Speaking with Art and Living last year, Wong remarked, “We ought to have a significant presence in Hollywood. We ought to have really great relationships with moviemakers and we ought to make really great films. So, one of my first jobs when I got to Lifetime was to get out there and start meeting with talent and spread the word. We said that we are going to be a great home for writers, producers, directors as well as actors in front of the camera and that they should bring their passion projects to us and they will be taken care of.”
Emmy nominations for two projects are a testament to the success of Wong’s mandate. The Lifetime movies Coco Chanel and Prayers for Bobby were both nominated for Outstanding Made for Television Movie and received Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Movie nods for their respective stars, Shirley MacLaine and Sigourney Weaver.
Wong upped the quality of each Lifetime movie by reducing the overall number made each year. “We made 60 movies a year when I got here. I felt that was too many, so we lowered the number and put a little more money into each to make them a higher quality,” she revealed.
Gone too was the “Disease of the Week” film stigma that haunted Lifetime for many of its previous years. “What we really want to do is mix up the variety,” explained Wong. “So you’ll have some really fun, light films, some great true stories, drama and you’ll have some really prestigious films like Georgia O’Keeffe with Joan Allen and Jeremy Irons.”
Now 43, Wong first got a degree in electrical engineering from MIT. She later went to Stanford University Business School, but it wasn’t until she got an internship at NBC in New York that she finally found her path. Wong then got a job at ABC’s PrimeTime Live doing research and convinced the director of a then-small division of ABC called Alternative Programming, Specials and Late Night that he should hire her.
“I studied everything, watched a lot of television, worked really hard and, maybe four months after I got there as number two in the department, we found Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and the alternative series world exploded,” she said. When her boss, Michael Davies, decided to leave and become the executive producer of Millionaire, Wong was promoted to the head of the division.
Not only did Wong green light such megahits as The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, Wife Swap, Supernanny, Dancing with the Stars, and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, but she was intimately involved in each of those shows’ development, leaving her indelible creative mark on each. After eight years of these huge successes, Wong let her superiors at Disney, which co-owns Lifetime, know that she was looking for a new challenge. A short time later, they asked if she was interested in running Lifetime, which at the time was experiencing a downturn in ratings and other business baggage. Wong saw the job as the perfect opportunity to blend her creative and business skills.
Under Wong’s leadership, Lifetime produced a wide variety of successful shows, including the top-rated drama series Army Wives, the comedic drama Drop Dead Diva, and the sitcom Sherri. “Women come to Lifetime to escape,” asserted the television head. “They have very, very busy days. The typical woman who watches Lifetime is pulled in 500 different directions ... she’s got a job, she has kids, a husband who needs her and she’s the head of the PTA. She turns to Lifetime for that escape.”
One of Wong’s greatest successes at Lifetime was wooing the hit series Project Runway away from Bravo and onto Lifetime. “It was my passion to get that show,” said Wong. “Viewers who love Project Runway came to Lifetime to find their favorite show, and they combined with a whole host of loyal Lifetime viewers.”
Editor's Note: In February 2010, just prior to going to press, Wong announced that she was stepping down from her position at Lifetime, which was acquired by A&E Television Networks in August 2009.