Jumping from a broadcast network to a cable powerhouse might seem like a pretty good idea these days, and it is working out for Andrea Wong. She took over at Lifetime a little more than a year ago, leaving her role as ABC's head of alternative where she helped define “aspirational” unscripted with feel-good shows including Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and British import Dancing With the Stars.
Her mission at Lifetime: polish the brand. The one-time destination for women-in-peril movies-of-the-week is now the home of red-hot drama Army Wives and hit reality franchise Project Runway, which she poached from rival Bravo.
Wong tells B&C's Marisa Guthrie about her strategy to grow Lifetime, and what she thinks about ABC's reality lineup since she left.
The recent second-season premiere of Army Wives was the most-watched original series in the network's history, attracting 4.5 million viewers. How surprised were you by the numbers?
We could not be more thrilled. We were hopeful that it would come back strong. We knew the show really connected with women and really resonated with women. I think it's obviously the right time for a show like Army Wives.
You announced a pretty comprehensive slate of original programming at your upfront in April and this week picked up 13 episodes of the scripted comedy, Rita Rocks . How important is original programming to the Lifetime strategy?
I think original programming is critical because it is brand-defining for us. Shows like How to Look Good Naked and Army Wives, they're hopeful, they inspire, they entertain.
Are you anticipating any content changes with Project Runway?
We think it's just fine the way it is.
What kinds of things are you looking for on the unscripted front?
It's about distinctive brands and ideas that look and feel different. When you think about the values of a show like How to Look Good Naked, that's a show that inspires women, that resonates with them.
You've been at Lifetime for more than a year. What is your vision for the network and how has that evolved?
It's stayed pretty clear and decisive. I was lucky to walk into a place with an incredibly strong brand. I always wanted to make it brighter and more fun, and I think that's what we're doing.
Production costs on the cable side have traditionally been modest compared to broadcast budgets. But with more and more cable networks producing original programming, do you see production costs rising?
We're constantly trying to manage our production costs. At the same time, there are many changes and shifts in the world of content and the world of distribution, so there are challenges on many fronts.
With the upcoming premieres of I Survived a Japanese Game Show and Wipeout, both of which have contestants falling on their faces for money, ABC’s reality brand seems to have changed considerably since you were running that department.
I give then props for taking a chance and trying something completely different. That’s what we did with Dancing with the Stars.