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TV vet to guide Lifetime lineup

September 04, 2008|Meg James | Times Staff Writer

Hoping to bootstrap on the success of "Army Wives," Lifetime Entertainment has enlisted a veteran TV executive as its new programming chief.

JoAnn Alfano, a former NBC development executive who helped guide such shows as "Will & Grace," "Scrubs" and "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," on Wednesday reported to work as Lifetime's executive vice president of entertainment. She will be in charge of programming and scheduling for Lifetime Television and its sister channel, Lifetime Movie Network.

Alfano, in some ways, is a real-life made-for-Lifetime story: The 49-year-old breast cancer survivor began her TV career two decades ago as a publicist on NBC's "The Cosby Show," and worked her way up through the network's drama and comedy programming ranks. She became president of Broadway Video Television, "Saturday Night Live" producer Lorne Michaels' firm, where she helped fashion the Tina Fey sitcom "30 Rock" for NBC. Last year, Alfano put out her own production shingle.

Now her challenge will be to select and nurture shows and movies that will continue to build on the ratings momentum of "Army Wives," the drama about military families that is among the highest rated shows on cable television and has helped Lifetime shed its frumpy image. And, after several years of management turnover, the network finally appears to be stabilizing.

It plans to add the popular "Project Runway" to its lineup -- pending, that is, a ruling from a New York court. NBC Universal sued to block the show's move from its current home on Bravo, which NBC owns.

"For me, this was about the direction that Lifetime is going and the work that they are doing," Alfano said in an interview. "The network has become very current, relevant and energized."

She replaces Susanne Daniels, who resigned in June as president but continues as a consultant to Lifetime, a joint venture of Walt Disney Co. and Hearst Corp. It was Daniels who recommended Alfano during a two-month search.

"I did a lot of vetting, and no one said a bad thing about JoAnn," Lifetime Chief Executive Andrea Wong said. "She has great creative instincts and abilities and she brings to Lifetime a strategic point of view and strong leadership skills."

Wong, a former ABC executive who joined Lifetime last year, said Alfano was particularly well suited for the job because she had worked in so many areas of the business. Wong has been looking to reinvigorate the network and bring in new and younger viewers with edgier fare.

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meg.james@latimes.com

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