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Lifetime Entertainment Services, led by President and CEO Carole Black since March 1999, is dedicated to offering the highest quality entertainment and information programming and advocating a wide range of issues affecting women and their families.
Lifetime Entertainment Services is a joint venture owned by The Walt Disney Company and The Hearst Corporation. It operates the Lifetime Television Network, a basic cable network focusing on women viewers, launched in 1984. As of 2002 Lifetime TV was the top-rated cable network in prime time. Lifetime Entertainment Services also owns and operates the Lifetime Movie Network and Lifetime Real Women, two related networks that feature programming for women. The company also has an in-house production studio and an online division.
Providing Talk Show Programs for Women: 1984-87
The joint venture that has operated the Lifetime Television Network since its debut in February 1984 originally had three partners with equal shares: Hearst Corp., ABC Inc., and Viacom. Prior to the launch of Lifetime Television, Hearst and ABC operated Daytime, a four-hour per day weekday cable service that featured alternative programming for women. Daytime began broadcasting in March 1982. Meanwhile, Viacom launched its Cable Health Network in June 1982 as a 24-hour service offering a wide range of health-related programming. The Cable Health Network was renamed Lifetime Medical Television in November 1983 and ran until July 1993.
In 1984 the three companies formed Hearst/ABC-Viacom Entertainment Services to operate Lifetime Television, which was created through a merger of Daytime and the Cable Health Network. Thomas F. Burchill was named president and CEO; he would serve in that capacity until February 1993. Lifetime's programming was initially designed to capitalize on Daytime's primarily female audience and, to a lesser degree, the audience of Lifetime Medical Television. At first programming consisted of a wide range of talk shows targeted to women, including "Good Sex with Dr. Ruth" and "Regis Philbin's Lifestyles," as well as medically related programming such as "Cardiology Update." Following her debut on Lifetime, Dr. Ruth Westheimer became something of a media celebrity, appearing regularly on NBC's "The Letterman Show" and churning out books, newspaper columns, home videotapes, and even a sex-oriented board game.
Lifetime had committed $25 million to its talk show programming. Although Dr. Ruth's show was quite popular, the other shows did not catch on, and the network was $16 million in debt by the end of 1985. Burchill decided to add more original programming and diversify Lifetime's audience. He also consolidated the network's medical shows into Sunday-only blocks called "Doctor's Sunday." The Sunday medical programs attracted pharmaceutical advertisers, which contributed about one-fourth of Lifetime's advertising revenue. By 1986 the all-talk shows were eliminated, having failed to attract viewers, and Lifetime was $36 million in debt.
Obtaining Off-Network Programming and Developing the Lifetime Brand for Women: 1987-92
Lifetime quickly refocused on women as its primary audience and branded itself as "Television for Women." In 1988 Pat Fili was hired as senior vice-president of programming and production. She began acquiring the rights to syndicated shows that had run on the broadcast networks, starting with "The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd," which had developed a cultlike following during its prime time run on NBC. Lifetime paid $14 million for 26 existing episodes and then produced 39 more episodes of the series. Other shows acquired by the network included "Cagney and Lacey" at $100,000 per episode and "L.A. Law," for which it paid a reported $210,000 per episode.
The completion of Lifetime Astoria Studios in Queens, New York, enabled the network to produce more original programming. These included series such as "The Parent Survival Guide," produced by Scholastic Productions, and "What Every Baby Knows: The First Three Years." In 1990 Lifetime announced that it would produce 15 original movies for its female audience over the next three years. It also acquired movies from the major studios, including a package of 23 films from Orion Pictures that included Bull Durham and Married to the Mob and ten films from Warner Bros. including The Accidental Tourist and Tequila Sunrise. Both film packages bypassed syndication and aired exclusively on Lifetime.
On the medical front, Lifetime launched Healthlink Television in June 1990 to provide programming for physicians' offices. It planned to be in 12,000 offices by the end of 1990 and 20,000 by June 1991. As part of its service, Healthlink provided participating physicians with a large-screen television, videocassette player, and free programming.
By 1991 Lifetime found that original movies boosted the network's ratings; ratings were three times higher than for acquired movies. Broadcast networks became interested in Lifetime's original movies, and ABC aired Lifetime's original movie "Stop at Nothing" following its Lifetime premiere. Lifetime aired six original movies in the 1991-92 season and planned to offer nine for 1992-93.
During 1991 Lifetime continued to acquire films and off-network rights to syndicated series. It paid $25 million for 38 movies from Orion, including Dances with Wolves and Silence of the Lambs. It also acquired the "China Beach" series from Warner Bros. and the rights to the 85-episode series, "thirtysomething," from MGM.
The production of a two-hour political special, "Seize the Power: A Lifetime Challenge," in 1992 marked a first for Lifetime. The special was produced by ABC News, marking the first time in Lifetime's history that a broadcast news division produced a premiere special for the network. The two-hour special was broadcast live from Sarah Lawrence College and looked at issues important to women.
New Management: 1993-99
When President and CEO Thomas Burchill announced in 1993 that he would resign to join Petry, Inc., a broadcast sales rep firm, longtime Lifetime executive Douglas W. McCormick was named to replace him. McCormick wanted Lifetime to begin producing more news and information shows aimed at women, and he stepped up the network's branding efforts by launching a major consumer ad campaign.
Shortly after McCormick was appointed president and chief operating officer (COO), Pat Fili left to take charge of ABC's daytime programming. She was replaced by Judy Girard of WNBC in New York as senior vice-president of programming and production. By April 1993 Lifetime was reaching 57.2 million homes and broadcasting seven hours of original programming daily. The network's original programming budget increased by 50 percent between 1992 and 1993, and in 1994 Lifetime announced that it would spend between $50 and $60 million on original movie productions.
Lifetime also made a major programming change in mid-1993 when it dropped its Sunday-only block of medical programming. The move freed up Sundays for more popular programming, allowing the network to counter-program the sports events and shows that dominated that day. Lifetime's new Sunday programming focused on events and was anchored by movies at 6:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. "Lifetime Magazine," the network's news show produced by ABC News and hosted by ABC News correspondent Lisa McRee, aired at 10:00 p.m. on Sunday.
By 1994 it was clear that Lifetime Television was a leading cable network. It ranked eighth among basic cable networks in prime time viewing and was first among basic cable networks in total daytime viewing among 18- to 49-year-old women. In April Viacom sold its one-third interest in Lifetime to its partners, Hearst and CapCities/ABC, for $317.6 million. By mid-1994 Lifetime was reaching 59 million households, and in August it achieved its highest ratings in prime time with a 1.4 rating.
At the beginning of the 1994-95 season, Lifetime resurrected the tag line, "Television for Women," and began using it extensively. Among newly acquired programs were 162 episodes of "Designing Women" from Columbia. The network also debuted a new hour-long series, "Barbara Walters: Interviews of a Lifetime," which offered two celebrity interviews per show from ABC News' library of Walters specials. In addition Lifetime committed to 52 weeks of "Good Housekeeping" programming to be produced by Hearst Corp. In March 1995 Lifetime debuted "Intimate Portraits," a series of one-hour profiles of accomplished women.
For 1995-96 Lifetime committed $100 million to original programming. The network had four dramas and a reality series in development for the coming year. It also announced that it would co-sponsor the USA Basketball Women's National Team and air more than 100 vignettes to be underwritten by other sponsors of the team. In mid-1996 ESPN and Lifetime announced that they would both carry the inaugural season of the National Basketball Association's new WNBA during the summer of 1997. As a result of its involvement with women's sports, Lifetime created a new sports division in April 1997.
During 1996 Lifetime continued to acquire the off-network rights to network series. It paid more than $450,000 per episode for the rights to the CBS series "Chicago Hope," and in August 1996 the network paid $600,000 per episode for the ABC series "Ellen." The acquisition of "Ellen" marked the first time that a cable network purchased a top-20 sitcom directly off its network run. "Ellen" was set to run on Lifetime starting in the fall of 1998.
In the second half of 1996 Dawn Tarnofsky was named Lifetime's new head of programming, replacing Judy Girard. Tarnofsky was formerly senior vice-president of creative affairs at 20th Century Fox Television. Her goal at Lifetime was to boost original programming from 50 percent of the network's schedule to 80 percent. For 1996 Lifetime aired about 1,500 hours of original programming. One of the first new programs launched under Tarnofsky was a two-hour original programming block called "The Place." Aimed at the 18 to 34-year-old female audience, "The Place" was dropped after a year for not reaching the older members of the 18 to 34-year-old segment. Tarnofsky also had the go-ahead to develop five series pilots.
Toward the end of 1997 Lifetime announced plans to launch its first spinoff network, Lifetime Movie Network, in the fall of 1998. The ad-supported network would be launched in both analog and digital formats and feature contemporary made-for-television films and miniseries from the network's library. The network also would run select theatrical films.
In February 1998 Lifetime won a heated bidding contest for the off-network rights to "Party of Five." The network paid $550,000-$650,000 per episode to Columbia TriStar Television Distribution, with the series set to run on Lifetime in the fall. Later in the year Lifetime acquired the second-cycle rights to another sitcom, "Caroline in the City," for about $300,000 per episode. Lifetime could air the series after its first cycle of syndication on TV stations and cable superstation WGN, starting in September 2002. Lifetime President Doug McCormick commented, "We've had a tremendous degree of success with sitcoms on Lifetime."
For the 1998-99 season, Lifetime selected Tuesday nights to showcase its new original series, consisting of one drama and two sitcoms. The hour-long drama, "Any Day Now," was produced by Spelling Entertainment Group and followed the relationship of a successful female African-American lawyer and her white homemaker friend in the South. Debuting in August, "Any Day Now" achieved a 1.9 rating, which represented a 21 percent increase over the same time period of the previous year. It was followed by two sitcoms: "Maggie," starring Ann Cusack, and "Oh Baby," featuring Cynthia Stevenson and Joanna Gleason.
Becoming Top-Rated Cable Network Under Carole Black's Leadership: 1999-2002
When it was announced at the end of 1998 that President and CEO Douglas McCormick would be leaving Lifetime, there was a great deal of discussion about whether the network would select a woman to replace him. Despite achieving strong ratings and increasing ad revenue for Lifetime, McCormick's five-year contract was not renewed by Lifetime's owners, The Walt Disney Co. and Hearst Corp. In February 1998 Carole Black, a local broadcaster who was relatively unknown to the cable community and Madison Avenue, was selected to head Lifetime Entertainment Services. Prior to joining Lifetime Black was president and general manager of KNBC, the NBC-owned and -operated station in the Los Angeles market.
When Black took over, Lifetime was rated the number one cable network among women aged 18 to 49 in both prime time and total-day viewing. For the 1999-2000 season, Lifetime introduced two new reality-based shows: "How Could It Happen," hosted by Melissa Etheridge, and "The Ruby Wax Show," which featured the British talk show host. Two other original series, "Any Day Now" and "Oh Baby," were renewed for second seasons of 22 episodes each, while another original series, "Maggie," was canceled. In mid-1999 Lifetime paid about $58 million, or $360,000 per episode, for 160 episodes of "Mad About You," which would begin airing on Lifetime in March 2002. The network also reached an agreement with ABC to rerun "Once and Again" episodes just three days after the new drama was shown on ABC. Other key aspects of Lifetime's 1999-2000 programming included 12 original movies and four documentaries. The network also announced the start-up of its own in-house production unit, which would produce primarily daytime shows.
Beginning in February 2000, Lifetime faced a new competitor for female viewers from Oxygen Media, a new network with the backing of Geraldine Laybourne and Oprah Winfrey, among others. New programming introduced by Lifetime included a game show, "Who Knows You Best," which was hosted by Gina St. John of "E! News Daily," and a reality-based series, "Love and Life," which followed real-life relationships. For the noon hour, Lifetime introduced "Lifetime Live," a news show produced by ABC News and co-hosted by ABC correspondent Deborah Roberts and Dana Reeve, the wife of actor Christopher Reeve. The network also relaunched its web site, www.lifetimetv.com.
Lifetime also continued to acquire off-network rights to such popular sitcoms as "Will and Grace," which would begin airing on Lifetime in the fall of 2005, and "The Nanny," which would start being shown on Lifetime in November 2002. In May 2000 Lifetime introduced a new public awareness campaign called "Our Lifetime Commitment: Strong Women." The series of public service announcements (PSAs) were designed to build self-esteem in teenage girls and to support their mothers and mentors.
In mid-2000 Lifetime's ratings showed significant strength. The network had the biggest prime time increase of the ten top-rated cable networks, and overall it ranked fifth for prime time behind USA, TBS, TNT, and Nickelodeon. Lifetime's prime time audience increased by 21 percent, from a 1.4 rating with one million households in 1999 to a 1.7 rating with 1.3 million households.
"Strong Medicine," a drama featuring women doctors serving women patients, debuted in July 2000. The Sunday night drama was the highest-rated new series launched in 2000 in prime time on ad-supported cable, averaging 2.0 after its first seven episodes. Overall, Lifetime ranked fourth among cable networks in prime time viewing for the fourth quarter of 2000, tied with USA Network and the Cartoon Network at a 1.7 rating. In total-day Nielsen ratings, Lifetime tied for second place. For 2000 the network's estimated annual ad revenue reached $570 million, fourth among cable networks behind ESPN, MTV, and Nickelodeon.
In January 2001 Lifetime finally unseated perennial winner USA Networks and became the top-rated cable network in prime time. The network achieved a 2.1 rating in large part on the strength of nightly movies and a trio of original Sunday series: "Strong Medicine," "The Division," and "Any Day Now." "The Division" debuted in January and focused on the lives of female detectives in San Francisco; it pulled a 3.1 rating and drew the largest audience of any basic cable original series premiere in 2000. The network also aired the original movie, "What Makes a Family," produced by Whoopi Goldberg and Barbra Streisand and starring Brooke Shields as a lesbian parent, in January.
Lifetime maintained its top-ranked position among cable networks throughout 2001, averaging a 2.0 rating for the year. Its original series, "Strong Medicine," was the highest-rated original drama on basic cable in 2001 with a 2.5 average household rating. During the year Lifetime extended its brand by publishing the first books under the Lifetime imprint and launching Lifetime Real Women, a digital network that featured reality-based programming. Ad revenue reached an estimated $715 million. Carole Black received numerous awards in 2001, including Fortune's Top 50 Women in Business, Business Week's Top 25 Managers of the Year, and People's 50 Most Beautiful People. She also was recognized by the National Organization of Women for Lifetime's "unmatched public affairs advocacy work."
At the end of the 2001-02 season Lifetime's popular series, "Any Day Now," completed its fourth season. The show's run came to an end after 88 original episodes, with new episodes averaging 1.6, 2.0, and 2.2 ratings during the first three seasons. In its fourth and final season the show averaged 2.8 through 12 installments. Lifetime planned to air reruns of the series starting in summer 2002.
For 2002 Carole Black increased Lifetime's programming budget to a record $300 million, and she doubled the marketing budget. A minor setback was encountered early in the year when executive vice-president of entertainment Dawn Tartofsky-Ostroff left the network to become president of UPN Entertainment. She was replaced later in the year by Barbara Fisher, who was formerly president of network programming for Universal Studios. New programming introduced in 2002 included the hour-long dramatic series "For the People," which debuted on the network's Sunday night block of dramas that also included "The Division" and "Strong Medicine," and an original movie starring Mia Farrow.
The network maintained its top ranking among cable networks for the first two quarters of 2002 and was available in 85 million households. It announced plans to extend its brand by publishing a Lifetime magazine and promised a new series for 2003 called "Final Justice," starring Erin Brockovich.
Principal Operating Units: Lifetime Television Network; Lifetime Movie Network; Lifetime Real Women; Lifetime Astoria Studios; Lifetime Online.
Principal Competitors: Oxygen Media Inc.; Rainbow Media Holdings Inc.