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Lifetime should try to embrace its audience instead of run from it

April 29, 2010 | 12:42 pm

ARMYWIVES

Lifetime's new president, Nancy Dubuc, said one of her first priorities as she takes over the cable network aimed at women is to "take a close look at who the audience is."

Well, right now, it's a woman pushing 50 who most likely lives in flyover country.

So the question for Dubuc is whether she is going to embrace that audience or try to flee it like her predecessors.

If history -- and her stint at History Channel -- is any guide, odds are she will try to flee it. Everybody wants hot shows that get talked about among the hip and cool in New York and Los Angeles. Lifetime's "Army Wives" and "Drop Dead Diva" may be successful, but do you see them on the cover of Entertainment Weekly or US Magazine?

For almost 10 years now, Lifetime has been desperately trying to woo the Carrie Bradshaws of the world and leave the suburban housewife with three kids behind. It hasn't worked. All Lifetime has managed to do is alienate its core without attracting the younger viewers it so desperately wants.

Guess what? Procter & Gamble and Wal-Mart aren't just interested in the bold and the beautiful. Not everyone shops at Bergdorf Goodman or, gasp, even aspires to that. As for the standard industry babble that Madison Avenue pays more for younger viewers, Lifetime and other cable networks need to make the case that folks over 40 with families are just as valuable, if not more so.

Plus, with every cable network becoming interchangeable, perhaps Lifetime could stand out by trying to go after quality as opposed to schlock. Leave the shows about addictions, dating and dysfunction to everyone else and develop some shows that one doesn't have to be embarrassed about watching. There's nothing wrong with the occasional guilty pleasure, but it can't be the only thing on the menu.

No one is suggesting that Lifetime shouldn't try to compete for younger women. But instead of doing what previous regimes have done and try to get young in one bold move such as buying "Project Runway," do it gradually through original programming that can talk to the network's entire audience as "Army Wives" does. It took Leslie Moonves years before anyone wanted to pitch a sitcom to him that would appeal to younger viewers because the network had an image of being the place to go if you were selling Depends. No one really makes those jokes anymore.

-- Joe Flint

Photo: "Army Wives." Credit: Fred Norris / Lifetime

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