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Lifetime CEO Chooses Execs as ‘Wives’ Buoys Ratings

Sep 2, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Suddenly Lifetime Television appears to be back on track.
Last weekend, network President and CEO Andrea Wong celebrated the highest-rated series in Lifetime’s history at the “Army Wives” wrap party.
But when Ms. Wong arrived at Lifetime in April, the mood was quite different.
After years of success under Carole Black, Lifetime appeared rudderless during the two years when former Turner Broadcasting executive Betty Cohen was in charge. It had no hit shows and, according to SNL Kagan research, cash flow dropped 13 percent in 2006 to $250 million. That drop was due in part to a nasty carriage fight with EchoStar Communications, which took the network off its Dish satellite network for a month; its decision to restore the channel then spawned a messy lawsuit with DirecTV.
Lifetime’s owners, the Walt Disney Co. and Hearst Corp., moved swiftly, removing Ms. Cohen the day after the network’s upfront presentation and hiring Ms. Wong, who had shepherded ABC hits “Dancing With the Stars” and “Extreme Makeover Home Edition,” as exec VP of alternative programming, specials and late night at Disney’s ABC Entertainment.
Just six weeks later, “Army Wives” launched to boffo ratings. Then an already-in-the-works settlement was finalized with DirecTV. And two weeks ago, a pair of top-flight promotion executives, Bob Bibb and Lew Goldstein, formerly with Fox and The WB, decided they didn’t want to be consultants any longer and joined Lifetime.
Even Ms. Wong acknowledges she’s had fortunate timing, to say the least. But there’s more to it.
While “Army Wives” was ready to go, the marketing efforts were “in flux,” Ms. Wong said. Two other Sunday night shows Lifetime was about to launch, “A Side Order of Life” and “State of Mind,” also were greenlighted during Ms. Cohen’s tenure.
Ms. Wong “arrived before they went on the air and really rolled up her sleeves very quickly to make sure people knew these shows were on Lifetime, and I think she did a great job,” said Anne Sweeney, co-chair of Disney Media Networks.
Ms. Sweeney said so far, she’d give Ms. Wong an “A” for her work at Lifetime.
“She’s a wonderfully focused and determined woman, a great problem-solver, a great creative thinker and a great manager,” Ms. Sweeney added.
In the next few months, Ms. Wong has a chance to put her stamp on the network. With research chief Tim Brooks, ad sales head Lynn Picard and scheduler Leslie Chesloff departing, Ms. Wong will be able to put her own people in those slots.
She’s also about to relaunch Lifetime’s Web site, where there’s an opportunity to rev up digital business.
But while “Army Wives” has drawn a big and broad audience, Ms. Wong faces a challenge in figuring out how to make Lifetime younger and smarter.
“That’s really what Andrea has been looking at with [Lifetime Entertainment President] Susanne Daniels,” Ms. Sweeney said. “How do we need to refresh this great and powerful brand? It resonates to this day very, very strongly with women. They know it and they love it. What’s the programming, what’s the digital strategy, what are the components that Lifetime needs to get to its next step?”
Ad buyers have noticed a change at Lifetime.
“I think everybody has been happy with the recent performance with ‘Army Wives,'” said Laura Caraccioli-Davis, director of Starcom Entertainment.
She gave Ms. Daniels credit for the network’s new original programming.
“I think we were expected good things from Susanne Daniels because the entire ad community had a love affair [with her] when she was at The WB,” she said. “We’re glad they’re back in the game in a meaningful way, and attracting a different audience, a younger audience.”
With programming in Ms. Daniels’ capable hands, Ms. Caraccioli-Davis expects Ms. Wong to change just about everything else except the name.
After being around for 20 years, “I would expect that to be more culturally relevant Lifetime has to do a bit of housecleaning,” she said. “You feel like there’s an opportunity to rebirth Lifetime. And this might be just that opportunity with having a new management team.”
But Lifetime can’t change too radically because it has been a strong brand with advertisers, she added.
While some sponsors may not know exactly how to peg the other women’s networks, Oxygen and WE, “Everybody is kind of on track and knows what Lifetime is,” Ms. Caraccioli-Davis said. “You don’t want to lose your core, but they know they have to change it up a bit.”

14 Comments

  1. I absolutely loved Army Wives and am looking forward to several seasons to come. I also loved The Starter Wife. I wish that was an on going series.It was funny and entertaining. I hope to see more seasons soon.

  2. I absolutely loved Army Wives and am looking forward to several seasons to come. I also loved The Starter Wife. I wish that was an on going series.It was funny and entertaining. I hope to see more seasons soon.

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