New York -- Broadening the scope of its original primetime
series, Lifetime Television has two new reality-based shows slated for next season --
including one hosted by Grammy-winning artist Melissa Etheridge -- as well as one-dozen
original movies, officials said last week.
At its upfront presentation here, Lifetime unveiled its
plans for How Could It Happen, hosted by Etheridge,and The Ruby Wax Show,
which features the British talk-show host of the same name.
The two new series are meant to complement the
network's other original primetime shows, Any Day Now and Oh Baby,
which were just renewed for second seasons of 22 new episodes each.
A third original series that Lifetime debuted last year, Maggie,has been cancelled.
At the session, advertisers and media buyers had their
first chance to see Lifetime's new CEO, Carole Black, make a pitch for the network.
Black spoke in great detail about research relating to
Lifetime and its viewers. Based on those research findings, Black described Lifetime as
"a kind of mental and emotional oasis" for women and a brand that they have a
strong emotional attachment to.
Lifetime is now the No. 1 cable network for women 18 to 49
in primetime and total-day ratings, according to network officials.
But it will face new competition in its niche next year,
when Oxygen Media Inc. debuts its Oxygen network. Oxygen, also targeted toward women, is
being created by Geraldine Laybourne, Oprah Winfrey and Marcy Carsey.
As for the new shows, How Could It Happen is an
hour-longreality-based series that will feature offbeat, true stories of women who
have encountered twists of fate that have changed their lives. It will be shot in Los
Angeles, and Triage Entertainment will produce it.
The Ruby Wax Show,described as "60
Minutes on acid," is a weekly half-hour series that will offer comedic interviews
with the rich and famous. Ruby Wax is being produced by HBO Downtown productions.
The two new primetime series are scheduled to debut in late
July or late August.
Pam Burton, Prime Cable's director of marketing,
hadn't seen Lifetime's presentation, but she liked the network's continued
expansion into original shows.
"I'm glad to see that they're making some
steps for original programming," Burton said. "That's what they really need
Lifetime decided to create two reality-based series for
primetime because "there is nothing in that genre that really connects with
women," said Dawn Tarnofsky-Ostroff, Lifetime's senior vice president of
programming and production.
Ellen Oppenheim, media director for Foote, Cone &
Belding, predicted that Ruby Wax would get a lot of media attention, which is good
Describing Wax, Oppenheim said, "Imagine Katie Couric
with an attitude She'll get a lot of press."
But Oppenheim was more skeptical about Lifetime's
choice of singer Etheridge as a program host.
"She's not mainstream," Oppenheim said.
"How well that flies, I don't know."
Lifetime's original lineup for the 1999-2000 season
will include 12 new made-for-TV movies, which will star or be executive-produced by talent
such as Vanessa Williams, Dolly Parton, Bette Midler and Sally Field, among others.
For example, Williams will star in and executive-produce Quadroon
Ball, the true story of Henriette Delille, a 19th century quadroon -- a
person who is one-quarter African-American -- who became one of the first black Catholic
Parton will be featured in and executive-produce Blue
Valley Songbird, which is based on her hit song about a woman who flees her abusive
father in Tennessee to become a country-western singer.
Lifetime is also continuing and expanding its foray into
women's sports programming.
It will premiere its third season of the Women's
National Basketball Association June 10.
And for the first time, Lifetime will air the International
Skating Union's Grand Prix series in November, along with ABC and ESPN.