At the TCA press tour in LA, Nancy Dubuc, president and GM of Lifetime Networks, announced that History just celebrated its best quarter ever. Moreover, says, Dubuc, it’s the first nonfiction network—excluding sports—to average more than 1 million viewers in the adult 25-54 demo for a quarter. The goal was top 5, says Dubuc, but now the network ranks in the top 3 among all 3 of its key demos.
Premiering in Q4 is the new reality series “Around the World in 80 Ways,” which follows Rob Mariano (of “Survivor” fame) and Dennis Anderson (who created the Gravedigger monster truck) as they circumnavigate the globe using 80 different modes of transport. “We had a course laid out for us—but the only objective was to travel east,” says Rob. “We had set objectives, but we would stop and see things along the way and go with the flow.” How is this different from his "Survivor" days? This show has allowed him more freedom, he says, and it was certainly less competitive. “There’s no prize, no million dollars at the end,” he says. “We compete along the way, but ultimately it’s about the journey, the interaction of Dennis and I and the modes of transportation.”
Phil Segal, president of Original Productions, says he chose this unlikely pair (one’s from Boston, the other is decidedly Southern—which makes for a bit of a culture clash) to celebrate working class Americans. “Our audience can’t afford private jets—we want to reach a real core of the American people.” The duo is “genuinely passionate about exploring the journey, but also about finding new ways to travel. You cannot take away that passion for engineering and transportation. They typify these kinds of characters.”
Another History series premiering in Q4 is “Vietnam in HD,” which features original footage and personal accounts of the Vietnam war. Says producer Liz Reph (Lou Reda Productions), “we spent two years going through different archives and got footage from the marines, army, navy and air force.” A large part of the material comes from soldiers’ own footage. “We probably had 100 different personal collections from people who served. Then we took the 8 mm footage and transferred it to HD.” UPI war correspondent Joe Galloway, whose harrowing personal accounts of the war are featured in the series, says the thing that’s changed the most about war coverage over the years is the technical aspect. “When the battle was over, I could leave and file my stories. I had to fly 35 miles away, and spend half the day on the military phone system to get to the bureau in Saigon,” he says. “It could take you all day to get a phone call through, to dictate 300 words. Technology has outstripped everything.”
Lifetime is the leader in women’s television programming, says Dubuc: “the number 1 ad-supported cable network for movies for women.” Its new series “Against the Wall” premieres Sunday July 31 at 10PM ET. The show follows a single female police officer in Chicago who lands her ultimate dream job as a detective—but the position is in Internal Affairs, much to the chagrin of her three cop brothers. In addition to one-night stands and quarrels with her brothers, a key through line in the series is the loving and supportive mother-daughter relationship, says creator and supervising producer Annie Brunner. She was in part inspired by the recent passing of her own mother, with whom she was very close, and the desire to recreate a similar, positive portrayal. “I never see a show with a mother-daughter relationship that’s good—it’s always bad. So I wanted to create that. Also, I have 3 brothers and a dad."
For Lifetime’s other program panel, an anthology of 5 short films directed by 5 different women and aptly named “Five” (premieres Oct. 10), the topic of breast cancer and its affect on women’s lives is tackled by Penelope Spheeris, Jennifer Aniston, Demi Moore, Patty Jenkins and Alicia Keys. The network has been involved with the battle against breast cancer for 17 years, says Dubuc. Executive producer Marta Kauffman says the directors used humor to tell each story, despite the dark nature of the topic. “When we are in the most extraordinary circumstances, we completely freak out or we go towards humor.” Embracing the latter—without being irreverent—was the strategy. “The idea was, people aren’t telling jokes, but it’s humor that comes out of an intense time in one’s life. Lifetime was very supportive of this approach. We could be as funny or as sad as we wanted to.”