Lifetime Taps Teen-Friendly Topper

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Look for a teen-friendly drama on Lifetime soon.

The network’s new programming chief, Susanne Daniels, hails from The WB and said she wants to bring the women’s cable network shows like those she developed for her former employer, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dawson’s Creek and Gilmore Girls.

“Lifetime has a very strong brand and a very strong loyalty with women – I just want to take advantage of that and create some serious programming not unlike shows with some of the stronger female characters that I developed at The WB,” said Daniels, who assumes a role as president, entertainment, Lifetime Entertainment Services, on Sept. 12.

Filling the programming slot has been on the to-do list for new President/CEO Betty Cohen since she took the reins in April.

Daniels replaces previous entertainment chief Barbara Fisher, who left in May 2004. For most of the time since then, series development was overseen by executive VP/general manager Rick Haskins, but Haskins left in June after he and the network could not agree on a contract extension.

With Lifetime gearing up to re-brand in the near future, the network will continue its quest for younger female viewers, while trying to keep its solid older fan base.

Lifetime has already been skewing younger with recent reality shows and movies featuring young actors, including this summer’s The Dive From Clausen’s Pier, which starred ex-Buffy actress Michelle Trachtenberg.

Lifetime still generates high ratings for its two current original series, Missing and Strong Medicine, but both are veteran players.

Lifetime has had a solid summer in the ratings, through Aug. 15, notching a 9% increase in total viewership over last summer (1.81 million total viewers in prime), but that’s largely due to the success of limited series Beach Girls and original movies.

Daniels has ample experience in programming to women. Just 29 when she became head of prime time series for The WB in 1994, she rose to head the entertainment division in 1998.

New series won’t exclude older women, she said. “My priority is to create a series for Lifetime that appeals to women in the key 18-49 demo but I certainly don’t want to alienate any of Lifetime’s audience and I have a feeling a show like Gilmore Girls wouldn’t,” she said

Daniels, who will be based in L.A., will oversee all programming on Lifetime and sister networks Lifetime Movie Network and Lifetime Real Women. Negotiations for the job moved quickly, but Daniels has been pondering a move to cable for some time.

“There’s been so much good work recently in the cable business in terms of original series development,” she said. “There seems to be a sense in cable…where a combination of the programming executives and the audience feel freer to take risks in terms of the content. And I think Betty Cohen is going to create an environment at Lifetime where risk-taking is encouraged.”

Prior to joining The WB, Daniels developed comedies including Martin and Living Single in two years as Fox Broadcasting’s Director of Comedy Development. Before that she spent two years as ABC’s director of variety, reality and specials. Daniels began her career as an assistant to Lorne Michaels on Saturday Night Live.

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