Lifetime unveils originals

Cabler hopes $800 mil slate will win auds back

An unprecedented $800 million for programming over the next two years, much of which will go to both scripted and unscripted original series, is Lifetime’s prescription for its falloff in the ratings during the last six months.

At Lifetime’s advertiser-upfront presentation here on Thursday, exec VP of entertainment Barbara Fisher said the network will add two fresh scripted hours and three new reality series this season.

Pilot selection

Fisher said she’d choose the new scripted series later this month from among four completed pilots:

  • “Wild Card” stars Joely Fisher as a former Las Vegas blackjack dealer who becomes an insurance-fraud investigator. Lynn Marie Latham and Bernard Lechowick are the writer-exec producers for Fireworks Entertainment.

  • “Nick & Shelly” stars Julie Warner and Adrian Pasdar as a divorced couple who keep rekindling their relationship because they’re partnered up as police detectives. Robert Wagner co-stars. John J. Sakmar and Kerry Lenhart are creators and exec producers for Sony Pictures TV and the Greenblatt Janollari Studio.

  • “Follow the Leeds” features Sharon Lawrence and Maria Pitillo as suburban sisters who set up a private-investigation business with their mother, played by Marsha Mason. Maddy Horne and Sheldon Pinchuk are exec producers, with Peter Werner as director-producer.

  • “1-800-Missing” stars Gloria Reuben as an FBI agent whose young partner (played by Catherine Scorsone) has psychic powers that give her clues to the whereabouts of missing people. Exec producers are Glenn Davis & William Laurin and Debra Martin Chase for Lions Gate TV.

Reality contenders

Reality series include “Merge,” hosted by soap-opera actress Lisa Rinna, which employs a design team to intermingle the belongings of a couple who just got married, and “Secret Lives,” dealing with true stories of people who have tried to hide disreputable things in their past.

Fisher said one of her goals is to replace “Unsolved Mysteries” repeats on weeknights at 8, which have fallen off in the ratings, with a fresh reality series in the timeslot. “Final Justice,” which Lifetime calls “a dramatic reality series,” hosted by the real Erin Brockovich, has already displaced “Mysteries” on Fridays. And, starting April 14, new hour “What Should You Do?” elbows out “Mysteries” on Mondays.

Lifetime is also considering the strategy of greenlighting more than 12 original movies a year. These movies tend to harvest big audiences in their first run — and the net needs more titles in its rerun inventory to fill seven primetime movie slots, plus Saturday- and Sunday-night showcases.

Because the broadcast networks commission far fewer women-oriented original movies than they did a few years ago, Lifetime is running out of reliable titles to buy.

One consequence of the aging of Lifetime’s movie library is that the network’s ratings are down by 25% in total viewers during the first quarter compared to the same period in 2002. It’s off by a similar percentage in adults 18-49 and 25-54.

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