An Open Letter to Lifetime: Get Your S**t Together

by: Phil Siegel

Dear Lifetime,

What is up with you lately? You’re supposed to be Television for Women, but you’ve turned into Television for Trainwrecks. Bristol Palin, Lindsay Lohan, Rosanne Barr, Kim Kardashian. These are your network stars?

So far this year, you’ve been bombarded with bad press, thanks to Lindsay Lohan’s inability to be a professional actress exhaustion on the set of TV movie Richard & Liz, the poor abysmal ratings of Bristol Palin’s new “reality” show Life’s a Tripp, and casting Kim Kardashian in Drop Dead Diva. These are ratings grabs, and they won’t help you long-term.

I thought you had gotten back on track after the ratings woes of the past. Poaching acquiring Project Runway from Bravo was not the genius move you hoped. Letting go of Golden Girls reruns for How I Met Your Mother also backfired. Meanwhile, Oxygen and Bravo are becoming go-to networks for younger generations of women. It’s hard out there. But your recent decisions reek of desperation. You know I respect Kim K., but she is not known for her acting. Casting her on your lovable dramedy Drop Dead Diva is an unabashed publicity stunt. Even the show’s creator admitted it. Lots of shows do stunt-casting, but putting a tabloid magnet on DDD was such an obvious ploy for ratings, it’s laughable and dings the image of such a cute show.

Unfortunately, Kim Kardashian is the least of your problems.

It turns out that you pushed for Lindsay Lohan to get cast as Elizabeth Taylor against the wishes of the producer. I doubt that was because of her sterling performances in I Know Who Killed Me or Machete. Let’s be real: you wanted to ride the vodka-stained, cigarette-burned coattails of Lohan’s publicity in hopes that it would lead to a ratings bonanza. Controversy can breed ratings. Lohan hosted the most-watched episode of SNL this season. But is it worth the bad press she’s generated, the strain on the crew, the possibility that you are squashing the potential of what could’ve been a decent movie about a beloved icon? SNL was a special situation because it was live and anything could happen. Richard & Liz won’t amass that level of curiosity because all of Lohan’s screw-ups will be fixed in post-production.

When you actually look at Lindsay’s career, you’ll notice that her name and kajillion mentions on Perez Hilton haven’t lured in audiences. She hasn’t starred in a movie that made over $30 million since Herbie: Fully Loaded in 2005. Her stints on Glee and Ugly Betty delivered no ratings bumps. Let’s say Richard & Liz does gangbusters in the ratings, do you think most of those viewers will tune in to other Lifetime shows? Casting Lindsay Lohan in your movie is like being the nerd who threw a party when his parents were out of town. Cool kids came over, trashed your house and drank your dad’s liquor, but that doesn’t mean they’re your friends. And now you’re stuck cleaning up the mess.

Even if Richard & Liz does mediocre numbers, that’ll be a blockbuster compared to Life’s a Tripp. The world’s most hypocritical unwed mother, Bristol Palin, bombed with her new docuseries. Reviews were scathing, and the show only scored a 0.2 A18-49 rating and 726,000 viewers in its debut. This shouldn’t have been a surprise. Remember the last reality show you aired with a polarizing celebrity? It was called Rosanne’s Nuts, and it had Rosanne Barr moving to Hawaii to buy a macadamia nut farm. Because if there’s anything that says “real life,” it’s that premise. No wonder the show tanked.

Life’s a Tripp was such a transparent ratings grab. Bristol brought Dancing with the Stars to record ratings, and you hoped her show would do the same for you. You couldn’t even come up with a good concept for her though. You could’ve focused on her work as an advocate for abstinence or working with teen moms. You know, doing something of substance. But instead, you decided to show her frolicking around LA, arguing with liberals Palin-haters, and fighting with her babydaddy. You chose to fan the flames of gossip rather than show a different side of her. You took the easy, sleazy way out.

I get it. Ratings = revenue, and at the end of the day, you have to make money. You’re not the first network to do this. But your message has always been about empowering women, providing programming that speaks to them and enriches their lives. Scripted shows Army Wives and Drop Dead Diva – even The Client List – feature strong, interesting women. Your TV movies have been the butt of jokes for decades, but at least they portray women trying to take control of their lives. Lindsay Lohan and Bristol Palin just complain and point fingers when bad things happen. All broad appeal Rosanne Barr had was squandered when she went off the political deep-end. Average women – a.k.a your audience – cannot relate to these people. I don’t have a simple solution for improving ratings. It takes time and trying new things. But Life’s a Tripp, Richard & Liz, and Rosanne’s Nuts will not help you in the long run.

If you still want to be television for women, then think about the women you put on television.

Sincerely,

Phil

P.S. And what’s with that new blob logo?

Philip Siegel grew up in New Jersey, just down the block from a veritable Real Housewife. He graduated from Northwestern University and promptly moved out to Los Angeles, where he became an NBC page. Phil likes to think that the character of Kenneth on 30 Rock is loosely based on his life rights. Currently, he works at a major Chicago advertising agency by day while he writes novels at night and during his commute sandwiched in between colorful characters on the El. His plays have been performed on stage and radio, and he has published articles about gay line dancing bars and the French box office, among other fundamental topics. Read his blog at philipsiegelwrites.blogspot.com and follow him on Twitter at @FillupSeagull.

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