For Lifetime, 'Proof' is in the pedigree

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Renee Zellweger is reteaming with her "Chicago" producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron to executive produce "Living Proof," an original movie for Lifetime.

Toplining the movie is Harry Connick Jr., Zellweger's co-star in the upcoming feature "Chilled in Miami."

"Proof," from Sony Pictures TV, tells the true story of Denny Slamon (Connick), a UCLA doctor who developed the breast cancer drug Herceptin 2, and his relentless battle to keep the drug trials afloat and save the lives of thousands of women. It's based on a book by NBC medical correspondent Robert Bazell.

The caliber of talent involved in the film represents the evolution of network's original-movie strategy under Lifetime Networks president and CEO Andrea Wong and president of entertainment Susanne Daniels.

Daniels said that when she joined the network in September 2005, she became aware of the "loyalty and passion" viewers had for the network's original films.

"I recognized that there was an opportunity to go in a direction where we could reinvigorate the movies and in doing so reinvigorate the brand," she said. "I really wanted Lifetime to be the HBO for women in terms of movies."

In a few years, Lifetime has gone from making 60 original movies a year to 40 — but with the same budget, Daniels said. Her plans call for at least six a year to become what she's calling "red-carpet event movies."

"We're spending more for what's on the screen," she said. "We're trying to work with the best talent that we can."

Stars of recent and upcoming Lifetime movies include Emily Watson, Kim Basinger, Dermot Mulroney and Shirley MacLaine.

Zellweger, who will not appear in "Proof," first was shown the script by Zadan and Meron, who said they approached her knowing her interest in raising awareness of breast cancer issues. Coincidentally, it turned out that Slamon, the doctor at the center of the story, treated Zellweger's close friend and publicist Nanci Ryder.

"She read the script and jumped on board immediately," Meron said. "The whole goal of this movie is to bring even greater awareness to the problem that women face with breast cancer and to create this very high-profile event."

As for Connick, "we were always looking for the right project to do with him, and when we read the script, the first thing we said to each other was it would be a great role for Harry," Zadan said.

Zellweger was shooting "Miami" at the time and helped bring her co-star on board.

In another reunion of sorts, "Proof" is being helmed by Dan Ireland, who directed Zellweger in 1996's "The Whole Wide World." Vivienne Radkoff ("Tempted") penned the script and also will exec produce.

Zadan and Meron are exec producing through their Storyline Entertainment, which has a deal at SPT for longform projects.

"This powerful story addresses the urgency of today's need to find a cure," said Helen Verno, executive vp movies and miniseries at SPT.

"Proof," which will be shot in Connick's hometown of New Orleans, is set to air in October as the "programming centerpiece" of Lifetime's 14th annual public awareness campaign "Stop Breast Cancer for Life."

Zellweger next appears in the film "Appaloosa."

Connick most recently appeared in the film "P.S. I Love You." (partialdiff)
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