Cable's channel for women is about to get a makeover.
Nancy Dubuc, who transformed the History Channel from a network best known for old World II documentaries into a launch pad for popular reality shows that grab big ratings, has been named president and general manager of Lifetime Television.
The 41-year-old executive will keep her job as president of History Channel as well. Both History Channel and Lifetime are owned by A&E Television Networks, a joint venture of Walt Disney Co., Hearst Corp. and NBC Universal.
Dubuc is succeeding Andrea Wong, who had a mixed record as head of Lifetime. While the channel has had success with original movies under Wong, its costly gamble — snagging the fashion show "Project Runway" from rival Bravo — did not provide the huge numbers the network wanted.
Lifetime also has a couple of solid original shows in "Army Wives" and "Drop Dead Diva," but nonetheless has seen its audience shrink over the last few years. One of the oldest cable networks, Lifetime once had the female audience to itself, but now Oxygen, Bravo and even broader-based networks such as USA and TNT are going after the female audience more aggressively.
More competition is on the horizon. Next year, Oprah Winfrey will, in partnership with Discovery Communications, launch OWN, which is also expected to be aimed at women.
"There are many more channels fighting for bigger audiences especially in the female space," Dubuc said in an interview.
One of Dubuc's priorities will be to borrow from her History Channel playbook and develop hit reality shows for Lifetime.
"We most definitely need to find a way to be successful in reality," she said, noting that such shows are cheaper to produce than dramas. Programs she championed at History Channel include "Pawn Stars," a reality show about people who go searching for the odd and arcane at pawnshops, "Ax Men," about loggers and "Ice Road Truckers," about truckers who drive on ice.
While some have criticized Dubuc's tenure at the History Channel because she moved the network away from traditional documentary programs, the shift paid at the bottom line. This month, History Channel posted some of its best ratings.
The network has not totally backed away from history, however. It is airing a documentary series "America: The Story of Us," which premiered to strong ratings. But many critics have blasted the series for its sometimes facile portrayal of historical events
Dubuc declined to lay out her strategy for Lifetime. She said she did not plan to turn the network into all-reality-all-the-time. "Lifetime's legacy is built on its movies and scripted series," she said.