Lifetime Shows Its Lighter Side

Apr 18, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Lifetime, long known for its women-in-peril movies and original dramas, is looking to get into the comedy business.

The network unveiled during its upfront presentation in New York last week three half-hour scripted comedies on its development list. During the presentation Lifetime said it is planning a 33 percent increase overall in original programming during the 2005-06 season, including its first miniseries and first limited series.

Few cable networks have had success with original comedies, “But I think the whole landscape has changed,” said Rick Haskins, executive VP and general manager for Lifetime Entertainment Services. Mr. Haskins said the channel’s research has found that “women want us to be a bit lighter, a bit more fun. It makes sense to us.”

One of the comedies in development is “Dirty,” which looks at a woman who wants to take over her husband’s cosmetics company. Another is “Tripping the Prom Queen,” which illustrates how women “will stop at nothing to get what they want,” Mr. Haskins said. The show is based on an upcoming nonfiction book from gender studies professor Susan Shapiro Barash.

Lifetime is also developing a show with writer Carol Leifer based on her experience trying to get a job after working on “Seinfeld.” A family, including a TV sex therapist mom, is part of the setup.

The original comedies, if they make the schedule, would join an updated set of off-network sitcoms that will appear on the network, including “Frasier,” “Will & Grace,” “Reba” and “Still Standing.”

The programming plans presented last week were formulated under Carole Black, the network’s longtime CEO, who left last month. Betty Cohen, the former Cartoon Network president, who was named to replace Ms. Black, starts April 25.

Ms. Cohen didn’t attend the presentation, which was led by Lynn Picard, executive VP and general manager of Lifetime Television Network. “You’ll be meeting and hearing from Betty in the weeks to come,” Ms. Picard told the standing-room-only crowd of ad buyers.

Mr. Haskins has been in charge of Lifetime’s programming efforts since Barbara Fisher left last year. The network’s ratings have been rising for two quarters, but Mr. Haskins has no assurances that under Ms. Cohen he will keep the programming job. If he loses those responsibilities, he’s likely to leave.

But in the meantime Mr. Haskins has a slew of new shows to present. They include “Human Trafficking,” a miniseries set to star Mira Sorvino and Donald Sutherland. The two-part series, which premieres Oct. 3 and 4, is executive produced by Robert Halmi Sr.

A six-hour limited series, “Beach Girls,” based on a novel by Luanne Rice, will debut July 25.

New reality shows on Lifetime’s schedule are “I Married a Princess” and “You’re Not the Man I Married.”

In addition to the comedies, Lifetime has several dramas in development. They include “The Harbinger,” “The Look,” “Scarlett,” “The Gumm Sisters,” “The Hunters,” “The Marriage Bed,” “Gravity” and a project about urban mothers.

Reality series in development include “Sergeant in the House,” in which a former drill sergeant imposes order on a dysfunctional family, and “Almost Family,” in which people in a relationship are sent to live with their potential in-laws.

Ms. Picard announced that Lifetime this summer will launch a broadband area on its Web site that will offer behind-the-scenes looks at its shows, games and original content, including the online comedy “Kiss + Tell.”

Also being launched is Lifetime Wireless for Women, which offers programming information, sweepstakes and ring tones for cellphones.