Lifetime on a comedy binge

Looking for ensemble laffers, sez Tarnofsky-Ostroff

Lifetime Television, eager to break into original comedy after finding success with a trio of original dramas, is aggressively developing about a half-dozen laffers for 2002.

Lifetime’s Sunday night dramas “Any Day Now,” “Strong Medicine” and “The Division” are the three top-rated original dramas on basic cable, and while the cable net is developing dramas, the programming goal for 2002 is to get a great, original comedy on the air, Dawn Tarnofsky-Ostroff, Lifetime’s exec VP of entertainment, told Daily Variety.

“We’re looking for comedies that are ensemble pieces with a strong female point of view that would be different than what you’d see on broadcast networks,” Tarnofsky-Ostroff said, noting that off-net comedy has worked well on the cabler and that the two original comedies in Lifetime’s history, “Maggie” and “Oh, Baby,” have gone out of production.

Lifetime will ramp up its off-net comedies next year, when it begins to run repeats of “Mad About You” and “The Nanny.”

Kelly Abugov, Lifetime’s senior VP of programming, said pickup decisions will likely be made on the following comedy projects sometime in June:

  • “Suits and Skirts,” a pair of half-hour comedies set behind the scenes in corporate America, will feature the same story and timeline in both half-hours, the first from the eyes of the execs, the second from their assistants. Stan Zimmerman and Jim Berg are writing.

  • “Suburbia,” from Imagine Television, is a half-hour about an urban hipster femme who moves to a gated suburban community, where her husband adapts well — and she doesn’t. In addition, the neighborhood women aren’t as they appear. Elisa Bell is the writer; Barry Jossen is exec producing.

  • Edmonds Entertainment’s “Pushing Forty,” written by Bobby Smith Jr., centers on four African-American women who have known each other since grade school.

  • “The Book Club,” written by Betsy Borns, concerns four friends who get together every week under the guise of a book club.

  • Greenblatt Janollari’s “Life Hits the Fan,” written by Tod Himmel and Lisa Nelson, follows a corporate career woman who exits the rat race to take on a new career as a “life coach.” Bob Greenblatt, David Janollari and Nancy Steen are exec producers.

“If you look at all of the concepts, they’re not particularly high concept, they’re character-based,” Abugov said. “Our audience wants great characters rather than bells and whistles.”

Dramatic flair

Lifetime is also considering at least three hourlong skeins:

  • “Utopia,” written by Marilyn Osborn and exec produced by Tom Fontana and Barry Levinson, is a character-based ensemble drama about people living 40-50 years from now on a space station.

  • “Congresswoman,” written by Neena Beber, and exec produced by Danielle and Stephen Gelber, is a drama about a frosh congresswoman who rooms in D.C. with two congressmen.

  • “Fiona” is based on the Fiona Fitzgerald character, a blueblood-turned-urban police detective, created in a series of mystery books by Warren Adler. Ilana Bar-Din is the writer; Dan Blatt is exec producer.

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