Lifetime salutes more 'Wives'

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Lifetime Television has greenlighted a second season of its hit drama "Army Wives."

The network has ordered 13 episodes of the series, from the Mark Gordon Co. and ABC Studios, for Season 2, which will premiere in the spring.

"Wives" has become a breakout hit under Lifetime Networks president of entertainment Susanne Daniels, who joined the network in September 2005. It ranks as the highest-rated series in Lifetime's 23-year history, averaging 3.6 million total viewers so far at 10 p.m. Sundays. The show -- which debuted June 3 to 3.5 million viewers, the most ever for a Lifetime series premiere -- also stands as the top new cable drama of the year among the female demos of 18-34, 18-49 and 25-54.

"Wives" is just one of three scripted series that Lifetime is debuting this summer as part of an ambitious original programming strategy. The other two -- "Side Order of Life" and "State of Mind"-- are receiving a good deal of buzz as they head into their premieres at 8 and 9 p.m. Sunday, respectively, which will give Lifetime a three-hour block of original programming on the night.

"It couldn't have happened better that 'Army Wives' created a platform of viewers and momentum for 'Side Order' and 'State of Mind,'" said Daniels, who is expected to make the announcement about the "Wives" pickup today(thursday) during the network's portion of the Television Critics Assn. summer press tour at the Beverly Hilton. "We were just lucky to have a new show hit so fast."

For Daniels, the performance of "Wives" is a nice reward to cap off "two years of really hard work" since she joined the network. The first two scripted shows she greenlighted to air -- the comedy "Lovespring International" and the drama "Angela's Eyes" -- didn't make it to a second season.

"There was a lot of thinking that went into 'Army Wives' with the hope of it being a success," Daniels said, praising the production team, production values and cast, among others. "Most importantly, we felt that the show represented a point of view that wasn't on the air right now, and we thought that was what Lifetime should be doing (to make itself) distinct."

To that end, Daniels is continuing to look for projects that fill a void in terms of what's already on the air, keeping the women 18-49 demo in mind. She said she's hoping to pick up four to six scripted projects to pilot this year, with the goal of debuting two or three new series next summer.

Daniels added that she's also continuing to look for new reality projects in addition to such series as the returning "Lisa Williams: Life Among the Dead," saying that more announcements on unscripted shows also will come today at TCA. Asked what she sees as a good mix of scripted and unscripted projects, Daniels said it's more about looking at the competition -- from both broadcast and cable -- in terms of scheduling.

"What I'm really thrilled about is one of my internal goals when I got to the network: to make this a place that everyone I knew would want to watch and talk about," Daniels said. "That wasn't the case two years ago when I got here. ... While I still want (Lifetime to be) known for its movies, I also really want it to be known for its smart, relatable series."

For his part, ABC Studios president Mark Pedowitz said he's pleased that "Wives" got the second-season pickup.

"We're thrilled that 'Army Wives' will continue on Lifetime, where it's broken ratings records and set new standards for quality in cable drama," he said. "We're grateful for the support of Lifetime and the state of South Carolina, where the series is produced, and look forward to working with both partners on Season 2."

"Wives" is executive produced by Gordon; Deborah Spera, president of production at Gordon's company; Jeff Melvoin; and series creator Katherine Fugate. The series, which features an ensemble cast including Kim Delaney and Catherine Bell, is based on the book "Under the Sabers: The Unwritten Code of Army Wives," by Tanya Biank, who serves as a consultant.

Year-to-date, Lifetime is tied for third among all basic cable networks in primetime household ratings. In June, it was up 33% in women 18-34 and 13% in women 18-49 over a year ago.
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