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Jul 16, 2009

Project Lifetime - The reality is, to beat her competitors in cable TV, Andrea Wong has to put on a good show.

The reality is, to beat her competitors in cable TV, Andrea Wong has to put on a good show.


IT'S A SUNDAY EVENING in a deserted office building in midtown Manhattan and Andrea Wong, the 42-year-old CEO of Lifetime Networks, is midway through a dress rehearsal for a sales pitch. Wong isn't hyping a new star, or a new movie, or even a new series. She's touting an entire year's worth of programming and, if she succeeds, she'll secure the majority of Lifetime's ad revenue for an entire year. This is a mega-pitch, worth several hundred million dollars, and Wong, MBA '93, needs to nail it.

The pitch, running precisely 53 minutes, involves short speeches and a number of video clips. Wong and her staff are watching a clip from an original sitcom—Sherri —starring Sherri Shepherd, the boisterous actress who co-hosts The View.Sherri is explaining why she won't give her two-timing husband a second chance.

Wong's staff has devoted more than 200 meetings and 2 1/2 months of work to fine-tuning this presentation. They know this clip's punch line by heart, and even so, most of them chuckle. Wong doesn't crack a smile: The only question that matters now is whether ad executives will laugh.

In the coming week, Wong and her staff will shuttle around Manhattan to make their case in the boardrooms of 13 major ad agencies. They won't be the only ones out there selling. Each spring, usually at grand centralized events, the heads of the major broadcast and cable networks converge on Manhattan to pitch their shows. The ritual known as upfronts (a time to buy ads "up front," before the season begins) can make or break a network or, for that matter, the network's CEO.

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