Cover story: Lifetime gets real

"Dance Moms," which was renewed for a second season on Tuesday, reeled in about 1.8 million viewers last episode.

Story highlights

  • Lifetime is not just about made-for-TV movies aimed at women anymore
  • The network is gravitating towards original programming and reality shows
  • Shows like "Dance Moms" and "Russian Dolls" trade on existing reality formats
Lately, Lifetime has been looking a little different.
No, the network hasn't traded in the made-for-TV love stories that first charmed the network's loyal female viewers. It has, however, adopted a new slew of original programming designed to help Lifetime stay competitive in the age of reality TV.
To that end, stage moms, amateur fashion designers, nannies and criminals have all found a home on the network.
"Lifetime, for years, thrived on reruns and made for TV movies that told women's stories," said Andy Dehnart, the editor of "It makes so much more sense to let real women tell their stories in reality TV shows than scripted shows. Those stories are more accessible and more consequential -- and often more entertaining."
By offering more reality programming, Lifetime is merely bearing witness to what the data continues to show -- unscripted shows bring in viewers.
According to a recent report by The Nielsen Company, reality shows draw the largest share of the U.S. TV audience, 56.4% for the 2010-2011 season, up from 47.9% the year before.
Lifetime has found success with "Dance Moms," a reality show about young dancers and their moms, which was renewed for a second season on Tuesday. The "Toddlers and Tiara's"-like dance show, set in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, reeled in about 1.8 million viewers its last episode.
Meanwhile, about 2.4 million people tuned in for "Project Runway" last Thursday, a show which Lifetime acquired in 2009.
"Getting "Project Runway" was a good kick start," Dehnart added. "It helped them figure out what they wanted to be. Networks tend to make this change when it makes sense for them. ... We're still in the early stages of this wave."
"Project Runway" spin-offs, including "Project Runway All Stars" and "Project Accessory," will debut in the coming months.
"America's Supernanny," a new, unscripted series featuring an "American homegrown nanny," and "America's Most Wanted," which the network picked up earlier this month after Fox canceled it, will both air later this year, according to Lifetime's website.
It's not odd to see series like "Dance Moms" and "America's Supernanny," which draw on the formats of other successful shows, appear on a different network, Dehnart said.
"There's all kinds of duplication in reality," he said. "How many Jersey-set shows do we have