Lifetime Regains Its Touch in Nielsens

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A bumper crop of original movies has helped Lifetime Television stem a two-year ratings drought, and the women's targeted network hopes to maintain its primetime momentum by green-lighting up to two scripted series from an aggressive slate of pilots.

Rick Haskins, general manager in charge of marketing, said the service would likely add a pair of series — perhaps comedies — later this year.

It has been business as usual at the network following the departure of Lifetime Entertainment Services CEO Carole Black on March 21, he added. At press time, a successor to Black had yet to be named.

MONDAY MOVIES

For first-quarter 2005, the network's “New Movie Mondays” franchise from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m., which each week houses a made-for-Lifetime movie, posted a 26% increase in household ratings compared to the same period last year, and a 40% jump among women 18 to 34, according to Lifetime.

In fact, Lifetime said that it has aired the five most-watched original films in basic cable during the quarter: Dawn Anna (a 3.9 rating on Jan. 10); Widow on the Hill (a 3.9 on Jan. 24); Mom at Sixteen (a 3.6 on March 21); Lies My Mother Told Me (a 3.3 on March 7); and More Sex and the Single Mom (2.7 on Feb. 7).

These original telepics also bring viewers into the tent with their repeats on Thursdays.

Overall, the movies have helped the network garner a 7% increase in primetime household ratings both for first-quarter 2005 and in March (1.6 versus a 1.5).

Among women 18 to 34 and 18 to 49, Lifetime posted advances of 43% and 22%, respectively, in March.

March's household and key demographic increases mark the fifth consecutive month of primetime ratings gains for Lifetime, whose numbers had declined since it ruled the yearly primetime ratings race in 2001 and 2002.

Haskins credits the success of Lifetime's originals to a broadening of their topics from the traditional inspirational or woman-in-distress films to more romantic, comedic and suspense-based movies.

“We've expanded the subject matter and opened it up so that now we have more comedy, and more romantic comedy-based movies,” Haskins said.

On tap for the network later this year is a science fiction-themed movie, as well as “a lot of true story-based movies with stories that we wouldn't ordinarily tell in the past.”

All told, Lifetime plans to air 18 original films in 2005.

Haskins also points to the network's ability to attract more marquee talent to its films.

Stars such as Debra Winger (Dawn Anna), Mercedes Ruhl and Jane Krakowski (Mom at Sixteen) have already appeared in Lifetime originals this year, with Kathy Bates and Raven scheduled to appear in flicks later this summer.

COMEDIC LEANINGS

While the network is riding high on its own films, Haskins said the network hasn't abandoned original scripted fare. For years, scripted shows such as Strong Medicine, The Division, Missing, For the People, Any Day Now and Wild Card were ratings juggernauts.

But a drop-off in performance, as well as aging, has left all but Strong Medicine and Missing stripped from the schedule.

Nevertheless, Haskins said the network is planning an aggressive slate of new scripted fare that could yield as many as two new shows this year.

“We'd like to keep Sunday night as strong as it can be with scripted programming,” he said. “I'm going for quality.”

Among the pilots under consideration are rare comedy skeins such as The Debi Gutierrez Project, based on the comedienne's successful single mom-based stand-up act; Dirty, a look at the most self-absorbed woman on earth; Thicker Than Water, a semi-autobiographical skein about writer Carol Leifer's life as a single TV writer in Los Angeles; Tripping The Prom Queen, based on an upcoming, non-fiction book about the lengths women will do to get what they want: and The Marriage Bed, which claims to go “under the sheets” to uncover how modern couples keep their love alive.

Other scripted projects include Female Astronauts (working title) about women lost in space; The Gumm Sisters, chronicling the lives of three plus-sized sisters; The Hunters, about a family of dysfunctional spies, led by its matriarch; The Look, about the world of fashion; and an as-yet untitled series about a group of urban mothers.

REALITY ADDITION

Along with the movies and original programming, Lifetime on April 18 will bow its first primetime reality series, I Married A Princess. It follows the post-nuptial lives of royal Princess Catherine Oxenberg and Casper Van Dien.

“We're kind of expanding from 'New Movie Monday' to a Monday that features an 8 p.m. reality series followed by a new movie,” Haskins said.

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