Lifetime’s Slate Takes New Tack

Mar 13, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Lifetime Entertainment President Susanne Daniels, building on her effort to lure younger viewers, is developing series in genres the network has not previously explored-telenovela, spy thriller and dramedy.

The new development slate will be unveiled at the network’s upfront presentation in New York next week, sources familiar with Lifetime’s plans said.

Ms. Daniels, the former WB entertainment president who joined Lifetime in September, is contending with competition from niche women’s networks Oxygen and WE, as well as a proliferation of female-centric programming on networks such as TNT, which target broader audiences. To refashion a cable network that has fallen to fourth place in audience ratings from first place four years ago, Ms. Daniels has dropped Lifetime’s tag line “Television for Women” and cut content such as “Strong Medicine” that attracted older viewers.

The network’s telenovela is a series from FremantleMedia North America called “Bianca” that’s based on a popular German series chronicling the forbidden love between a woman searching for a new life after prison and a wealthy man facing an impending loveless marriage.

The spy program is a one-hour drama called “The Honorable and Mrs.,” about an ambassador and a CIA agent forced to pose as husband and wife so they can go undercover at the United Nations. The project is executive produced by Amy Harris of “Sex and the City” and Fox Television Studios.

The Diane Warren project, which would be Lifetime’s first dramedy, is a one-hour series inspired by the life, love and career of the legendary singer-songwriter. Lifetime is in final negotiations with producer Touchstone over the show, which focuses on a young songwriter in a modern setting. Craig Zadan and Neil Meron (“Chicago”) are executive producers for the project.

Lifetime declined to comment on the new shows.

Until Ms. Daniels joined Lifetime last August at the behest of President and CEO Betty Cohen, the network had not ordered a scripted series since 2003, and reportedly passed on acquiring the basic cable rights to HBO’s “Sex and the City.”

While many incoming cable programming executives are tentative and cautious about putting their stamp on a channel too soon, Ms. Daniels’ tenure thus far has been punctuated by fast, bold moves-picking up the mother-daughter reality series “Cheerleader Nation” her first week on the job and bringing aboard former WB executive Maria Grasso as senior VP of series development and MTV executive Jessica Samet as senior VP of reality programming. The decisions caused some to wonder if Lifetime was going too young, too hip, too fast. But many in the creative community say her style is a much-needed relief.

“She’s reaching out for shows that target both the core Lifetime audience and the audience Lifetime wants to get,” said Laurie Girion, executive producer of “Cheerleader Nation.”

Ms. Daniels credits her managerial style to her years at The WB. “Working at The WB taught me to focus and move fast; that development doesn’t have to be long-suffering and painful,” she said. “Sometimes jumping into it and making quick and-hopefully-thoughtful decisions can work.”

The new programming comes at a price. Lifetime traditionally produces a significant number of original movies per year for the network and to feed spinoff brand Lifetime Movie Network. Though the number of originals will decrease due to the emphasis on original series, Ms. Daniels said LMN will continue to have more than enough movies to continue growing the brand.

“We will still end up making this year over 60 original movies and have a healthy acquisitions budget,” she said. “I think the pipeline for LMN is well established and not in any danger.”

Another of Ms. Daniels’ decisions has been to quietly drop the “Television for Women” tag line.

“We commissioned several weeks of studies about what women are looking for and what came across strongly is that women don’t want to be told what’s for them,” Ms. Daniels said. “They don’t want to be limited and targeted as a type. And I felt the same way-ESPN doesn’t call itself ‘television for men.'”

Ms. Daniels also broke her silence about a long-rumored investigative drama, “Angela’s Eyes,” which has received some press under various titles since Ms. Daniels ordered it as a pilot last year. The series, about an FBI agent who can tell when people lie, has been given a 13-episode order and its executive producers include Tom Nunan and Cathy Schulman of “Crash.”

“I was attracted to it because it had a female lead character with a strong point of view on life, and the story was great at mixing her personal life with her professional,” Ms. Daniels said.

Since coming aboard, Ms. Daniels has focused on lowering the median age of Lifetime’s viewers. In addition to canceling six-year veteran cable drama “Strong Medicine,” she ordered “Cheerleader Nation.” Ms. Daniels also commissioned a scripted comedy about a Beverly Hills dating service, “Lovespring,” that reflects the documentary-style spirit of “The Office.” Both were scheduled to premiere March 12.