Douglas C. Pizac, Associated Press
Nicole Richie, left, and Paris Hilton in happier times \— in 2004 at Sundance, before their falling out.

PASADENA, Calif. — The E! Channel picked up "The Simple Life" after Fox lost patience with Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie. Or, as they're known at E!, simply Paris and Nicole.

'"What we do at E! 24/7 is talk about people who you know without using their last names, and these two women are the quintessential first-name-only stars," network president Ted Harbert said with his tongue planted firmly in his cheek. "Paris and Nicole live the life of E!, and we're extremely happy to have both (repeats of) the first three seasons and the new fourth season of this buddy comedy coming to our network.

"The next 10-episode cycle is subtitled 'Till Death Do Us Part,' which leads me to believe that the two ladies are prepared to let bygones be bygones and rekindle one of America's truly great friendships."

That Ted Harbert is a funny guy.

Former pals Paris and Nicole still hate each other. And plans are for them to tape their portions of the show — which will have them playing housewives to regular families — completely separately.

The repeats of "Simple Life" seasons 1-3 begin in March; the new season won't begin until sometime this summer.

ADMITTING A MISTAKE is never easy, but it's easier when things turn out good in a different way than you expected.

Take, for example, E!'s (so-called) reality series "The Girls Next Door" — the show about septuagenarian Playboy founder Hugh Hefner and his three young concubines.

"I picked up this show believing it was a possible replacement for Howard Stern. You know — Playboy, men, pretty girls, slip-and-slides. Done," Harbert said. "Wrong."

But, as it turned out, the show doesn't have much of a male audience.

"But young women watch this show in droves because it's a comedy that asks the age-old questions — why do blondes have more fun and get the big rich guy with the big house and get their own TV show?" Harbert said.

That Ted Harbert is a funny guy.

So, despite the fact that men weren't watching, "Girls Next Door" became E!'s highest-rated show, so ordering more of them was a no-brainer. Still, Harbert admits it didn't work for the reasons he thought it would.

"The thing I love most about television is how easy it is to be wrong," he said. "What we always have to remember is that network clowns decide nothing. Viewers decide everything."

So it's our fault that horrendous show is on the air.

IF YOU CAN'T BEAT 'EM, hire 'em. E! has hired former Orange County Register and Hollywood Reporter TV critic Ray Richmond as its new chief publicist.

"Please join me in giving a warm welcome to Ray on the occasion of him becoming an official sell-out," Harbert said.

That Ted Harbert is a funny guy.


E-mail: pierce@desnews.com