If there’s one thing the Lifetime network has proven to be surprisingly adept at, it’s embracing whatever they think their audience is expecting from them – be it the early nineties tagline of “Television for Women” or a recent turn to mostly bad but still deeply entertaining reality programming (hi, Dance Moms). That ability to pivot has undoubtedly helped the network adapt to changing times – the network turns twenty-five this year, a birthday that should be celebrated with one hell of a girls’ night out – and provide programming that both serves their current fans and helps bring in new ones.
But even better? Lifetime has finally learned to laugh at itself, aligning itself with the joke, rather than turning away from it. For a network once known for features with names like Mother, May I Sleep With Danger? and She’s Too Young, it’s only fitting that Lifetime has decided to embrace its own camp factor for good – especially now that it comes it the form of a Kristen Wiig– and Will Ferrell-starring “secret” feature that sounds like the unholy love child of The Hand That Rocks The Cradle and Single White Female.
The Hollywood Reporter shared yesterday – on April Fools’ Day, no less, though this story is of the true variety – that Wiig and Ferrell, along with 90210 star Jessica Lowndes, recently shot a secret Lifetime film titled A Deadly Option. The campy send-up of Lifetime’s normal fare has it all – trusting dumb-dumbs, some kind of evil lady, a baby (maybe?), and a semi-home invasion. THR explains that “Ferrell and Wiig star in the dramatic thriller as a successful couple who house and care for a pregnant woman (played by 90210 alum Jessica Lowndes) with the hopes of adopting her unborn child – then things quickly go awry. The movie is described as campy and fun and a contemporary wink at the genre…”
Oh, my God, I bet you anything that there is not a baby, and that instead, there is just murder.
The film, directed by Rachel Lee Goldenberg (who previously directed an actual TV movie titled Escape From Polygamy) and written by Andrew Steele (The Spoils of Babylon) is expected to arrive on the channel sometime this summer. It’s a major coup for the channel – real stars! good buzz! – but it’s also a strong continuation of Lifetime’s new interest in guffawing loudly at its own offerings.
Back in September, the network memorably launched a kitschy, hilarious “unauthorized biography” that chronicled the rise and fall of beloved Saturday morning series, Saved By The Bell (it was, of course, called The Unauthorized Saved By The Bell Story) and all but lit social media on actual fire. It was a goofy, awkward offering that people ate up with a spoon – including myself – and Lifetime appeared to be well-aware that they were giving their viewers something silly to watch, not something serious. They were in on the joke.
Earlier that same year, the network premiered their Christina Ricci–starring feature, Lizzie Borden Took An Ax, a very loose look at the life (and deaths) of the storied American murderess. That film has now spawned its own recurring series – The Lizzie Borden Chronicles – which is literally using the tagline “she’s got an ax to grind!” to ensnare viewers. It’s campy and weird and terrible and brilliant.
Still, Lifetime hasn’t totally completed its metamorphosis into campy network – and, frankly, I doubt it ever will – and it continues to offer up the kind of television movies A Deadly Adoption will skewer (a recent look at the network’s schedule included listings for Cleveland Abduction, The Craigslist Killer, and The Wife He Met Online, though there is also a hefty emphasis on their very popular Flowers In The Attic series, which is its own brand of camp). Shows like Dance Moms and Born In the Wild round out their series offerings. And then there are the biographical films like the widely criticized The Brittany Murphy Story and the embattled Whitney Houston movie, Whitney.
Lifetime will never become a purely comedic network, but they’re finally starting to show off their sense of humor. Hey, it’s not just television for women anymore.