After approximately 738 seductions, 732 betrayals, and more than a few Heather Locklear sightings, Lifetime is celebrating
25 years in the TV-movie business. (And with Emmy-nominated projects like Bonnie & Clyde and The Trip to Bountiful, the brand continues to expand.) So, like a lover scorned, EW dramatically barged in on A+E Networks senior VP of original movies Tanya Lopez and VP of original movies Arturo Interian to ask them about making those memorable moments from 360 films and counting.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig are starring in A Deadly Adoption [which airs June 20 at 8 p.m.] How did this happen?
TANYA LOPEZ I don’t know if we’ll ever know whether it was a bet from a group of friends or he really wanted to do it…. We weren’t clear if it was going to be authentic, if it really was going to be this murder story…. It’s not a comedy. And it’s well-done.
ARTURO INTERIAN It’s not the Scary Movie parody of a Lifetime movie. He wanted to legitimately do a Lifetime sexual thriller…. The initial plan was to put on the air with zero fanfare. Just sneak it on. You were going to see promos that were kind of oblique, it’s A Deadly Adoption. A thriller promo. You’re not sure who’s in it. It was interesting that the story leaked and that’s what threw us. We thought we had it under wraps.
Which of these words—Abducted! Accused! Affair! Fatal! Obsession! Secrets!—is too overused to be in the title of another Lifetime movie?
LOPEZ “Obsession.” “Fatal.”
INTERIAN “Fatal” is a tough one. We have “Fatal”-ized everything by this point.
LOPEZ “Abducted” could still work—we did Abducted: The Carlina White Story.
INTERIAN It’s something we’ve done a couple times…. But I think it would be a high bar to do another one.
LOPEZ If instead of calling it Flowers in the Attic we call it Dark Secrets of a Family in an Attic, it automatically feels like the old Lifetime versus the current, relevant Lifetime. Those key buzzwords often give off a feeling of “I’ve seen that movie”—or it feels like a movie that is more like comfort food rather than something that feels contemporary.
What’s the fastest green light a movie has ever received?
LOPEZ The fastest movie was William & Kate. They got engaged, we greenlit the movie in the room and just started production on an outline. Within six months, it was on the air. You have to do things that are in the zeitgeist fairly quickly—certainly if it’s a crime story. Jodi Arias: Dirty Little Secret was crazy. We wanted to get it on before the verdict came out.
INTERIAN That one was insane. I was on set and the verdict was being read, and we were ready to rewrite the end of our movie depending on the verdict.
LOPEZ We actually filmed a second ending for Drew Peterson: Untouchable.
INTERIAN We have an alternate ending that no one’s ever seen where he gets off…. We had a movie about Andrew Luster, the Max Factor heir who was convicted of these terrible druggings and rapings. And he was caught by Dog the Bounty Hunter during filming, so I remember trying to find a Dog the Bounty Hunter look-alike in Vancouver—has to shoot tomorrow!—to capture our actor. That was crazy.
Can you recall the funniest note you’ve given to a producer?
LOPEZ We used to have conversations about the Nora Roberts movies. Because Nora Roberts’ books would inherently have that sort of romance, throwback, bit of Harlequin melodramatic, we would say, “He’s gotta take his shirt off.”
INTERIAN I do remember, one movie it was freezing cold out, this poor actor is washing his car, it’s, like, 30 degrees, he’s got a six-pack. And it’s like, “I don’t care if he gets frostbite! Get his shirt off! He’s washing that car with his shirt off!”
Is there a movie that you couldn’t land and it ended up on the big screen?
INTERIAN We went after Fifty Shades of Grey for five seconds.
LOPEZ We had the manuscript, and no pitches had been set in Hollywood yet.… We had a conversation about if we could actually do it. At the end of the day, what would it look like on an ad-supported network?
INTERIAN Because it was, like, 40 pages of plot and, like, 160 pages of sex.
LOPEZ What were we showing? Just neck up and a lot of…
INTERIAN Facial reactions? [Laughter]
LOPEZ Before we even got out of the gate, the offers started coming in. We say it got away, but I don’t even know that it was ever ours…. But before we even got out of the gate the offers started coming in. So that one we say it got away, but I don’t know that it was ever ours… We went heavy after The First Phone Call from Heaven, which was the Mitch Albom book. And it ultimately went to Warner Bros. But we felt like on our network it would have done really well—
INTERIAN We did go after The Shack [William P. Young’s 2007 novel] hard. You wouldn’t know it by some of our titles, but we’ve had tremendous success in faith-based space and The Shack had a real plot to it. Ultimately it went to features, but we thought that could have been a really special movie, maybe for Christmas or Easter for us.
What is the tipping point for a social issue so that it might get the Lifetime movie treatment? If it’s already been on Law & Order, does that help or hurt its chances?
INTERIAN Actually, in some cases we’ve been ahead of the curve. In 2006 we did the movie called A Girl Like Me: The Gwen Araujo Story, which was about a transgender teen. Something like Human Trafficking, which was years ago, was ahead of the curve. Yes, some of them historically are now kind of campy, but we always try to be ahead of the social curve.
LOPEZ There are several movies we feel like that the audience, interestingly enough, was there before it became a public social issue. And that’s really interesting to note that the audience may not be ready to speak about it, but they want to think about it. And the movies give them an opportunity to do that. We did a movie called The Pregnancy Pact that scored a high rating. The idea was pregnancy was on the rise and they came to it in a voyeuristic way. But the issue was top of mind for women and for young girls, yet it wasn’t something that was being talked about. That happens more often than not. And I think we’ve continued to do that.
INTERIAN Whenever we take on a social issue, the conversation is, “How is it forward thinking? How is it moving this conversation forward?”
LOPEZ We talk about that a lot: “Now we’re giving you the platform. What are you using it for?” So that we’re not just saying, “Wow, a lot of girls got pregnant there.” It was much more: “What is our call to action? Our call to action is awareness.” And it’s not in an overt after-school special way. And that calls to how much smarter the movies have to be, so that people don’t feel they are being preached to, or that it is a clear social issue. Which is how I think movies in the past were developed.
INTERIAN That’s for sure. In the past you would sit around and just say, “What horrible s— could happen to somebody?” Especially teens. Teens were the bullseye. This was years ago—back in the old days.
You’re doing these unauthorized biopics about shows like Saved by the Bell and Full House. [On Monday, the network announced that it had ordered an unauthorized movie about the Beverly Hills, 90210 cast.] You saw the immediate internet reaction to Full House; Bob Saget said that the actor dressed as Dave Coulier “looks like Dave just ate 19 rotwurst.” How important are looks in your casting of these movies? Do you go for someone who resembles Bob Saget first or someone who captures the essence of him and if you squint it kinda-sorta looks like him?
LOPEZ Was I surprised [by the reaction]? No. Entertained? Absolutely.
INTERIAN They have to look somewhat like the person.
LOPEZ That is probably becoming more important than—
INTERIAN You’ll see it on Twitter. But that’s true of any biopic, where you are doing a real figure and the first thing on Twitter when the casting comes out: “That looks nothing like John F. Kennedy!”
LOPEZ Everyone is a casting agent. I could go down to Starbucks: “What do you think?” By the way, they cannot choose what Starbucks coffee they want, but they can tell you if that’s the right John Stamos. We do our best. We’re not looking to mock anyone. The point of these movies, for the most part, are love letters to these shows. And we’re not disclosing any deep, dark secret, because these days if there were any, they’ve already be disclosed.
INTERIAN With those unauthorized [movies], that’s definitely the agenda—the fun of it. It’s not out to play “Gotcha!”
LOPEZ It really is to get the dialogue going. Is that how you remembered the scene? And it does exactly that.
What’s the weirdest pitch that you’ve ever heard for a Lifetime movie?
INTERIAN Someone came in and pitched Speed with a jogger, where they attached a bomb to this Olympic runner’s chest, and the female bomb-disposal person had to run alongside this guy because he couldn’t go below seven miles an hour or something. And it was in San Francisco: “Oh my God, what if he slows down on a hill?” That was one that I was like, “Really?”
LOPEZ After the Grumpy Cat movie came out, it was like Dr. Dolittle’s office.
INTERIAN There were a couple Pomeranians that came in, but the one that I remember was Jif the Pomerian and he was the antithesis of Grumpy Cat. Jif’s an incredibly happy Pomeranian…. We got pitched Happy Cat—all kinds of cat variants. And there was one horse pitch that I didn’t take, because I don’t even know what that would be. There was one that was a kangaroo heist at a zoo. I was like, “No, we’re not going to do that.”