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E! network is expanding programming

The Kardashians' television neighborhood is getting a refurbishing.

The E! entertainment network has expansion plans that include a new music series from "American Idol" producer Nigel Lythgoe, a reality series with the oldest member of the Jonas Brothers and a talk show starring Whitney Cummings.

E! is also sticking with what works, announcing last week a new three-year deal to keep the Kardashian reality TV empire in-house for three more years.

"You'll see us keep our fun and keep our attitude," said E! President Suzanne Kolb. "You'll see us be a little broader. We feel like E! is to pop culture what ESPN is to sports and we need to fully realize that."

E! is part of the NBC Universal group of cable networks, which have been enormously profitable for parent Comcast Corp. The network has a strong brand name and good distribution, so it has potential to grow its revenue, said Derek Baine, an analyst for SNL Kagan, a company that researches the economics of TV networks.

While E! is growing, it's not at the level of fellow NBC Universal networks such as USA and Bravo. USA is averaging 2.33 million viewers so far this television season, Bravo has 992,000, and E! stands at 649,000, according to the Nielsen company.

The most high-profile attempt to broaden E!'s offerings comes July 9, with the premiere of Lythgoe's "Opening Act." Each week, producers will pick an unknown musical act that has posted work online, surprising the artist with the chance to open a concert for acts such as Rod Stewart, Brad Paisley and Nicki Minaj. The series, which features Mary J. Blige, follows the acts as they prepare and execute the potential career-changing gigs.

In August, E! premieres "Married to Jonas," featuring Nick Jonas and Danielle Deleasa, a hairstylist in training who met the musician while they were both vacationing in the Bahamas two years ago. The series depicts the couple juggling work and family and is being produced by Ryan Seacrest.

The two programs are a targeted choice; E! executives consider music one area of entertainment the network has been deficient in following.

"MTV and VH1 have moved away from their core a little bit, and that has provided opportunities for people like us to expand ours," Kolb said.

While E! is not getting into sports, it has increased its news coverage of athletes.

Part of the reason is to attract more men. Typically, the E! audience runs 60 percent female, and Kolb would like to even that out more. That's also some of the thinking behind a more "gender-neutral" design of network graphics that will debut on the same day of "Opening Act," Kolb said. Men are also more interested in E!'s topical programming such as "The Soup," and Cummings' new series will follow "The Soup" on Wednesday nights.

Titled "Love You, Mean It with Whitney Cummings," it's a talk show with celebrity guests and sidekick Julian McCullough.

Another California family getting the reality show treatment is actor Clint Eastwood and his wife, Dina, a former television anchor. "Mrs. Eastwood & Company," which begins May 20, also features the actor's two daughters and a singing group that Dina discovered on a trip to South Africa and is now managing.

Hugh Hefner will need to look elsewhere for exposure because E! is dumping Playboy-oriented programming such as "The Girls Next Door," Kolb said.

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