It Used To Be E! Now, Barely An F.

I really don’t like to spend my time lamenting about how things used to be.  Plenty of folks in my demographic bracket tend to go that route, and while I’m as much of a fan of nostalgia as anyone, I usually get far more excited about something I haven’t seen before.  There’s nothing any of us can do about the passage of time, right?

But every now and then, I’m taken aback when I find myself catching up with viewing destinations that were once part of my daily routine and top-of-mind grazing list that in a world of infinite choices have taken a back seat.   Prominent on that list of once-weres is the E! network, and Monday night I was surprised to see a listing for a Live! From The Red Carpet event I don’t ever recall them covering before.  (NOTE:  Turns out upon further review they did; they just did so with bigger talents, fanfare and production values).

The first Monday in May has traditionally been when the Met Gala is held, which BUSINESS INSIDER’s Lillian Brown described in the most apropos and snooty manner in her preview story dropped just before it began:

Hosted annually by Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour and a slew of high-ranking cultural figures, the Met Gala has become one of the season’s glitziest and most exclusive events, often referred to as the Fashion Oscars. Tickets to the event reportedly go for about $30,000 a piece, and that’s only after you’ve been invited by Wintour.  The Met Gala is one of the most-profile celebrity events of the year, but the public rarely gets to see what happens inside the event once the red carpet ends.  The public rarely sees inside the Met Gala, due to the event’s strict social-media ban.

E! has made a cottage industry about being the de facto shoulder programming for awards ceremonies with its LIVE! FROM franchise.  In its heyday, it would devote almost an entire Sunday to coverage of those arriving for the Grammys, Emmys and Oscars, among others.  It took full advantage of the talents of Ryan Seacrest, Giuliana Rancic and Joan and Melissa Rivers, at least before they were temporarily purloined by TV GUIDE at significant dollars to try and compete head on, a move best described in hindsight as overly optimistic and ultimately ill-fated.   And it provided a series of signature events that cemented it as a landing page for pop culture, a perfect compliment to its ubiquitous E! NEWS operation.  They even were able to steal what remained of the made-for-TV PEOPLE’S CHOICE AWARDS,  and actually became the new home for the event itself after years of dominant prime time audiences on CBS.

But what I saw Monday night was a sobering reminder of how far E! has fallen.  The Met Gala coverage, while it featured as glitzy a step-and-repeat as anything they’ve done of late, was limited to just arrivals, including johnny-come-latelys who arrived well after the salad plates were cleared.   It was essentially a duplication of what VOGUE has been offering on their livestream channel for several years, a destination that more accurately reflects the level of attention this event tends to draw beyond the limited fan base of fashion fanatics and New York elites.  And that’s not even counting the IG and TikTok accounts of the participants and their publicists dropping more immediate and shorter form nuggets to quench whatever immediate curiosities might be out there to see who wore it best.

While I’ve never worked for E!, I’ve known plenty of its executives and its talents over the years.  I often admired their willingness to at least try when so many others were gunshy.  As an upstart with limited funds, they found unique ways to put its own branding on content being created elsewhere.  Some savvy producers developed the concept of robot cams in a radio studio and brought THE HOWARD STERN SHOW to late-night TV, a far broader and communal environment than what morning terrestrial radio in a handful of large markets was providing.  When talk shows were exploding in almost dizzying proportions all over daytime TV, they figured out that a daily recap of the most bizarre and water cooler-worthy moments would provide additional exposure and publicity for ratings-starved upstarts, at neglible cost to boot.  TALK SOUP helped launch the careers of Greg Kinnear and Joel McHale, among others.  Yes, they were ripping off others’ IP, but they were doing so with attitude and amplification.

But once NBC took over management of what was initially a Comcast-owned network and made it a sister network of Bravo, the corporate emphasis on defining pop culture was increasingly steered in the direction of Andy Cohen and company.  For most of the 2010s Bravo and E! tried to forge their own niches, but most of what E! was allowed to do on their own proved to be unsuccessful.   Joan Rivers’ passing didn’t help.  Ill-fated attempts to do uber-niche late night shows with the likes of Chelsea Handler were ratings disasters.  Even shows that did work. such as CHRISLEY KNOWS BEST, were moved off E! to prop up more precipitously declining siblings like USA.

What I saw on Monday night was little more than a regurgitation, ironically hosted by former STERN intern Ross Mathews, who has survived several budget cuts to become one of the few familiar faces left.  Granted, the bar for success is far more nominal these days; last year, E! ranked tied for 55th in primetime audience, with only a third of all viewers falling into the 18-49 demo they once were a bullseye for.  By contrast, even in decline, Bravo reaches nearly three times as many viewers, and we’re not even counting those who attended Bravocons.

But, hey, there may be a window of opportunity for E! to at least try and reestablish themselves.  Turns out there isn’t gonna be a Bravocon in 2024, as IN TOUCH’s Mike Hammer recently reported:

With the BravoCon fan convention not scheduled to return until 2025, insiders are blaming embattled network patriarch Andy Cohen for leaving morale at an all-time low.

“There’s a palpable unease surrounding Andy due to allegations ranging from drug use to sexual harassment,” a source exclusively tells In Touch. “Most of the hard-working folks at Bravo are convinced the decision to suspend BravoCon is his fault. Despite his pivotal role in Bravo’s success, he is now destroying it!”

TOOFAB gave Cohen an outlet to attempt to explain what happened, as well as give a heads up to those disenfranchised and distraught fanatics:

I think this decision was made long ago because the availabilities for the location that we wanted to be were, it would’ve been that we would’ve had to have it in I think September of this year or something like that,” he said.

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