Loyal watchers of E! Entertainment Television's countless award show extravaganzas noticed something missing from last month's marathon Emmy bonanza. No, we're not talking about Joan Rivers's rib cage. We're referring to venerable talking head Steve Kmetko. The popular celeb schmoozer was MIA from his traditional pre- and post-show perch alongside fellow E! News Live anchor Jules Asner — and he hasn't been seen or heard from since!

E! isn't commenting, beyond releasing the following statement: "Steve Kmetko is no longer with the company. He is moving on to pursue other career endeavors. He was a great part of the team at E! and we certainly wish him the best personally and professionally."

Apparently, the feeling isn't mutual. Although Kmetko's manager remains silent, sources say that the onetime CBS This Morning correspondent's abrupt exit was wrought with more tension than any of Missy's red carpet inquisitions. According to one tipster, who spoke to TV Guide Online on the condition of anonymity, Kmetko did not see eye to eye with E!'s vice president of news, Ray Brune — who was recently recruited to revamp the network's news division. "Not everyone adapts well to change," says the insider.

But it wasn't just Kmetko who had a problem with E!'s ongoing makeover. Longtime reporter Greg Agnew also recently exited, as did producer Eddie Delbridge and Senior VP John Rieber. (E! says the trio left to "pursue other opportunities.") But Kmetko's ouster was especially surprising, considering his high profile and the fact that he still had a year left on his contract. Even Kmetko didn't see the end coming.

"He was told in early September that he was being let go, but he refused to accept the severance package," says our anonymous source. Kmetko had until the Friday before the Emmys to change his mind, and being the disgruntled employee that he was, he waited until the last minute to drop the bomb. "At 5 pm, he refused to sign the deal and he walked out. That night, the producers of E!'s Emmy coverage were told Steve wouldn't be doing the pre- or post shows on Sunday — despite what was promised during promos that ran all week." (Patrick Stinson and Todd Newton were brought in at the last minute.)

Adding to the intrigue, Kmetko's cybershrine (www.SteveKmetko.com) recently went dark — more fallout from his acrimonious split with E! "It's all connected," says a Kmetko pal. "It may go back up when — and if — all this is resolved."

Now that, folks, is entertainment with a capital E!