Sunday, April 14, 2019

TV CRITIC's NOTEBOOK. As E! marks 15 years in South Africa as a TV channel on DStv, here are 15 things that E! brought into my life that I'm thankful for.

E! Entertainment (DStv 124) marks 15 years of existence as a TV channel in South Africa and across sub-Saharan Africa, since MultiChoice added the capital E stylised as an exclamation mark to its DStv satellite pay-TV service in December 2004 - a story scoop about TV that this journalist still broke first a decade and a half ago.

The channel from NBCUniversal International Networks, that itself has seen massive changes over the past 15 years, has experienced and undergone tremendous changes ever since I first was able to watch it.

I soaked up its programming like when E! News was still E! News Live, when the E! was orange, the set white and Steve Kmetko and Jules Asner were the co-anchors and sat alongside a big E! that at one point even had a goldfish swimming around inside.

In appreciation of E!'s 15th birthday in South Africa and Africa, here are 15 things that E! brought into my life that I'm truly grateful for:

1. E! News
I knew about Entertainment Tonight in the United States but South Africans could never see it since no broadcaster or TV channel carried it.

E! News Live (later just E! News) was always the cheaper, having less "exclusives", pay-TV version as an also-ran alternative but when E! finally became available in South Africa it made it possible to see E! News.

Finally I could keep up to date with America's showbiz culture and see celebrity interviews, as well as its addictive scandal-of-the-day stories.

The joy and fascination of E! News was and is how it does news about entertainment but treat it as real and important.

I've watched E! News (and continues to) and have been following its ongoing evolution all through Steve Kmetko and Jules Asner, John Burke, Giuliana Rancic and Ryan Seacrest, Giuliana Rancic and Terrence Jenkins, Jason Kennedy and Maria Menounos, and now Giuliana Rancic and Jason Kennedy.

Most indelible E! News moment ever was with my TV set tuned to E! and E! News, complete with ticker scroll, breaking the news in 2005 that Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston were getting divorced.

2. Kristin Veitch, now Kristin Dos Santos
In a desert of news about TV, Kristin Veitch (until she got married and became Kristin Dos Santos), E!'s original "Watch with Wanda" TV insider, is a herald angel right from television heaven.

Then, and now, I've read her, I've watched her, and I've tried to be like her but for South Africa in bringing insider scoop and news about television to people who like TV and who are desperate and passionate for real news and information about not just what's on it, but what is going on behind-the-scenes of it.

3. E! True Hollywood Story
The definitive pop culture documentary series. Like VH1's Behind the Music documentary series E! True Hollywood Story episodes are absolutely must-watch educational programming for anyone who dreams of working or is working in entertainment reporting in whatever medium.

Firstly, the episodes are encyclopedic - it tackled(s) issues, cases, celebrities, shows, films, musicians, bands and scandals with in-depth background, giving a true historical perspective on Hollywood things and people that you should now.

Secondly, it shows how to tell a good story about entertainment, coupled with great research, interviews, and little-known details.

4. Live from the Red Carpet
Nuclear scientists will scoff at its seemingly vacuous nature but I know better: you can learn a lot in life by watching red carpet coverage and red carpet interviews.

Struggling to make small-talk at parties and events? Watch the red carpet reporter pro's. Wondering how to mingle, how to break-off and end conversations politely, how to ask open-ended questions where people can choose to engage to whatever degree they feel comfortable?

Watch the seemingly superficial, yet delicate discourse and non-verbal interaction between great reporters and celebrities alongside the red carpet.

Even if you're not a journalist, you can learn and mimic some of the tricks of the trade to converse better with other people wherever you go.

5. Brooke Burke
For a good couple of years Brooke Burke was the de facto biggest "face" and personality of E!. Although she wasn't the E! News anchor she was the presenter of Wild On!; before Keeping Up with the Kardashians probably the biggest show E! ever had.

Absolute escapism (with nudity!) and hugely aspirational, Brooke Burke would travel to far-flung exotic locations around the world in this travel show long before selfies and Instagram and showcase unbelievable destinations.

How is it possible to have and do such a job where you're on vacation for a living? Brooke Burke on E! lived the high-life and took viewers along for the ride.

6. Reali-trash that I call call but that I can't stop watching
Gawd, what is wrong with me?

The Anna Nicole Show, Filthy Rich: Cattle Drive, The Gastineau Girls, The Girls Next Door, Kill Reality, Ice Loves Coco, Dirty SoapGiuliana and Bill, So Cosmo, Eric & Jessie: Game On, What Happens at the Abbey.

There are and have been many, many more reality shows on E! that I have watched way too much of - from the Kardashians to Kimora - but of these ones on E! over the years I have watched every single episode ever made - mostly on Saturday mornings in omnibus screenings while other people have lives and collect mail from their postboxes. We can literally do a quiz and I'll win.

Some call it sad. I call it, well, sad too (but sad with a smiley face).

7. E! Fashion Police
Never before, and never again, will there be a show like Fashion Police at its peak when the legendary Joan Rivers held sway with panellists Kelly Osbourne, Giuliana Rancic and George Kostiopolous.

I uncontrollably laughed just like George during the Peak Fashion Police era at episodes that were truly, truly "appointment television".

Few things I would set DStv recordings for in advance, watch it, and afterwards not delete it but keep it. Fashion Police episodes with Joan Rivers were and are keeper recordings for forever.

8. Voyeurism and titillating nudity
E! has always been a little bit edgy, hovering on the very fine line and sometimes stepping over like the problem child two years older at your primary school who everybody except the teachers knew secretly smoked, and who you'd actually catch glimpsed of, while knowing it's so wrong.

Profiles about porn stars, docu-exposes about strippers, Playboy personalities, skimpy clothing, risque discussions and Joan Rivers and the Kardashians' filthy mouths - E! is a pay-TV channel and over the years it got away with now and again showing and saying just that little bit too in reality series that took it fully beyond "family viewing".

9. E!'s Glamcam 360 and glambot
E!'s so-called "Glam Cam 360" that it introduced as an additional feature as part of its red carpet award show coverage a few years ago is really one of the few evolutions that elevated its coverage and that hasn't been repeated successfully anywhere else by anybody.

Capturing beautiful people in slow motion moving images - a nano-second in real-life slowed down as a drawn-out glimpse that's truly moving art - is often something you can watch over and over and over again, and each time notice something new in these "moving pictures" that you didn't notice or appreciated before.

10. Joel Stein and pop culture commentary
Otherwise titled as "Watch Joel Stein on E! and learn to comment good".

One of the people who appeared a lot, if not the most, on E! as one of the talking heads to weigh-in on celebrities and showbiz in various E! documentaries and profile shows were the TIME columnist Joel Stein.

A TIME person.

On E! it/he often elevated E! content and commentary from the banal to pop culturally significant, interesting and bitingly funny.

Joel Stein in his E! commentary was funny and witty.

If you studied him and tried to emulate him as an entertainment commentator you'd learn and know that you need to not only come across as - but really be - very informed, be well-read, and also work in some humour, usually as the kicker at the end of your explanation or insightful remark.

11. Schadenfreude galore
Long, long before Netflix's must-see Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened documentary, E! was the home of cringe-worthy, utterly arresting, jaw-dropping "shame television" - but in a good way.

E! made it okay to indulge and enjoy other people's misfortune - especially rich people whose own shame switch is off anyway.

I realised this for the first time when Anna Nicole Smith in The Anna Nicole Show hired this person called Bobby Trendy as her interior decorator. Why Anna hired Bobby I don't know.

Of course Bobby made Anna's place ugly. Which started a feud that went on and on and on and that was unmissable television.

From Kendra to Kim, from Caitlyn to Kris and even Blac Chyna, E! has given us permission to indulge in other people's unbelievable fights and problems. What a blessing.

12. Being taught the art of zen and no longer karing by the Kardashians
I still do so-called "celebrity" interviews but a lot fewer and are way more selective on who I give my time to as a journalist and why, and the moment it really changed for me was after Bruce Jenner (now Caitlyn Jenner) cancelled on me ... twice.

A couple of year back E! reached out to me asking me if I wanted to interview then-Bruce for Keeping Up with the Kardashians and I agreed.

You prepare, you work out questions, you wait by the phone late at night South African time, you sort out the international dialling and then half an hour before you're messaged by E! that it's cancelled and will be rescheduled.

Then you reschedule, re-prepare, re-wait and it re-happens, as in re-cancelled at the last minute. I was done.

I saw with my own eyes how badly Kim and Khloé treated the press in December 2010 during their South African visit. I've heard since from so many journalist and producers behind-the-scenes of how terrible it was working with them and trying to do even just short (disintered, constantly on their phones) TV interviews with them.

In 2014 I saw with my own eyes when I attended the press conference how Khloé completely took over and disrupted Viacom Africa's press conference for the MTV Africa Music Awards with her presence as then-girlfriend of French Montana, when she "anonymously slipped in" (read: deliberately walked in to steal the limelight and divert attention) the room.

The Kardashians taught me to be more patient, not to succumb to press mob mentality ("but everyone is after the 'Special K's' so you must stampede as well for the photo, the "exclusive", the precious soundbyte and drop quote!"), and to be far more judicious about who and what gets my time in the fame-world industrial complex.

13. Live from E!
E! has embraced the internet and expanded beyond just a TV channel in recent years and one of the best ways it did that was with its Live from E! show made for the internet streaming era.

Will Marfuggi and Melanie Bromley as the hosts are doing a great job of giving their take and insider knowledge on "hot topics" of the day, discussing breaking entertainment news and pop culture issues, as well as movie trailers that dropped and looking forward to upcoming things on the Hollywood entertainment diary.

It's like is a daily talk show about pop culture.

14. Aspirational channel and brand promos
Ever since always, whether the programming and content actually lived up to it or not, E! has consistently created and rolled out extremely well-done channel promotional videos.

It's always beautifully produced, high-gloss and even more than that, very aspirational. Somehow E! has always managed to find just the right music, at the right time, and infusing it with on-trend colours and stars.

Even E!'s short on-air promos for things like upcoming award show coverage have consistently been well-done for years. It makes you feel that you need to watch, or will miss out.

15. My E! lanyard for my most important keys
Over the years as a journalist I've received a lot of promotional gifts from various TV channels, including a lot of lanyards. Of all of the hundreds I've got, I use only one.

There is only one lanyard going with me through my life on a daily basis, and it's my old and worn, trusted black E! lanyard with my keys locking and unlocking my life.

Over the years the white printed E!'s on the black cord has faded. Yet I have full confidence that my keys won't get lost on the sturdy clip, and after all this time it is still the only lanyard I hang around my neck and will wear whether I open my garage door or lock my front door.

ALSO READ: REVIEW. E!'s 15th birthday party in South Africa was fine and looked beautiful but with too many 'standing-room only' guests while TV execs hid away in their roped-off alcoves, it felt more college-years nightclub night than big celebration.
ALSO READ: TV CRITIC's NOTEBOOK. At E!'s 15th Africa anniversary party, I tried to ask ProVerb just one question - and then something happened that made me think about what's reasonable to expect from TV stars who decide to be on the red carpet.
ALSO READ: IN IMAGES. 37 photos from inside E!'s party to celebrate 15 years of the channel from NBCUniversal International Networks in South Africa and Africa on MultiChoice's DStv. 
ALSO READ: E! in Africa announces the recipients of its first-ever E! Africa Pop Culture Awards in 2019. 
ALSO READ: NBCUniversal International Networks celebrating E!'s 15th anniversary in South Africa and Africa with a celebration party and the first-ever E! Africa Pop Culture Awards.
ALSO READ: E! commissions new 10-episode show, Celebrity Game Night, produced by Rapid Blue, as its next localised African series; production starting July for broadcast in late-2019.