Lifetime's 'Riches' to Cost $800M


New York— Lifetime Television, knocked out of the No. 1 spot in primetime during the first quarter, will ante up $800 million over the next two years to create more original programming than ever.

The women's-targeted network plans to add two new hour-long dramas to its lineup — a genre in which it's done very well — and to expand to a second night of original shows this summer.

"Never before have we invested at this level," Lifetime president Carole Black said at the network's upfront presentation here last week.

$100M bump

The programming budget for the upcoming season has been increased $100 million from the roughly $700 million that Lifetime spent for 2002-03, according to a network spokes-woman.

The channel plans to start airing original programming on Saturday night as well as in Sunday primetime, potentially using its new dramas as the cornerstone for that second night of original fare. Lifetime's Sunday-night block includes the high-rated original dramas The Division
and Strong Medicine,
shows which have driven the network's viewership.
Lifetime's new slate of original programming — its biggest ever — will not only include the scripted dramas for the 2003-03 season, but four new reality series. With the new shows, nearly 60 percent of Lifetime's primetime will be original.

"We're taking what we already do so well and we're multiplying it," said Barbara Fisher, Lifetime's executive vice president of entertainment.

Not no. 1

The announcements came just days after the first-quarter cable ratings were released. The Nielsen Media Research data for the quarter showed that Lifetime, which had dominated the top slot in the quarterly ratings for about two years, had surrendered its No. 1 crown in primetime.

With a 1.7 average, Lifetime slipped behind Turner Network Television and Fox News Channel, which tied atop primetime with a 2.0. Nickelodeon was third with a 1.8, according to an ABC Cable Networks Group analysis of Nielsen data.

The new programming slate is meant to bolster Lifetime's lineup — and ratings — by bringing fresh, lighter fare to the network, Fisher said.

"We have infused it with some different tones that people are not used to seeing on Lifetime, which I think, hopefully, is going to be refreshing," she said. "There's a mixture of the more dramatic stuff that we've always seen at Lifetime that seems to work really well, and some lighter tones."

In August, Lifetime will bow two new scripted dramas.

In what Fisher described as "an embarrassment of riches," the network will choose those two shows from four pilots currently in development. A decision is expected by late April or the start of May.

The four pilots: Nick and Shelly,
starring Julie Warner and Adrian Pasdar as divorced police detectives who still work cases together; Follow the Leeds,
with Sharon Lawrence and Maria Pitillo as two sisters running a private detective agency; Wild Card,
starring Joely Fisher as a former Las Vegas blackjack dealer who assumes care of her deceased sister's kids; and 1-800 Missing ,
featuring Gloria Reuben as an FBI agent with a psychic partner.

"Two of pilots are almost dramedies," Fisher said. "There's a lot of comedy in them."

More reality

Lifetime also has a batch of new reality shows in the works, including the April 14 launch of What Should You Do?,
tips about what to do during emergency situations. Secret Lives
is a limited-run series hosted by Days of Our Lives
star Kristian Alfonso, chronicling the true stories of people who lead double lives.

Lifetime's third reality show, the half-hour Make Me Over,
has women who know each other well do makeovers of each other. Finally, actress Lisa Rinna will host Merge,
in which newlyweds come back from their honeymoons to households where their individual belongings have been combined by a Merge
design team.

"We're looking for reality that isn't humiliating or demeaning, but we're certainly willing to have fun," Fisher said. "We're certainly willing to have laughter. We're certainly willing to have people be surprised. We just want to keep it on a more upbeat note."

The network is also creating two specials related to its popular off-network shows, namely a Designing Women
reunion and a 90-minute retrospective on The Golden Girls.

At its upfront, Lifetime also said it was creating a Lifetime Partnerships department, which will work with advertisers to develop cross-platform marketing campaigns across Lifetime and its two spin-offs, Lifetime Movie Network and Lifetime Real Women; the network's Web site; and Lifetime Magazine,
which will debut in two weeks.

Elise McVeigh, who was promoted to vice president, will lead the unit.