Chief Executive Officer of E! Networks
Born Edward W. Harbert III in 1955 in New York; son of Ted Jr. (a television executive) and Marna Harbert; married Susan; children: Emily, William. Education: Boston University, B.S., 1977.
Addresses: Office —E! Networks, 5670 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA, 90036.
ABC Entertainment, feature film coordinator, 1977–79, feature film and late night programming supervisor, 1979, assistant to vice president of program planning and scheduling, 1979–81, director of program planning and scheduling, 1981–83, vice president for program planning and scheduling, 1983, vice president of motion pictures, 1986–87, vice president of motion pictures and scheduling, 1987–88, vice president for prime time programming, 1988–89, executive vice president for prime time programming, 1989–93, president, 1993–96, chair, 1996–97; producer, DreamWorks Television, 1997–1999; president, NBC Studios, 1999–2003; producer, 20th Century-Fox Television, 2003–04; chief executive officer, E! Networks, 2004–.
Ted Harbert took over as chief executive officer at E! Networks in 2004, after more than 25 years in network television. As head of both E! Entertainment Television and the Style Channel, Harbert relished the particular tempo of cable television, which relies far less on ratings and advertising dollars than do its broadcast-network counterparts. "The great thing about cable scheduling is that we are really scheduling for ourselves," he told Janine Stein for an interview that appeared in Television Asia . "We are trying to put on the best night that we can for our viewers, as opposed to the network business of trying to bash each others heads in."
Born Edward W. Harbert III in 1955, Harbert is a second-generation television executive. His father, also known as Ted, was one of the developers of the long-running Tonight Show , which went on the air in its original incarnation in 1957. One of six children in a Pound Ridge, New York, household, Harbert was an admitted television fanatic at an early age, and claims that he first began keeping an eye on the ratings numbers for various shows when he was nine years old. "Two years later, I learned there were jobs at networks that picked shows and decided where they went on the schedule," he wrote in an article that appeared in Advertising Age . "From that moment, I wanted one of those jobs."
At Boston University, Harbert studied broadcasting and film, and upon graduating in 1977 immediately went to work for the ABC television network. He started as a feature film coordinator, and in 1979 became supervisor for feature-film and late-night programming. Rising through the ranks of the network's program-planning and scheduling department, he reached the post of vice president there in 1983, and went on to spend a year as vice president of motion pictures. In 1987 he was given responsibility for scheduling as well before becoming vice president for prime-time programming a year later. He spent four years as executive vice president of prime-time programming, and in 1993 was named president of ABC Entertainment.
During his rise at ABC, Harbert helped bring on board some of the network's best-loved and top-rated shows, including the acclaimed comedy-drama The Wonder Years as well as Roseanne, Home Improvement , and NYPD Blue . One show that did not last more than 19 episodes, and was greatly lamented by its devoted audience, was My So-Called Life , which debuted in August of 1994 and starred a young Claire Danes and Jared Leto. A few weeks later, it began to get trounced in its time slot by a new NBC sitcom called Friends , and Harbert took much of the heat when the critically acclaimed Life was cancelled. He later said that Danes' representatives had wanted her schedule freed up for movie roles, and other top brass at the network were already uneasy with the edginess of the show and ready to can it.
An executive shuffle took place at ABC in 1996, when Jamie Tarses, a young sitcom development talent, was brought over from NBC. Tarses joined Harbert in heading ABC Entertainment; Harbert served as chair, but Tarses was now president. Her tenure was problematic, however, and she would eventually follow Harbert out the door in 1997. Taking a job as a producer for Dream Works SKG, he was grateful for the change of scenery. "I needed that pace—that life—to change significantly," he told Frank Swertlow in an interview with the Los Angeles Business Journal . "My brain was turning into mush. I loved the shows so much that I read so many scripts and watched so many episodes that my mind was reeling with episodes."
In August of 1999, Harbert was hired as president of NBC Studios, the network's in-house production facility. He oversaw some of NBC's classic shows, including Saturday Night Live and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno , but also worked to develop new shows, among them Will & Grace and Crossing Jordan . In 2003, he left to become a producer at 20th Century-Fox Television, and moved on to E! Networks in 2004 as chief executive officer. Its E! Entertainment Television channel was one of the cable industry's most impressive success stories, drawing a surprisingly strong number of viewers in the 1990s thanks to a daily broadcast of Howard Stern's radio show, red-carpet awards preview shows hosted by Joan Rivers, and "clip" shows, an industry term for a celebrity profile cobbled together from feature-film and television appearances along with previously aired interviews.
Harbert was tapped to lead E! into a new era: Prior to Harbert coming on board, some of the network's racier new series, such as Celebrities Uncensored , had alienated some in Hollywood for their tabloid-gossip edge. E! also faced competition from the TV Guide Channel, which had began to feature more celebrity-focused original programming and even managed to hire longtime E! fixtures Joan and Melissa Rivers. By early 2006, however, Harbert had made several line-up changes at E!, such as signing American Idol host Ryan Seacrest to anchor a daily newscast focusing on the entertainment business. The channel also had a new hit with a behind-the-scenes look at the Playboy Mansion called The Girls Next Door , and had nabbed The Simple Life reality series from FOX for its fourth season.
Harbert lives in Pacific Palisades, California, with his wife, Susan, and their two children. In his quarter-century in television, he has just one screen credit as an actor, for a 2000 episode of the HBO comedy Curb Your Enthusiasm . In the E! Networks Wilshire Boulevard headquarters, he keeps a promotional poster for My So-Called Life in his office. "It's to remind myself of how precious these wonderful little shows are," he explained to Entertainment Weekly 's Jeff Jensen. "It reminds me that these things come along once, and when you get one, you have to hold on to it for dear life."
Advertising Age , September 19, 2005, p. S10.
Entertainment Weekly , September 10, 2004, p. 126.
Los Angeles Business Journal , November 15, 1999, p. 69.
Multichannel News , July 5, 2004, p. 1.
New York Times , January 8, 1997.
Television Asia , December 2005, p. 56.