Looking to build more original programming for its
primetime slate, Lifetime Television has "green-lighted" four pilots, including
two hour-long dramas and two half-hour sitcoms, officials said last week.
The women's network will only pick two of the pilots
-- one drama and one comedy -- to debut as series on its schedule in August, according to
Lifetime president and CEO Douglas McCormick. The two selected shows will get 13-episode
commitments from Lifetime.
"Doing pilots allows you to know what you might have
to change in a show," McCormick said. "It may be uncommon in cable [to produce
pilots], where, in the past, it's tended to go right on-air with a show. That's
something that needs to change in cable. It's a higher degree of
Both of the planned dramas are about female friends, and
they aim to attract more viewers in the 18- to 34-year-old demographic to Lifetime.
The first pilot to get the go-ahead, West Wing, is
set in Washington, D.C., and it focuses on a new White House press secretary and her
adversarial relationship with a top news correspondent. Both women are old college friends
McCormick declined to discuss in detail the other drama
pilot or the two sitcom pilots, saying that the finishing touches were being put on those
Lifetime's decision to premiere its two original
series in the summer is a "Fox-like strategy," said Ellen Oppenheim, senior vice
president and media director at Foote Cone & Belding New York. She was referring to
the Fox broadcast network's penchant for debuting its shows before the "Big
Three" do their flashy fall-season launches.
"You give people a chance to sample your programming
without the competitive heat from the broadcast networks," Oppenheim said.
And original shows, unlike more tried-and-true off-network
fare, offer Lifetime an opportunity to extend its brand, she added.
The original primetime series are part of Lifetime's
strategy to differentiate itself in terms of its programming for women, according to
McCormick. The first goal was to become the No. 1 network in terms of producing
made-for-TV movies for women, and he said Lifetime has accomplished that. In fact, it is
doing two more original movies than usual in 1998, up to 14.
Second, the plan was to "tighten up" and make
acquisitions that have a firm appeal to women. As a result, Lifetime this fall will air
off-network shows Party of Five, Ellen and Chicago Hope.
The next foray was to produce several original primetime
series, "to enhance the brand of the network with young women and women in
general," McCormick said.
Dawn Tarnofksy, a Hollywood veteran who is now
Lifetime's senior vice president of programming and production, had the discipline
and skills to start the primetime-development process, he said.
This year is the biggest ever for Lifetime in terms of
original programming, with the network boosting its budget by 65 percent compared with
last year, McCormick said. When the drama and sitcom series hit the air, 50 percent to 55
percent of Lifetime's primetime schedule will be original.
Lifetime is also looking at several program formats to
develop a new original show for daytime, according to McCormick.
Lifetime debuts its late-night magazine show, New
Attitudes, at 11 p.m. starting tonight (March 9) -- a time slot when McCormick said
there is little, if any, programming of special interest to women.