When Comcast Corp. hired Mindy Herman to run E! Entertainment Network four years ago, it got a smart, buttoned-down, suit-wearing corporate lawyer who had worked for News Corp. and In Demand LLC.
Since then, E! and Herman have been made over. E! has seen substantial growth in subscribers and revenue, becoming an asset valued at $3.5 billion to $4 billion. Its programming has taken a nastier turn, too, with tabloid shows like Celebrities Uncensored that have drawn the ire of numerous Hollywood stars.
Heading a network that covers Hollywood, where appearance is shamelessly prized, Herman glamorized herself during her tenure. She was even interviewed by E!’s Joan Rivers on the red carpet outside the Oscars ceremony.
More important, her behavior at E! — in some cases, making demands and seeking the spotlight far beyond that of the typical CEO — came under question, according to several people familiar with the situation.
According to the Los Angeles Times and sources, those factors came into play and helped lead to last week’s announcement from E!’s managing partner, Comcast, that Herman was stepping down as president and CEO of E! Networks, which includes E! and Style.
Her newfound Hollywood style, and actions, reportedly went against the grain of the conservative, low-key corporate culture of Comcast, one former E! official said.
“They really put a premium on the familial nature of that company,” the ex-E! official said. “I think they wanted a no-nonsense, not-caught-up-in-Hollywood attorney [for E!], and that the Mindy that ultimately emerged was quite different from the one they hired.”
Comcast said it asked Herman, 42, to stay on until later this year and assist the transition to a successor.
The same day as the announcement last Thursday, a blistering Times story appeared about Herman’s run at E!, in which unnamed current and former employees charged that she abused her power and acted inappropriately.
The newspaper reported Herman had gotten into an altercation with a woman outside a Hollywood burlesque club; that she had her newborn son’s nursery redone as part of an E! home makeover show; and that she allegedly used network funds for a baby shower last year.
Last week, while declining to address specifics in the story, both Herman and Comcast executive vice president David Cohen denied she was fired, saying that she has been talking with Comcast for months about her future at E!
“We had worked everything out weeks ago,” Herman said last Friday.
Herman, reportedly leaving with a $20 million payout, said if there were credence to the issues the Times raised, Comcast would not have asked her to stay until her replacement is named.
“Comcast would not have me here for the next three months overseeing this business,” she said. “They’re an extremely buttoned-down, conservative company. That speaks volumes.”
Herman said that most of E!’s 1,000 employees were happy and committed to the network, and that the Times’ allegations were raised by a disgruntled few staffers. Herman said she hadn’t read the story.
“I think some people find that a little surprising,” she said. “I had enough of an idea of where it was going.
“It surprised me more because I didn’t think it was the kind of journalism that I would expect from the L.A. Times, because I didn’t feel they were presenting a balanced story as I understand it, or that they had on-the-record sources. It seemed like so much gossip and innuendo. … It’s not something that journalistically that I would feel comfortable with E! publishing, let alone a paper as credible as the L.A. Times.”
In the press release about Herman’s departure, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts lauded Herman for E!’s growth, to 85 million homes from 59 million. Offshoot Style now has about 35 million subscribers.
The mother of an infant son, with her contract up the end of this year, Herman said after much thought she didn’t want to stay at E!, which The Walt Disney Co. has a stake in.
She especially felt that way because, as previously reported in Multichannel News, it appears Comcast is going to consolidate operations like ad sales and affiliate sales for its multi-network portfolio, which includes services such as Outdoor Life Network.
“It appeared likely that new networks at Comcast [that] were going to launch, would likely be done other than in the 50-50 venture with Disney, and would be running out of Philadelphia,” Herman said.
“It probably does make sense for them [Comcast] to consolidate some of the shared services, because frankly, nobody thinks it makes sense to have four affiliate sales teams, four ad sales teams. So the business, as I look into the long run, while still interesting, wasn’t going to be as dynamic and entrepreneurial.”
Herman said she’s amused by talk about any image change she’s had since coming to E!
She said that any dressing up has strictly been part of the job as chief of a network covering the entertainment industry, and that she often goes “kicking and screaming” to have her hair and makeup done for industry events.
“Frankly, my best-dressed era was at Fox. I had a suit on every day, because it was Rupert Murdoch,” Herman said. “Clearly I felt, and people within the company counseled me, that my public persona needed to reflect E! as a brand. But my private persona, even within the four walls of the company every day, is the same jeans and T-shirt person that I’ve always been. It makes me laugh when people say that I’ve become like a highly stylized Mindy.”
From the start, Herman’s management style rubbed some staffers the wrong way inside E!, which had been accustomed to longtime president Lee Masters, who wanted the company to “be the best place to work in the business,” according to the former E! official.
Herman acknowledged that her style as a “change agent” may have alienated some E! employees.