Through the Wire


E!'s Harbert Orders Up 'Soup' Cracks

Joel McHale, host of The Soup on E! Entertainment Television, had some great fun at his network's expense on the Dec. 2 edition, cracking wise about the network's decision to make season four of the party princesses-meet-Podunk saga that is The Simple Life.

McHale reported that, due to the expense to create another season of the former Fox series, starring the barely speaking Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie, other E! shows would be feeling the financial pain. He explained that the plastic-surgery show Dr. 90210 would move from the posh Beverly Hills to somewhere like bucolic Fresno. The Party at the Palms show, originating from the hot spot casino in Las Vegas, will migrate to the Days Inn, he quipped. As for McHale, he pictured himself in a parking valet's red vest.

The host also announced a fund-raising auction on eBay: viewers could help E!'s coffers by bidding to own a DVD of content from E!'s archives. High bid gets a pre-Biodome interview with Pauly Shore — an interview that “frankly, could only still be in E!'s archives,” McHale joked.

We wondered what the suits at E! thought about the snipes on The Soup, and it turns out McHale was on safe ground. The satire was the idea of E! CEO Ted Harbert. When the network made the series deal, “I called them up and asked them to come up with something,” Harbert said of The Soup scribes. “I'm a big believer in not taking anything too seriously.” They came back with the budget angle and Harbert urged them to go for it.

The programming cutbacks aren't real, though. “If anything, we'll be even more aggressive in programming next year,” Harbert said.

But the eBay auction is real. Pauly had attracted a high bid of $68 at the auction's close on Dec. 9. The money is not going for programming expenses: it will be donated to the Cancer Kids Foundation of Minneapolis.

ACA Executive's 'Real' Surreal Life

Robert Shema, a Comcast Corp. veteran who is now chief operating officer for the American Cable Association, has a lot be thankful for this holiday season. He and his family walked away from a nasty car accident, without injuries, after his Acura MDX actually flipped over on Sunday Dec. 4.

“Happily, everybody's healthy and safe and not a scratch,” Shema said last week. “It truly was an amazing thing.”

The executive, his wife and their 5-year-old and 5-month-old daughters were coming back from church and grocery shopping in McCandless, Pa., outside Pittsburgh, when their SUV hit an icy patch following a winter storm. The vehicle spun around. “I went up the side of the hill and came down the side of the hill, rolling,” Shema said.

When ACA president Matt Polka heard about the accident, he told Shema that God must have been protecting him and his family because he has something important, “bigger things,” in mind for them down the road. Shema isn't about to argue, adding the “surreal” experience has left his wife with nightmares.

Party Funds Spent on Hope

The embattled cable industry, under political pressure from Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin about indecent programming, is evidently in no mood to party.

About this time each year, Washington notables are wined and dined at a holiday bash sponsored by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, usually at the Smithsonian Institution, home to fossils younger than some beloved Capitol Hill leaders. But not this year: NCTA has cancelled its party.

“Instead of hosting a holiday party this year, NCTA has made a significant donation to the Cable Hope Fund to help residents of the Gulf Coast region rebuild their lives in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina,” NCTA spokesman Brian Dietz said.

News Corp. went ahead with its party last week in Union Station, using a theme consistent with cable's sinking feeling: the voyage of the Titanic.

Not Beaming Over To Another Channel

FX officials last week were quite insistent that actress Jessalyn Gilsig, part of the cast of Nip/Tuck, does in fact know what network the edgy show airs on, contrary to what was reported in Steppin' Out Magazine. The weekly entertainment-lifestyle magazine, which circulates in the New York metro area, runs a popular Q&A with a celebrity each week.

The Nov. 30 issue had an interview with Gilsig, and the story's intro mistakenly said that Nip/Tuck runs on A&E Network. The article itself then quoted Gilsig as referring to the show being on A&E. “She did not say that,” a Nip/Tuck = spokesman said, adding that the magazine promised to run a correction. Steppin' Out = takes full responsibility for the error regarding where Nip/Tuck airs, editor Chaunce Hayden said.

Contributors: Linda Moss, Ted Hearn.