Luke Fetherston and Hannah Dodd in Flowers in the Attic: The Origin
Criminals, victims, gothic horror and of course, Christmas — Lifetime executives know what their audience wants, and they deliver in spades.
Zigzags. Curveballs. Rollercoaster rides. That's how executives at Lifetime describe their movies.
"It's sort of out there in the vernacular," says Amy Winter, executive vice-president and head of programming for Lifetime and LMN. "When people hear of a twisty-turny wild story, they'll say it sounds like a Lifetime movie. It's a story that delivers on unpredictability. It can go either way: good or bad, cautionary or inspiring."
Over the past four years, Lifetime has presented more made-for-TV movies — originals, acquisitions and output deals — than any other network. "Ripped from the headlines" crime is a big draw. "They love it when we take on a true story," Winter says, referring to Lifetime's mostly female viewership.
For example, the network recently premiered movies based on California mom Sherri Papini (played by Jaime King), who faked her own kidnapping, and on romance novelist Nancy Brophy (Cybill Shepherd), who wrote an essay titled "How to Murder Your Husband" and was later convicted of doing just that.
"Our women can do bad things as long as they have a point of view as to why they did it," says Tanya Lopez, executive vice-president of movies, limited series and original movie acquisitions for Lifetime and LMN. She says viewers want to see consequences and some resolution: "Has justice been served? Is there hope at the end?"
Victims also get their say. Elizabeth Smart, who was abducted as a teen and then presented her ordeal in the 2017 telefilm I Am Elizabeth Smart, partnered with Lifetime to executive-produce a documentary on Kara Robinson, who similarly escaped a rapist-serial killer. Ten more installments of the I Am series are in development.
Movies based on gothic horror from bestselling novelist V.C. Andrews (Flowers in the Attic) are popular, and Lifetime has an exclusive. This summer brings V.C. Andrews' Dawn, a four-movie series inspired by the Dawn Cutler books. "It's off the rails," Lopez says of the twisted tales, "and that's what people love."
It's not, however, all tales from the dark side. "It's always fun to watch the music icons," Lopez says. To that end, Mary J. Blige is partnering with Lifetime again on new movies inspired by her hits, coming June 10 and 17. Keyshia Cole executive-produces and plays herself in a new biopic premiering June 24, and Kelly Rowland returns this winter to star in the networks' as-yet-untitled fourth Merry Liddle Christmas movie. "That's the one time a year," Winter says, "when you want to make sure that they absolutely have a happy ending.
"People want to escape with great storytelling," she adds. "I always imagine a woman who's had a really busy day and just wants to sit down, pour a glass of wine, watch a good story and escape the normal."