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Soaping Up for a Second 'Shift’

5/23/2008 8:00 PM Eastern

There will be a second shift for SoapNet’s General Hospital spinoff series.

The 68.1 million subscriber SoapNet has ordered 13 episodes of General Hospital: Night Shift, with production beginning next month. Produced in HD this go round, the sophomore series, again shifting some storylines from the daytime progenitor to late night, will premiere Tuesdays at 11 p.m., starting July 22.

Sending viewers back and forth between the shows is emblematic of the ways Brian Frons, president of daytime at Disney ABC Television Group, is leveraging the resources of the unit, comprising ABC Daytime, Buena Vista Productions and SoapNet, which was formed last May.

The second season of Night Shift is being led by new executive producer Lisa De Cazotte and head writer Sri Rao. But Frons said they are sharing the acumen and advice of Robert Guza Jr. and Jill Farren Phelps, the head writer and executive producer of GH, respectively, who also served in those capacities for the first season of Night Shift.

“Sri has worked closely with Bob and Jill, scoping out where the storylines are going to be on General Hospital,” said Frons. “One thing we heard from fans was that there were some disconnects. We’re working hard to make sure there will be more consistency tying the shows together better.”

The launch of Night Shift played huge for SoapNet. The July 12, 2007, debut was the network’s most-watched telecast ever, with 1.15 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research data. The rookie season was SoapNet’s best show ever among women 18 to 34.

“To bring in new and younger viewers we have to come up with ideas and shows that tap America’s fascination with celebrity and reality programming,” Frons said.

The strategy began manifesting with the additions of former primetime dramas like Dallas and Dynasty, then Beverly Hills 90210 and Melrose Place and more recently with teen sudsers One Tree Hill and The O.C.

SoapNet also entered the “Sunday Night Movie” game with Dangerous Indiscretion last December and has been airing other romantic comedies and thrillers in the 10 p.m. time slot that night. The telefilms and features have performed well, with SoapNet securing a second batch of movies that have doubled the first group’s original rating.

SoapNet has also tasted success with Relative Madness, a series of six specials running between Mother’s and Father’s days, counting down the top 25 most over-the-top TV and real-life celebrity family moments.

“We’ll revisit Relative Madness between Thanksgiving and Christmas, that other time of year when relatives are foremost on our minds,” said Frons.

Next up, the network is importing MVP, about a fictional hockey team and the women in their lives. The 10-episode show, which premiered on Canada’s CBC last fall, will debut Stateside June 19.

“I’m not sure if MVP is going to bring more men to the network,” said Frons, but he thinks women will be happy with an ad campaign that’s akin to Calvin Klein underwear creative. The show will also gain exposure as the lead-out from the June 20 presentation of the Daytime Emmy Awards on ABC.

On the Web front, SoapNet on April 15 unveiled a revamped site, moving from “largely a promotional vehicle, to a much more robust offering,” according to Frons, offering more soapy fare, relative to pop culture and style.

Time spent at the site has improved by one-fourth since the relaunch, according to Hitbox data, and Frons likes the ad sales opportunities emanating from the 45 affiliate site connections. “We’ve doubled our reach,” he said.

Looking ahead, Frons is ratcheting up development on more original dramas under the watch of Sara Saedi, director of West Coast programming for ABC Daytime and director of development, original scripted, for SoapNet; and in the alternative arena, through Ann Lewis Roberts, the head of Buena Vista Productions and alternative programming and development for SoapNet.

“I think we can make some big noise with a docu-soap area, focusing on a personality-driven show or on a certain group in the workplace,” said Frons, who expects original additions to SoapNet’s lineup late this year or early in 2009.

September