“I think we would like to be the first channel choice for women,” said Pat Fili, senior vice president, programming and production, for Lifetime Television. “We would like to feel when a woman turns on TV she goes to Lifetime, because she thinks there might be something she’d like to watch.”

Lifetime reaches for women viewers with a smorgasbord of new and repeated programming. During the day, it offers information and advice programs, featuring Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, Charlene Prickett, Jane Wallace, Linda Dano and Dee Kelly. Prime time includes the first-run comedy, “The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd”; the magazine series “Esquire: About Men, for Women”; reruns of such favorites as “Moonlighting,” “Spenser: for Hire” and “Cagney and Lacey”; movies; documentaries, and specials.

The 24-hour, six day-a-week basic cable network, a venture of Hearst/ABC-Viacom Entertainment Services, is available on more than 4,600 cable systems throughout the nation, serving more than 46 million households. It was born six years ago, the result of a merger between Daytime, a four-hour-per-day weekday service, and the Cable Health Network, a 24-hour service offering programs on personal and family health.


(On Sundays the channel takes a different look, with programming for physicians and other medical professionals from Lifetime Medical Television.)

“We’re evolving out of a talking heads, pretty dry informational programming, which was really an economic limitation when we were younger,” said Tom Burchill, prrsident and CEO.

“Now, we’re getting a little more grown up and have a little more financial muscle, thanks to the support of the cable operators. I think the traditional sexist view is that women only deserved informational shows. We found women like romance, comedy and drama. Our strategy is to be a little more informationally explicit during the daytime and to lighten up at night and weekends.”

When Fili came aboard Lifetime two years ago, the first thing she did was rescue “Molly Dodd” from oblivion after NBC canceled the critically acclaimed series starring Blair Brown as a divorced, middle-class New York woman.

“I was a big fan of the show,” said Fili. “It was such a quality show it would put us on the map with both the creative community, as well as the viewer. It also gave us a goal. If you say ‘We’re the network that brought you back “Molly Dodd” in original episodes,’ it sets a standard for the network.”

Lifetime premiered 13 new episodes of “Molly Dodd” last April and begins another 26 new episodes Friday at 10:30 p.m. The series has proved so successful for the network that Lifetime is planning one full night of original programming for late 1991.

The first of its two original movies, “Stop at Nothing,” premieres in July. Four months later, it will begin to air a package of 42 Orion feature films, including such box office hits as “Bull Durham,” “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” and “Married to the Mob.”

This past February, Lifetime debuted its first game shows: “Supermarket Sweep,” an updated version of the old favorite, and “Rodeo Drive,” featuring three contestants answering questions about celebrities for big bucks and glitzy prizes. The shows air Monday-Friday from 6 to 7 p.m.

“We wanted more entertainment,” said Fili. “We are very successful with our daytime informational programming. We have ‘Attitudes,’ which has been on the air now for three years, and we just introduced Jane Wallace, a very strong role model who deals with women’s issues head-on. We wanted to add a little entertainment to the mix, and game shows are very, very popular with women.”

Also popular, as well as being critical successes, are Lifetime’s documentaries. In February, Timothy Busfield of “thirtysomething” hosted a special on children and divorce; last month’s “Hilary Is in Hiding,” examined the complex custody fight between Dr. Elizabeth Morgan and Dr. Eric Foretich over their 7-year-old daughter. This year Lifetime has also aired news updates and specials dealing with the controversial abortion issue.

“If you say you’re a network for women, then you must deal with issues, whether they’re controversial or not,” said Fili. “We decided the abortion issue had become very polarized. What we are trying to do is not to make up minds but open minds.”

Though Lifetime may be pro-woman, it’s not anti-male, Fili said. It’s chosen its prime-time series for their universal appeal. “As we go into the evening hours, women tend to watch TV with their families and husbands,” said Fili. “We want programming that appeals to women but is something that doesn’t turn off men. Obviously, ‘Molly Dodd’ has a male following, as does ‘Moonlighting.’ ” Also included in that category are “L.A. Law” and “The Tracey Ullman Show,” which Lifetime will repeat beginning in September, and “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show,” set to be rerun beginning in June, 1991.

Besides the premiere of “Molly Dodd,” Lifetime will be airing several specials this month, which happens to be National Cable Month, including the award-winning “Atomic Shakespeare” episode of “Moonlighting” (8 p.m. April 6); and the one-woman comedy show, “Elayne Boosler: Party of One” (11 p.m. Friday).

“Attitudes,” with Linda Dano and Dee Kelly, travels to Paris the week of April 9 to introduce the latest Parisian fashions, and select episodes of “The Jane Wallace Show” and “Attitudes” will be devoted to environmental issues in recognition of Earth Day (April 22).

With its burgeoning schedule of series, movies and specials, Burchill said, Lifetime is looking at ways of expanding into Sunday. “We’re trying to explore other ways and means to distribute the medical TV programming. But until we have a satisfactory venue, it will continue on Sunday.”

Besides, said Burchill, the medical programming has become a “happy dilemma” for Lifetime. Not only has it “clicked” with the medical community, but consumers tune in for an inexpensive second opinion of their ailments.

“It’s doing very well,” said Burchill. “We would love to have six more days of that programming.”

Recently, Lifetime outlined plans to offer commercially sponsored TV programs on health care topics that would be replayed throughout the day in the waiting rooms of pediatricians, obstetricians and family practitioners.