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Lifetime Details New Originals

4/15/2005 3:30 AM Eastern

New York -- Increasing its original programming by one-third during the 2005-06 TV season, Lifetime Television will jump into the miniseries and limited-series forms for the first time.

Bowing Oct. 3 is Human Trafficking, the women’s-targeted network’s initial miniseries, a four-hour project running over successive nights about the realities of international sex trafficking, starring Mira Sorvino and Donald Sutherland.

On July 25, Lifetime will premiere its first limited series, Beach Girls. Inspired by the best-selling novel by Luanne Rice, the six-hour program explores the bonds of friendship as women who spent the summers of their youth at a seaside town reconvene after one dies.

The shows were announced during the network’s upfront presentation to advertisers here Thursday.

Rick Haskins, executive vice president and general manager of Lifetime Entertainment Services, pointing to Gravity, a project in development about female astronauts, and “a couple of others that are not quite done yet,” said Lifetime is exploring the limited-series form.

“We’ll see how Beach Girls performs. A number of our viewers don’t necessarily have the time or interest to get involved with the serialization of a show over two or three years. But they may be willing to get involved for six to eight weeks,” he said. “We’ll see.”

Haksins -- who had talked up a half-dozen series that are in various stages of development, including The Harbinger, Scarlett, The Look and Tripping the Prom Queen -- said Lifetime would choose one or two projects to become series either late this year or early in 2006.

He added that the process will go forward with shows that have already gone to pilot, saying that Betty Cohen will be involved with decisions about series selection when she joins the network as CEO later this month.

During the upfront presentation, Lifetime officials introduced cast members for returning dramas Strong Medicine, including newcomer Rick Schroder, and Missing, which will bow their sixth (a basic-cable record) and third seasons, respectively, June 12.

Reality series I Married a Princess (April 18), You’re Not the Man I Married! and a second season from the queens of clean, Kim Woodburn and Aggie MacKenzie, with How Clean Is Your House?, were also spotlighted.

Kelsey Grammer was in the house as Lifetime talked up the addition of Frasier, as well as other off-network acquisitions Will & Grace, Reba and Still Standing, to its roster at varied junctures in the upcoming TV season.

Hailed for their impressive Nielsen Media Research ratings growth across a number of demos, Lifetime’s original movies were also front and center at the upfront. All told, the network plans 18 original telepics next season, starring such notables as Jami Gertz, Raven-Symone and Kathy Bates.

On the brand-extension beat, Lifetime said it is tapping the wireless market, with ring tones from the network’s shows and program reminders already available, according to Haskins. Games and show-promo applications are in the works.

The network is also buttressing its “Lifetime All Access” broadband platform Accessible through LifetimeTV.com (www.lifetimetv.com), the platform will include a new series of Webisodes, following its Kiss + Tell series, this summer, as well as behind-the-scenes interviews, 60- to 90-second original telefilm trailers and programming snippets.

Haskins also noted that Lifetime’s home-entertainment business, launched last August, continues to build with six films available in Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Target Brands Inc. outlets, among other retailers. He said most of the action has been sell-through, rather than rental.

As for distribution, Lifetime Real Women is poised to double its growth to around 10 million subscribers this June, when the service rolls out on to DirecTV Inc., according to executive VP of distribution and business development Louise Henry Bryson.

She said Lifetime Real Women is currently available on systems owned by Time Warner Cable, Charter Communications Inc. and other MSOs.

September