Since its launch in 1997, Romance Classics has evolved from an all chick flick channel, to WE: Women’s Entertainment, broadcaster of a virtual bouquet of lifestyle programming for women. Although WE is still mostly movie-based – 75% of its programming is fiction – the reality element is growing. Judith Orlowski, director of program planning and acquisitions at WE says, "We’re a broad-based women’s entertainment network. We offer women entertainment, and we’re finding that [lifestyle programs] really work for us."
Take Cool Women, the 13 x 30-minute series produced with L.A.’s Red Bird Productions that moves into its second season on WE in July. The US$150,000 per episode series profiles women who have made great contributions to the communities in which they live. Each episode spotlights a different woman – a breast cancer surgeon, a NASA scientist, a pediatrician who travels the Appalachians helping uninsured children. Debbie Allen of Red Bird, executive producer of the series, explains, "A cool woman knows how to love, live and dream. She knows that in making her dreams come true, she can impact her community – whether it’s one block or a whole nation."
WE, the Long Island-based sister channel to American Movie Classics, supports an even mix of in-house production and reversioned acquisitions or copros. According to Orlowski, "We don’t pick up anything cold. We always find a way to tweak it to fit with the look of the channel." This rebranding is handled by WE’s internal production company, Silk Purse Productions. Orlowski explains: "It’s named after the phrase ‘to make a silk purse from a sow’s ear’ and that’s exactly what we do here." WE usually pays between US$3,000 to $25,000 per half hour for acquisitions. Most purchases fall in the lower end ($3,000 to $10,000 per half hour) due to the additional cost of altering the program to fit the channel’s style. Adds Orlowski, "Our vision is reflected in the feel of our on-air presence. This appearance is vital to us."
Another of WE’s forays into the reality realm, the second installment of Journey Women Off the Map, will premiere on WE this February. It’s a 13 x 30-minute travel series that explores the motivations of daring women who abandon their lives to travel to exotic places. Says Orlowski, "We were really excited about Journey Women because it was our first real reality-based series. [Reality TV] is popular right now… and everyone wants a piece of the action." The two series were taped over a period of eight years, and chronicle the adventures of 26 different women. Last season’s series was acquired from the Women’s Television Network in Canada, for $15,000 to $75,000 per hour. Says Orlowski, "It was perfect for us. When WTN said they were looking for an American distributor, I responded, ‘where do I sign?’" The new season was coproduced with Toronto-based Gorica Productions. Says Orlowski, "We had more creative input on the second series. The episodes are split between American and Canadian women so that the series can be distributed in both the U.S. and Canada."
Orlowski says WE’s competitors – the Oxygen Network and Lifetime or, "anyone looking to captivate female eyeballs" – are distinguished from WE by a difference in mandate. "Competitors like Oxygen are information-based, whereas our programming is meant to entertain more than inform. We’re geared toward the working mom or the busy woman who, when she returns from an exhausting day, just wants to relax and be entertained." She adds, "we are selective with the programming we choose. It must fit or have the potential to fit the fluid, calm, environment we strive to create."
WE’s new line up includes Great Romances, a 13 x 30-minute series (acquired from the BBC) profiling famous couples. Winning Women (a coproduction from WE, L.A.’s NewStar Worldwide and M.N.M/Ice Age Productions) is one of WE’s only one-hour specials. Focusing on the achievements of women in extreme sports, the series was acquired for $150,000. Fashion Flashback is a four-part series (produced by MPI in Chicago) on the history of fashion. It’s hosted by Cindy Crawford, who, along with Faye Dunaway, Debbie Allen and Rachel Hunter, serves as one of WE’s official network spokeswomen.