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FROM SPIKE LEE TO PAMELA LEE: A DAY AT E! ONLINE: CABLE NET'S SITE BLENDS ONE PART GOSSIP AND TWO PARTS NEWS INTO A TASTY STEW

Published on .

What is it like to start up an online companion to a cable network? Advertising Age wanted to find out, so we sent Reporter Jeff Jensen to spend a day with E! Online in Los Angeles.

6:30 A.M.: YESTERDAY'S NEWS

Lew Harris wakes up, turns on his computer and reads yesterday's news. Mr. Harris is editor in chief of E! Online, the joint venture launched by CNET: The Computer Network and E! Entertainment Television in August.

More than a brand extension, E! Online (http://www.eonline.com) is a daily entertainment news magazine on the Web. Think Entertainment Weekly meets Spy, updated daily, if not hourly.

For Mr. Harris, this day begins like any other. He scrolls through the day's edition that was posted at midnight.

Because he's an editor, he has the uncanny capacity for being assaulted almost immediately by myriad things that just plain bug him about his magazine, anything from the basic appearance of the site to the positioning of buttons to a red backdrop vs. another color. A round of instructive e-mails will greet his staff upon their arrival this morning.

En route to work, Lew goes to his gym to work out the morning's dissatisfaction.

9:30 A.M.: BURSTING SEAMS

E! Online's newshounds have been sniffing since 8 a.m. The Web site has two full-time newsgatherers: Jeffrey Hirsch, senior editor, and Marcus Errico, staff writer. They and the rest of the staff occupy a small office in the corner of a floor largely dominated by E!'s finance and international offices.

While the company had the vision for this ambitious Web site, its offices barely hold enough space to accommodate E! Online's 30-person staff, a function of the fact that E! Entertainment Television itself is bursting at the seams, adding 10 million households last year.

In their cozy quarters, Messrs. Hirsch and Errico scan the daily newspapers, wire services and Internet newsgroups for content to repurpose and for tips to follow up on. This is the busiest part of their day; most people who come to the site for news come between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m.

The pair have already filed a number of briefs this morning, including an item about U.K. rock group Oasis canceling the remainder of its U.S. tour.

10:10 A.M.: REDESIGN TIME

Per one of Mr. Harris' morning missives, Darren Jones, associate producer-multimedia, is replacing an image of Jamie Foxx, the star of WB's "The Jamie Foxx Show," with an image of Robin Givens, star of UPN's "Sparks," on the site's home page.

The image of Mr. Foxx had been used to tout the first article in a series analyzing TV shows targeting blacks. But because Mr. Foxx had participated in an E! Online question-and-answer feature called "Star Boards" recently, Mr. Harris didn't want to slight him by featuring his picture next to a potentially controversial story. Ms. Givens was selected as a substitute.

10:20 A.M.: LEE #1

Photo editor Paul Cornelissen is dialing up the PressLink server in New Jersey so he can get an image of Spike Lee for a news story being prepared by E!'s two reporters. A number of news agencies contribute images to PressLink, most notably Reuters, which has the Spike picture Mr. Cornelissen wants.

E!'s T1 connection to the Internet allows the image to be downloaded in 10 seconds. Mr. Cornelissen calls it up, crops it and puts it in a file. The file is placed on the server for E! Online designers based in CNET's San Francisco headquarters, who in turn process the image and send it back to the reporters in L.A. for posting on the site. Time required for such labor: 30 minutes.

10:30 A.M.: `L.A.' STORY

E! holds its Thursday editorial meeting with the San Francisco office conferenced in. Mr. Harris' demeanor sets the tone: focused yet casual. E! Online may be brand new, but the staff members aren't strangers to one another: The production and marketing people are relocated CNET veterans and former E! TV staffers.

Editor Mr. Harris and his managing editor, Helene Goldsen, served the same roles at Los Angeles Magazine earlier in their careers, and Mr. Harris announces today that he has just hired two more staffers away from his former employer. (Later that day, Mr. Harris will have to return a call from L.A. Magazine's new editor, who is unhappy, Mr. Harris presumes, about the recruiting drive.)

The meeting is conducted quickly but not hurriedly. Mr. Harris, ever refining, wants a revamp of the home page completed by next Friday. Production promises it by Wednesday. Mr. Harris also wants "buttons" on the page that promote what's new on the site every day.

Mr. Harris says he believes E! Online's content is "whipping" what he believes is its closest competitor: Starwave Corp.'s Mr. Showbiz. But he tells his staff that he is impressed by the way Mr. Showbiz promotes its movie reviews on its own home page.

"We should think about how we can do better there ourselves," he implores.

He asks for updates from others in the room. Jim Hughes, VP-marketing and creative development, says E! Online has extended its ad buy on Yahoo! and adds that a new promotional spot for E! Online will break the next weekend on the E! cable network.

11:25 A.M.: A COUP

Ted Casablanca is busy gossiping. In a bit of a coup, E! Online succeeded in wooing him away from Premiere, where he earned a reputation for being an expert snoop. Now, instead of plying his trade monthly, he churns out "Ted Casablanca's The Awful Truth" weekly for E! Online.

"I love being able to get my stuff out there more often," says Mr. Casablanca, who also contributes to E!'s "The Gossip Show"-on TV.

An hour earlier, a crew from "Hard Copy" stopped by for a quick sound bite on his recent scoop that Cybill Shepherd and her "Cybill" co-star Christine Baranski weren't getting along. An hour later, though, "Hard Copy" will tell E! that the piece had been killed.

12:01 P.M.: DEAD DEAN

E! Online's publicity people meet with Mr. Harris for their weekly powwow on promotional tactics. Mr. Harris identifies several: a Q&A with Dustin Hoffman, a "Star Boards" piece with Ellen DeGeneres and a piece about James Dean, titled "'Dat Dead Boy." It's tied to the 40th anniversary of the movie "Giant."

12:20 P.M.: TIME FOR REAL WORK

Marketing chief Mr. Hughes meets with Greg Brannan, VP-acquisitions and scheduling for E! Entertainment Television; Mr. Brannan also sits on E! Online's board of directors. They meet each Thursday to discuss synergy between the Web site and the TV network: ways that E! Online can promote E! TV shows like "Talk Soup" and "The Howard Stern Show."

Mr. Brannan tells Mr. Hughes that last Tuesday a Hollywood studio pitched E! on a reality-based TV show following three would-be starlets trying to make it into showbiz. E! declined. Reason: E! Online was already doing thatwith a weekly feature called "Hollywood & Vine."

2:50 P.M.: LEE #2

The Los Angeles-based production team of E! Online points, clicks and encodes its way toward meeting an early 6 p.m. deadline.

Meanwhile, Virginia Fout, manager of research and support, is fielding e-mail messages. As E!'s virtual customer service person, her job is to facilitate a sense of community on the site.

She responds to 100-plus e-mails each day. Many complain of broken connections or offer suggestions. Odd question of the day: "What's my e-mail address?" Ever helpful, Ms. Fout replies promptly.

In another part of the office, Senior Producer Jim Thompson is working on the "Taste Test" feature, which tomorrow will sample a variety of leading digital cameras. Mr. Thompson says he and the designers who work in Los Angeles and San Francisco work like producers of a TV show.

Mr. Thompson's work on "Taste Test" began when he received copy from the writer. While Mr. Harris copy-edited, Mr. Thompson brainstormed layout. Now he's putting the copy and the graphics together, helped by a template he concocted for a previous "Taste Test."

Another producer, Jon Mantell, is wrapping up "Pieces of Pamela," a Pamela Lee puzzle. Contestants are timed, their scores are posted and the speediest of the puzzlers will get an unspecified prize.

The creative dilemma currently facing Mr. Mantell: finding a sound effect for when a contestant finishes the puzzle. Mr. Harris' suggestion: a Pamela Lee giggle.

3:45 P.M.: IT'S A WRAP

Mr. Harris rests his eyes, weary from a day that in large part is spent looking for more things that bug him about the site. He finds the transition from the print world to the cyber world both frustrating and exhilarating.

"When I was at People [as entertainment editor, a post he held prior to E!], we put Di on the cover, and sales went up 30%," he says. "Here, there's no history, there's no template. Everything we do is for the first time. We're doing music and movie reviews in multimedia. We have the first true national columnist in cyberspace with Ted Casablanca. We're doing fun, wacky stuff, like `Diary of Madonna's Baby.' And we're doing serious journalism.

"But will it work? We'll see. I feel lost and frustrated. It's the biggest challenge I've ever faced. I love it."

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