Lifetime raises Sunday stakes

Network greenlights new projects

Faced with ratings slippage, Lifetime is upping the ante.

The female-oriented net is making the unusual move of scheduling its three new series for the same night this summer — in the competitive Sunday slot, no less.

Jason Priestley starrer “Side Order of Life,” exec produced by “American Beauty” producers Dan Jinks and Bruce Cohen, will kick off the Sunday lineup at 8 p.m., net announced at its Gotham upfront Tuesday.

Show, about a young woman diagnosed with cancer, will be followed by Lili Taylor hourlong “State of Mind” and 10 p.m. drama “Army Wives,” an ABC Television Studio series starring Kim Delaney, Catherine Bell and Sally Pressman as wives on an Army base.

“Wives” will bow about six weeks ahead of the other two series, on June 3; “Life” and “Mind” will bow July 15.

Cable nets traditionally space out new originals over the course of a week to diversify risk. And clustering eliminates the possibility of a lead-in from an established series or movie.

But entertainment prexy Susanne Daniels said in an interview that viewer habits drove the move. “We considered spreading the series out, but what we’ve found is that when women sit down to watch television, they’re watching a block and will stay if you have a block to offer them,” she said.

Though two of the series will spill into the fall, when the female-skewing “Desperate Housewives” will air on Sunday night, execs hope the shows can build momentum over a comparatively weak summer.

Net also unveiled a number of development projects, including several that draw on theatrical talent.

Among them is the scripted series “Chambermaid,” a comedy about a law clerk exec produced by “Blood Diamond” producer Paula Weinstein, and “Lovely and Talented,” about an adult-education class for women trying to attain stardom that’s exec produced by theatrical vet Denise DiNovi.

Among the movies in development are “House of Hilton,” which traces the Hilton dynasty beginning with scion Conrad, and “Victoria Woodhull,” about the 19th century feminist.

On the nonscripted side, Lifetime is developing finance reality skein “Going for Broke,” as well as Bunim/Murray psychic competition series “America’s Psychic Challenge” and popularity contest “Judgment Day,” the latter two of which have been greenlit to pilot.

The slate bears the mark of Daniels, the WB vet who joined Lifetime in August 2005 with the goal of reducing the net’s average viewer age.

The three summer series, the first full slate developed under Daniels, will prove a referendum on the exec, who has pursued a course of younger viewers via younger celebs. At the upfront, net took the wraps off spring pics “Girl, Positive,” about an HIV counselor for young women starring former “Beverly Hills, 90210” thesp Jennie Garth, and “What if God Were the Sun?,” a Fox TV Studio pic with “Party of Five” vet Lacy Chabert as a nurse.

Net turned out Priestley, Garth and Chabert as part of the youth bid; appearance of so many former heartthrobs prompted Garth to quip, “It seems like a ‘Beverly Hills, 90210’ reunion.”

Lifetime has been attempting to shore up ratings after a rough 2006, when the net saw total viewers and women 18-49 drop by double digits; execs cite gains in the first quarter this year.

Daniels noted that targeting younger viewers isn’t as easy as it looked “because you want to go younger without losing your core audience.”

And she said critics who expect a quick turnaround need to be patient. “It takes time. I’m a huge Kevin Reilly fan, but he didn’t get momentum until his second or third season.”

Lifetime also greenlit the original movie “Write and Wrong,” centering on a washed-up screenwriter. Kirstie Alley stars and exec produces.

The net has also has put several other shows in development, including neurologist drama “The Madness of Jane,” starring Ever Carradine; “Bailey Weggins,” based on the mystery novels by Cosmo editor-in-chief Kate White; “Burnt Toast,” an adaptation of Teri Hatcher’s memoir; and “Mile High,” an airline drama adapted from a British series.

Broken-family drama “Custody of the Heart” and holiday movie “Christmas Miracle” round out the telepic production slate.