Of all the events programming directors consider as they strategically map out television schedules, planning for the world to halt during a pandemic was not a scenario. Yet here we are, with much of the country hunkering down, glued to the unfolding disaster. At some point, though, even the hardest-core news junkies need a breather. Lifetime is happy to be that reprieve. Gena McCarthy, EVP, Unscripted Programming Lifetime, and Head of Programming, FYI, faced the challenge by pivoting quickly. "Lifetime leaped into very quick, very creative triage mode," McCarthy said from her home in Montclair, NJ as she shared with MediaVillage how she assessed what the cable station could do. The immediate result as the popular Married at First Sight concludes Season 10 is a spinoff. Married at First Sight: Couples' Campremieres May 20. The self-shot series follows couples from previous seasons. It was an ideal solution to the challenge of the crippling effect of work stoppage from the Coronavirus.
McCarthy explained, "many properties were in ongoing production when the shutdown happened, and those are the properties where we went into quick and clever problem-solving mode. Necessity sometimes is the mother of invention, and in between seasons of ongoing shows, there is an ongoing need for strategic premieres." And so she turned to turnkey shows, programs the network could efficiently air. That is not as easy as it sounds. Consider how many dozens of people are on a typical set, from craft services to directors, but now television needed to be created without the small army that supports it. "We are looking for things that are corona-proof, turnkey shows we could get on air, not just for the sake of putting things on air," McCarthy added. "We really believe people fell in love with these characters for a reason, and we are working very hard to be inventive and diligent to create a formula that can work in its own right," she said of Married at First Sight: Couples' Cam. "This is a great long-running spinoff."
Among the nine couples featured in the new series are Doug and Jamie from Season 1 (pictured above). Doug, who works in software sales, and Jamie, a former labor and delivery nurse, have a 2-year-old and are expecting a son in May. The birth will be televised. "She is an ob-gyn nurse very worried about the virus," McCarthy noted. "And she had already made plans to do a home birth." While the couples are shooting their own footage, the material will be edited, so though it is true to life and unfolding in real-time for each segment, none is live. Having that amount of control needs to rest with the network because very few women would want every moment of a birth broadcast.
"In a very, very small way, we are happy that we are able to produce supplemental income to the couples," McCarthy said. "Many have lost their jobs, and many are encountering Coronavirus in the real world. We are all so happy that we can keep some of our partners remotely working and with a paycheck." McCarthy is also planning to revive another fan favorite: Abby Lee Miller from Dance Moms. After seven season and three spinoffs, the public continues to have an appetite for Miller. The network is going to put out a call for viewers to submit dances, and Miller will judge these remotely. Abby's Virtual Dance Off will debut this summer and submissions are now open.
"As we brainstorm various properties, for us it is an opportunity to be experimental," McCarthy said as she added Lifetime wants shows " that have legs beyond the pandemic. We are looking short-term and long-term." As quarantines are extended, people bored at home will continue watching. And once they have the news they crave; they will need to exhale and lose themselves in fun shows.
"People are seeking the comfort of the known right now," McCarthy said. "Our goal is to continue to provide strong a viewer experience and the enjoyment of the Lifetime brand, and my hope is that by building out extensions of very popular, existing series, we will keep delivering entertainment and an escape for people who love these shows, and hopefully find new viewers. I want people to know there will be new content and to be as continual with premieres as we can make it."
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