our target audience out there is so obsessive about genres,” she told Adweek. “They’re obsessive about interesting characters and interesting stories, and people they want to follow. And those people can be real, like a Kim Kardashian, or they can be imagined, like Carrie Bradshaw.”

Yesterday, E! announced that Kolb would be taking over as president of the network after a drawn-out search to fill the spot (which began when Ted Harbert, who had overseen E! as CEO of the Comcast Entertainment Group, was elevated to chairman of NBC Broadcasting in a big reshuffle last November). Kolb—who previously served as president of marketing, news, and online for E! and the Style Network—will report to Bonnie Hammer, NBCUniversal’s chairman of cable entertainment and cable studios.

Kolb’s appointment and E!’s newfound interest in scripted programming come amid Hammer’s talk, in recent months, of a need to put the network through what she’s called a comprehensive “brand audit.” It’s a job Kolb seems suited for, given her background as a marketer (where her predecessor, Harbert, came from the programming world). “When you look at E! right now, you ask 10 different people what E! is for them and you get 10 different answers,” said Kolb. “This is the beginning of a new chapter in terms of where we’re going to go as a network.”

There are risks to Hammer and Kolb’s project. Viewer retention is an obvious one. A big success for E! has been the reality series Keeping Up With the Kardashians, which premiered in 2007 and helped define E!’s brand as a female-targeted, reality-centric network. Whether that can be replicated in scripted form is an open question. Kolb says that she believes it can. “When you look at the kinds of stories that work on E!, most of them have taken a reality or documentary form—[but] not all of those stories are best told in [that] form,” she said. “There’s a lot of them that would be much better told in a scripted form.”

The other hazard is money: Scripted programming comes with a much bigger price tag than reality TV. But Hammer says she believes the potential benefits are worth it. “Yes, it’s easier [to do reality programming], and yes, [scripted programming] is more expensive. But when you do it right, it can have a huge upside for the brand and in its ability to be sold outside. It's repeatable,” she said, adding, “In success, scripted programming is a wonderful tool. In failure, you can lose a lot of money.”