HOLLYWOOD – The deal is signed, the plans are set and so Joan and Melissa Rivers – the mother-daughter duo who almost double-handedly defined gossipy red carpet coverage of the major awards shows – will confirm they have departed E!, their home of nine years, and are moving to the TV Guide Channel.
Wait. Hold on. The what? For those who have given any thought at all to the TV Guide Channel, it generally conjures up images of scrolling television listings – one of those stations people zip past on their way to finding an actual show.
True, the channel recently shrunk its scroll to less than half a screen. And on the top part, they’ve begun showing original programming, such as a weekly report on “American Idol” done by second-season finalist Kimberly Caldwell.
But in hiring the Rivers duo, as well as contracting to provide viewing guides to NBC’s multi-channel coverage of the Athens Olympics, executives believe they’re on their way toward creating a destination channel that celebrates all things TV.
As for what prompted Joan Rivers to sign on, she says it’s in keeping with her longtime entrepreneurial impulse. A contract worth $6 million to $8 million over three years played a role too.
Oh, and as she and Melissa pointed out at least five times in a recent interview, part of their deal is that there will be absolutely no scrolling listings during their shows.
“E! was a wonderful home,” Melissa Rivers said, “but creatively, it was time to try something new, go to a place where they’re willing to take risks. … Here’s an opportunity to go in somewhere and, say, follow a homeless person around with a camera and not have someone say, ‘What celebrity are you going to get in the shot?’”
As it turns out, the brain trust at the TV Guide Channel didn’t hire them to do shows about homeless people. They were brought in to, among other things, transfer their star power to the channel as it moves aggressively into longer shows spotlighting current TV – particularly live events like awards shows – as well as movies and DVDs.
Hiring the Riverses is just part of a major restructuring at a company that has been hit on two sides. TV Guide has lost readers as the proliferation of channels made it impossible for the magazine to publish comprehensive TV listings as it once did. And the channel, which began life as the Prevue channel, has seen its on-air program guidance undercut by TiVo and other digital services.
“Clearly, it’s all becoming much more complicated,” said Ian Aaron, president of the TV Guide Television Group. He chooses to see that as an opportunity, though. “It plays to exactly why NBC did the deal with us (on the Olympics). They want to be sure they can drive viewership to their various channels.”
The Riverses’ first big splash will be the red carpet arrivals show on Emmy Awards night Sept. 19. Before then, Melissa Rivers will start turning up on TV Guide Channel programs, and she’ll be developing and producing new shows.
Melissa Rivers (left) waves as her mother, Joan Rivers, looks on during arrivals at a Golden Globe Awards in Beverly Hills, Calif.