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Nigella Lawson

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When "Nigella Bites," the TV show starring British cooking diva Nigella Lawson, was exported to the U.S. in 2001, executives of cable TV's fledgling Style Network pulled out all the stops to win a bidding war for distribution rights.

"For us it was more than a cooking show. It was about a lifestyle, and it seemed accessible to viewers," says Gavin Harvey, 45, senior VP-brand director for E! Networks, which oversees Style Network. (The price E! paid to Britain's Channel 4, which develops the show, was undisclosed.)

In the U.S., Ms. Lawson's multimedia success as a passionate cook with relaxed techniques has closely paralleled the rise of Style Network, which is expected to reach nearly 40 million homes by yearend.

"Nigella is unique because viewers can relate to her and aspire to be like her," says Mr. Harvey, who's held numerous marketing positions at cable TV networks. The fact that Style Network has broad distribution in Manhattan has also helped the ratings surge of programs starring Ms. Lawson, he says.

"It's no surprise that New York, which is very influential in matters of food and style, is where `Nigella Bites' won a lot of its first fans" in the U.S., he says.

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