Lifetime OKs $160 mil for firstrun programs

'Maggie', 'Oh Baby', 'Any Day' to join sked

NEW YORK — Lifetime Television has engineered its biggest original-programming commitment ever, ordering two sitcoms and one drama hour for the network’s 1998-99 primetime schedule. Lifetime said it will spend up to $160 million for its firstrun programming in all dayparts in 1998-99.

One sitcom is Paramount TV’s “Maggie Day,” starring Ann Cusack as the 39-year-old wife of a cardiologist and mother of a rebellious 17-year-old daughter. The character goes back to school to become a veterinarian and indulges in frequent visual fantasies about having a passionate affair with Jack Wagner, an actor on “Melrose Place.”

The other comedy is “Oh Baby,” from Columbia TriStar TV, which stars Cynthia Stevenson as a single thirtysomething woman whose boyfriend won’t commit to marriage, causing her to become pregnant through artificial insemination.

The drama, “Any Day Now,” stars Annie Potts and Lorraine Toussaint as friends who grew up together in Alabama in the 1960s while the civil rights movement was reshaping relationships between blacks and whites.

Spelling Entertainment will set the series in the present day, with Potts as a white homemaker and Toussaint as a successful black attorney, although there’ll be frequent black-&-white flashbacks to the two little girls as they cope with the tensions of the period.

Studio sources said the three series, all of which will be shot in Los Angeles, will get broadcast-network level budgets, with the comedies coming in at about $700,000 a half-hour and the drama costing about $1.3 million.

These sources said Lifetime’s license fees will make up about three-quarters of the production budgets, with Columbia, TriStar and Spelling getting the rest of the money from foreign sales and future domestic-rerun sales.

Each of the three primetime series will get a 13-episode order from Lifetime, and if they succeed in the Nielsens, they’ll chalk up additional nine-episode orders to complete the full year’s quota.

Lifetime showed clips of all three at its annual upfront presentation Tuesday morning to advertisers at the Grand Hyatt Hotel.

Doug McCormick, president and CEO of Lifetime, said the network has scheduled the three every Tuesday night, with “Any Day” at 9, “Maggie Day” at 10 and “Oh Baby” at 10:30.

Lifetime chose Tuesday because the ratings of “Home Improvement” on ABC have diminished in the past year, and NBC may move its Tuesday bellwether “Frasier” to Thursday this fall in place of the retiring “Seinfeld” series.

Dawn Tarnofsky, Lifetime’s senior VP of progamming and production, made the following other programming announcements at the upfront:

– A speeded-up order of 60 hours of its “Intimate Portraits” series, with the originals running Saturday at 10 p.m. “Portraits” reruns, which now play off at 7 p.m. every weeknight, will move up to 4 p.m.

– Continuation of the quarterly specials, including “The Great Makeover Special,” the 11th episode of “Weddings of a Lifetime” and the Penny Marshall-hosted “Lifetime Women’s Film Festival.”

– Some original movie disclosures, including Jean Smart in “Change of Heart,” Patricia Wettig Olin in “Nightmare in Big Sky,” Kate Nelligan and Ron Silver in “Love Is Strange,” Marg Helgenberger in “Giving Up the Ghost,” and Ann-Margret in “Life of the Party: The Pamela Harriman Story.” Lifetime’s two owners, Disney/ABC and the Hearst Corp., produce all of the original movies on the network.

– The first announcement of the daily schedule for the fall, which kicks off with “Portraits” at 4 p.m., two episodes of “Golden Girls” reruns at 5, two half-hours of “Ellen” reruns at 6, “Party of Five” off-network at 7, reruns of “Chicago Hope” at 8, off-network movies at 9 (except for the Tuesday originals) and the lifestyle magazine half-hour “New Attitudes” at 11, which has just picked up a 13-week renewal.