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WE Committed to an Originals Path

May 16, 2005  •  Post A Comment

WE: Women’s Entertainment has licensed the rights to a new BBC Worldwide drama and has plans to launch three original nonfiction series as part of a new commitment to original programming that will be pitched to ad buyers during the upfront ad market.

“My commitment to original programming is the most important thing for me and for the network right now,” said Kim Martin, who was named general manager of WE in January. “It’s really what differentiates WE from the other networks. Original programming is what really can be brand-defining.”

WE, a division of Rainbow Networks, which is owned by Cablevision, needs the programming infusion to catch up with rival women’s networks Lifetime (and its flanker Lifetime Movie Network) and Oxygen. So far this season WE is up 5 percent in households to a 0.21 Nielsen Media Research rating but down 2 percent in both the women 18 to 49 and women 25 to 54 demographics.

The new program lineup is headed by “Cutting It,” a series from BBC Worldwide whose 13-episode first season is now airing in the United Kingdom. The show follows the lives of two sisters who run rival beauty salons in Manchester, England. WE will launch season one in July, while season two begins airing on the BBC in the U.K. WE is committed to only the first season, Ms. Martin said.

In September the network will launch “Kiss & Tell,” a series that will follow the dating adventures of 12 single men and women in New York. Based on the network’s success with its “Single in the City” series, Ms. Martin said, “our viewers love this kind of programming.” WE ordered nine episodes of “Kiss & Tell” from Octagon Television.

Two more series will have their debut in December. One, “Daddy’s Little (Spoiled) Girl,” looks at the outrageous things rich parents do for their daughters. Martin Calvert Productions is making eight episodes. And each episode of “The Secret Lives of Women” takes a look at an everyday woman who has a secret, which could be that she’s addicted to pills or addicted to plastic surgery or is a shopaholic. Kaos Entertainment is producing eight episodes.

The shows are designed to fit within a new, narrower focus for the brand.

“WE is a network that is about three things,” Ms. Martin said. “It’s about relationships, pop culture and style. That’s the filter we hold up anytime we’re looking at original programming: Is it hitting the sweet spot covering these areas, at least one of them? It’s great if it covers two, and if it covers all three, it’s a home run.”

In addition to the new series, Ms. Martin said, four original shows will return to the network, including two on which the network has been building its identity. WE is bringing back “Bridezillas,” which looks at women losing control as their nuptials approach. A new season starts June 12.

WE will also premiere season three of “McLeod’s Daughters,” the saga from Australia’s Millennium Television and Nine Films and Television. The first of 23 new episodes debut Sept. 10.

Two other series are returning to WE. “Full Frontal Fashion” is back for a fourth season of eight episodes this summer hosted by Rebecca Budig. (A book based on the series is being published by Penguin Books and will hit stores July 5.) “Single in the City” is in its eighth season and will go on location to Atlanta for the first time. Eight episodes of “Single in the City: Atlanta” will launch June 2.

“We still are hopeful we’ll have a couple more announcements for the fourth quarter. We’re in negotiations for more shows,” Ms. Martin said. “And we’ll have a whole slate for first and second quarter ’06.” She said the network is in conversations about an original scripted show.

The network is putting most of its marketing behind “McLeod’s Daughters” and “Bridezillas,” which uses the slogan, “She’s Engaged. Enraged. And about to be Committed.”

Ms. Martin said that at some point, the network will have its own tagline, but one hasn’t been developed yet.

WE has ambitious goals for the upfront, said Arlene Manos, president of national ad sales for Rainbow Advertising Sales Corp.

This is only the third year the network has been selling ads (it was sponsored exclusively by Johnson & Johnson after rebranding from Romance Classics). “We did well last year and we’ve done well in scatter and we’re hoping we do even better,” Ms. Manos said. “We’ve been at this for three years now and last year we added 25 new advertisers to the upfront base and we hope to do about the same” this year.

Ms. Manos said she hopes to be able to sell integrated advertising packages in some of the network’s new original shows.

“The success of the network has led more people to us. So I suspect our revenue goals will be higher than the market. It depends on how much money comes to cable,” she said.