Lifetime unveils fall plans

Network announces upcoming shows

With momentum at its back and “Project Runway” in hand, Lifetime is spreading its wings with a diverse development slate that includes pilot orders for two scripted dramas and two scripted comedies.

Lifetime chief Andrea Wong and entertainment prexy Susanne Daniels talked up the cabler’s ambitious development plans at an upfront briefing sesh with reporters Monday at Gotham’s Le Bernadine restaurant.

Making a special guest appearance at the luncheon event was Harvey Weinstein, whose Weinstein Co. made headlines last week with the decision to move the hit “Project Runway” from Bravo to Lifetime this fall.

“Lifetime is a better home for ‘Project Runway,’ ” said Daniels, “because we draw double the number of women 18-49 that Bravo does, and we’re 25% higher in primetime.”

Weinstein told reporters he’s working with the network on “Project Pygmalion,” a reality series that could serve as a companion to “Runway.” “Pygmalion” will set up a contest among a group of average women; the winner will be made over by a panel of experts in a variety of fields to transform her into a person who would feel at home in the highest circles of New York society.

The principals at the lunch steered clear of questions about the lawsuit filed by Bravo’s NBC Universal parent; NBC U claims that Weinstein had given Bravo a verbal right of first refusal on the “Runway” renewal (Daily Variety, April 8). Weinstein joked that he and NBC U boss Jeff Zucker “will be friends again after I serve a three-year sentence of cleaning his house, washing his windows and driving his kids to school every morning.”

According to insiders, the Lifetime deal on “Runway” is vastly more rewarding for participants than existed under the Bravo tent.

Wong and Daniels emphasized the net’s push to develop signature skeins in a range of genres.

In drama, Lifetime aims to build on its success with “Army Wives” via pilot orders for two projects that mark a tonal departure from past Lifetime scripted fare. “Mistresses,” from scribe Melissa Carter and Fox 21, is based on a BBC series that follows a group of friends from college through their adult years. “Drop Dead Diva,” from scribe Josh Berman and Sony Pictures TV, has a light fantasy element in revolving around a demanding young model who dies and returns to Earth in the body of a brilliant but “unpolished” attorney.

Comedy projects earning pilot orders are similarly offbeat by past Lifetime standards. Both are produced by financier Media Rights Capital: “Rita Rocks,” with Nicole Sullivan as a besieged wife and mother who forms a garage band; and “Libertyville,” with Christine Ebersole as a divorced mother who’s dating again while having to put up with zingers from her 24-year-old daughter and retired father.

Daniels also highlighted a slew of projects in various stages of development. On the drama front: “Chambermaid,” from Warner Horizon, Spring Creek and Class IV; “The Department Store,” from ABC Studios and the Mark Gordon Co.; “The Amazing Mrs. Pritchard,” exec produced by Vanessa Taylor, based on the Brit miniseries of the same name; “The Skin I’m In,” from Laura Ziskin; and “Trump Tower,” which Donald Trump would produce and narrate.

Another comedy percolating at the cabler is ABC Studios’ “Burnt Toast,” based on the book by thesp Teri Hatcher focusing on a fortysomething single mother who’s determined that her daughter learn from her mistakes.

Lifetime continues to be the rare outlet that is investing much in longform programming. On Monday Daniels touted a deal with Peter Guber’s Mandalay Prods. to deliver four more original movies for 2009 based on Nora Roberts novels, following the ratings success of four Roberts adaptations that ran last year. Guber and Stephanie Germain will exec produce. Lifetime has also pacted with mystery scribe Patricia Cornwell for the first telepic adaptations of her work, starting with novel “At Risk” and the soon-to-be-released “The Front.” Cornwell will be an exec producer with Stanley M. Brooks and Jim Head of Once Upon a Time Films and with Russell Werdin and Lane Bishop of Twinstar Entertainment.

Other movies are in the works from Larry Thompson and the teams of Rosie O’Donnell and Larry Sanitsky; Frank von Zerneck and Bob Sertner (through Sony Pictures TV); Gigi Levangie Grazer and Stephanie Davis; Ellyn Williams and Bill Haber; and Brooks and Scott Anderson.

Lifetime also has wrapped production on pilots for two reality series, dating show “The Big Match,” from Granada, and the makeover show “Total Knockout.” Two other nonfiction shows in development are “Cook Yourself Thin,” from Tiger Aspect, and “Salsa & the City,” from Gay Rosenthal and Mario Lopez.