Lifetime uses Starz power for TV movies

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Lifetime Networks has joined with Starz Media to produce original TV movies and distribute them internationally.

The co-production deal kicks off with three titles: "True Confessions of a Hollywood Starlet," starring singer JoJo and Valerie Bertinelli; "Queen Sized," featuring Nikki Blonsky in her first starring role since "Hairspray"; and the previously announced "Wisegal," which Jason Gedrick has come aboard to star in opposite Alyssa Milano (HR 9/14). All three are set to air in 2008.

This is Lifetime's second major international co-production deal following the April announcement of its partnership with French broadcaster TF1 International. Lifetime president of entertainment Susanne Daniels said the network had learned that Starz executives were looking to do more original productions and decided to approach them about a partnership.

"They really sparked to these projects," Daniels said of the three movies. "So far it's a great working relationship. Hopefully it will lead to other projects together."

She added that the deal is "innovative" for Lifetime because the network will have co-ownership of the movies with Starz — "It's the beginning of Lifetime building up a movie library" — and that it's a different model from how Lifetime has produced its original movies in the past (since 1990, the network has produced 184 original movies). Daniels added that the deal was a "team effort," praising vps original movies Joey Plager and Arturo Interian and business affairs consultant Debbie Stasson.

Starz Media has been making a concerted effort to expand into TV movies for primetime. The company also has partnerships with ABC, Sci Fi Channel, Cartoon Network, BET and Starz Entertainment.

Starz Media will handle worldwide distribution of all three Lifetime titles, including home entertainment through its Anchor Bay Entertainment. Starz also has a three-month window starting in the third year of the deal in which to air the movies on one of its pay channels.

"We are committed to partnering with major television networks to produce and distribute audience-pleasing programming, and this new deal with Lifetime is certainly an outstanding example of that," Starz Media president and COO Kent Rice said.

"Confessions," based on the novel by Lola Douglas, stars JoJo as a superstar teen actress whose life is turned upside down when she is sent to live incognito with her offbeat aunt (Bertinelli) in the suburbs after a stint in rehab and must adjust to life out of the spotlight. The movie will be helmed by actor-director Tim Matheson from a script written by Elisa Bell. The executive producers are Barbara Lieberman and Jon Maas.

"Queen Sized," premiering Jan. 5, is the true story of an overweight teen (Blonsky) who takes a stand against bullying, becomes her school's homecoming queen and ends up with more than just a crown. Peter Levin will direct from a script by Rodney Johnson. Bob Sertner and Frank Von Zerneck are executive producing.

"Wisegal," inspired by the true story of Patty Montanari, centers on a woman (Milano) who becomes a trusted confidante to the Mafia only to confront the heartbreaking reality that her romance with the captain of a Brooklyn crime family (Gedrick) has put her children in jeopardy. "Wisegal" is executive produced by Daniel H. Blatt, Joe Pistone, Leo Rossi and Anthony Melchiorri. Jerry Ciccoritti directs from a script written by Shelley Evans.
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