The 35 Most Insane Things to Ever Happen on Lifetime

As the cable network debuts The College Admissions Scandal, a look back at all the craziness its already brought into our lives.

By Billy Nilles 12 Oct, 2019 2:00 PMTags
Lindsay Lohan, Liz & DickJack Zeman/Lifetime

It would take four years for Lifetime to figure itself out.

When the cable network launched on February 1, 1984—a whopping 35 years ago—it didn't really know what it was. And neither did anyone else.

A merger between Hearst-ABC Video Services' Daytime, a cable service that operated four hours a day on weekdays and focused on alternative women's programming, and Viacom's Lifetime Medical Television, which was a full-time channel devoted to a range of health-related programming, the network lost $36 million in its first two years, with some TV viewers thinking it carried religious content. 

After a brief rebrand in 1985 to "Talk Television," with a nightly lineup of talk shows and call-in programs, a new head of programming was hired in 1988. And in her first three years of her tenure, Patricia Fili changed 60 percent of the network's programming and ushered in a new tagline: Lifetime—Television for Women.

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Stars in Lifetime Movies

With Fili intent on diving headfirst into the TV movie game, a fairly new concept at the time, and, in 1990, the Lifetime Original Movie was born. Since that first one debuted, the network has, for better or worse, come to be known for programming that's melodramatic beyond reproach. The so-bad-its-good, cheesy sort of stuff that you just can't look away from. And why should you want to? It's a blast.

Ahead of the network's latest ripped-from-the-headlines original movie airing on Saturday, Oct. 12, the aptly named College Admissions Scandal, we present—in no particular order—the 35 most insane things to ever happen on the network!

1. Liz and Dick: Who will ever forget this hot mess from 2012, featuring Lindsay Lohan playing Elizabeth Taylor in her "highly anticipated comeback movie role," as the network dubbed it? The acting was over-wrought and yet, the film somehow still had us identifying with LiLo-as-Liz when she proclaimed on the lawn, "I'm bored! I'm so bored!"

2. Mother, May I Sleep With Danger?: Is there any title that feels more quintessentially Lifetime than this 1996 classic starring Tori Spelling in what was nothing more than a Fear knockoff about a girl who falls for the dangerously wrong guy? Sure, it originally debuted on NBC, but it's become so synonymous with the cable network that made airing reruns of it its bread and butter that Lifetime teamed up with James Franco for a 2018 redux that added in a vampire theme (because why not?) and featured Spelling in the mom role this time around.

3. More of Me: The year? 2007. The unlikely Lifetime star? SNL vet Molly Shannon. The plot? A busy woman named Alice McGowan somehow splits into four versions of herself, with the other three handling all of her duties so she can finally just relax and take stock of what's really important in her life. 

4. Memories of Murder: The Lifetime Original Movie that started it all, this 1990 flick told the story of a woman who got hit in the head, got amnesia, and then forgot all about the psychopath who wants to kill her family. You know, normal, everyday stuff.

5. Wildflower: The network's second original film was this one in 1991, which featured a young Reese Witherspoon in her TV debut alongside Patricia Arquette and Beau Bridges. The film, directed by Diane Keaton of all people told the story of an abused and partially deaf girl helped back into society by two resourceful children. Its ratings paled in comparison to Memories of Murder, making clear which direction the network ought to go in from there on out.

6. To Be Fat Like Me: This 2007 film starred Kaley Cuoco as Aly, an injured star athlete who enters a documentary film contest in the hopes of earning some cash for college and wears a fat suit and hidden cameras to determine whether her overweight mother and younger brother (whom she resents) are using their size as an excuse for everything wrong in their lives. Along the way, Aly learns how hard life can be for people of a particular size and audiences at home rolled their eyes very hard at the patronizing insanity they'd watched.

7. Baby for Sale: This 2004 flick starring Dana Delany really needs no explanation. The ripped-from-the-headlines plot involving an international baby black market is all spelled out right there in the title.

8. Magic Beyond Words: Lifetime is no stranger to turning a famous person's life into melodrama and ratings, but did you know that, in 2011, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling received their patented bipoic treatment? The film, starring Without a Trace's Poppy Montgomery, was based on Sean Smith's book J.K. Rowling A Biography, but featured neither any involvement nor support from Rowling herself.

9. Danielle Steel's Daddy: In the '90s, everywhere you looked, someone was adapting a Danielle Steel novel into a made-for-TV movie. This one, from 1991, is most notable because it featured a young Ben Affleck in one of his earliest roles.

10. Fifteen and Pregnant: This 1998 classic that tells its entire story with its title featured Kirsten Dunst as its titular pregnant teen, a stopover on her path from child star of Jumanji and Interview with the Vampire to adult star of Bring It On and Spider-Man

11. Flowers in the Attic: In 2014, Lifetime brought V.C. Andrews' truly bats--t 1979 novel of the same name to life starring Heather Graham, Ellen Burstyn and Kiernan Shipka. Despite (or perhaps because of) its twisted themes of incest and child abuse, the film was a hit and the network went on to adapt Andrews' three sequels, with Rose McIver taking over for Shipka as the grown-up Cathy Dollanganger, who fell in love with her brother Chris when their hateful grandmother forced them to live in her attic.

12. My Stepson, My Lover: Another title that says it all. This 1997 film starred Rachel Ward as a woman married to a neglectful man who eventually falls for his son instead. Naturally, there's a murder because this is Lifetime.

13. The Pregnancy Pact: In 2010, Lifetime took on another unbelievably true story about a group of teenagers in Gloucester, Mass. who allegedly agreed to all give birth at the same time and raise their children communally. Thora Birch starred as the journalist returning to her old high school to figure out why everyone is suddenly pregnant. The tagline? "Not all teen pregnancies are unplanned." 

14. Miracle Run: Back before he was breaking hearts in the High School Musical franchise, Zac Efron was a relative unknown starring in this 2004 film about the social stigma and discrimination autistic children face. Efron played one of those children. 

15. Gracie's Choice: As Kristen Bell's career was getting started with the 2004 debut of Veronica Mars, she also starred in this film about a 16-year-old who becomes the caregiver and guardian to her brothers when their mother is arrested. Based on a story featured in Reader's Digest, Bell's Gracie is forced to fight her mother (played by Anne Heche) in court as she seeks to legally adopt her siblings.

16. Grumpy Cat's Worst Christmas Ever: In 2014, someone at Lifetime thought it would be a great idea to create a Christmas film centered around Internet celebrity cat Grumpy Cat, voiced in the movie by Aubrey Plaza, who befriends a young girl that she can communicate with. We're not sure why, but we're sure glad they did.

17. Rob Lowe's Collected Works: For a few years there, it was as though Lowe was the new Lifetime king. He kicked off his reign in 2012's Drew Peterson: Untouchable—wherein, after his son catches a glimpse of him naked, he utters the repulsive phrase, "He has a right to know why I'm called 'Big Daddy'"—and continued with 2013's Prosecuting Casey Anthony, 2015's Beautiful & Twisted, and 2018's remake of The Bad Seed, which he also directed.

18. A Tale of Two Coreys: This 2018 biopic, telling the tragic rise-and-fall of one-time '80s Hollywood darlings Corey Haim and Corey Feldman was the rare Lifetime true story that had one of its subjects, Feldman, on board as an EP. (Haim died of pneumonia in 2010.) And like most of its Hollywood biopics, it was full of insane wigs, unknown actors attempting to portray mega-watt stars (in this instance, Michael Jackson and Carrie Fisher, among others), and some pretty cringe-y dialogue. ("The Two Coreys? More like the ‘Who?' Coreys!" Feldman watches an "Entertainment TV" reporter crack about his declining career.)

19. UnREAL's Disappearing Act: In season one, UnREAL, a juicy look at the making of a dating reality show from a former producer on The Bachelor, was one of Lifetime's most critically-acclaimed scripted series. By season two, it had become a laughing stock. And after season three, it was a non-entity. In a move presaging another wild moment on this list, the network punted its fourth and final produced season to Hulu a month after the third season finished airing.

20. She's Too Young: What's she too young for? Well, that would be sex, of course. In this 2004 film, Marcia Gay Harden stars as the mother of a 14-year-old daughter whose outrageous behavior at school leads to a syphilis outbreak. It was partly inspired by an outbreak that occurred in a suburb of Atlanta in 1996, where over 200 teenagers were exposed.

21. A Deadly Adoption: On April 1, 2015, Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig fans weren't sure whether they were on the butt end of a bizarre April Fool's prank when it was announced that the duo was teaming up to star in a Lifetime film. The next day, they were even more confused when Ferrell issued a statement saying they were "deeply disappointed that our planned top-secret project was made public" and that they'd decided it was in "the best interest of everyone to forgo the project entirely." But by June, billboards for the film, a parody of the prototypical Lifetime film, went up and it was released to coincide with the 25th anniversary franchise.

22. No One Would Tell: Shortly after Full House finished its run on ABC, Candace Cameron Bure shook up her image by joining this 1996 film based on the true story of a high school student who murdered his 14-year-old girlfriend. Lovable Fred Savage starred as the murderous beau, really throwing fans of The Wonder Years for a loop.

23. William & Kate: In 2011, Lifetime decided to dramatize the real-life romance between Prince William and Kate Middleton. The only issue? Their romance wasn't exactly a drama-filled roller coaster. The only thing notable about this sleepy little film is that it featured a pre-Grey's Anatomy Camilla Luddington as the future Duchess. (Prince Harry and Meghan Markle would get the same treatment in 2018, though the Hollywood aspect of their relationship would help deliver something decidedly more interesting.)

24. Who Killed JonBenet?: On the 20th anniversary of the mysterious murder of six-year-old pageant queen JonBenet Ramsey, everyone wanted a piece of that grim nostalgia—Lifetime included. Hence this 2016 flick that made the bold choice to have a deceased JonBenet narrate the entire thing, eventually asking the audience if they can let her go. Ick.

25. Fab Five: The Texas Cheerleader Scandal: Based on real-life events at McKinney North High School in Texas, this 2008 film, starring Jenna Dewan and Ashley Benson, told the story of the titular cheerleaders who became notorious for essentially terrorizing their school.

26. Britney Ever After: Lifetime's long made a habit of dramatizing the tragic stories of pop stars (Whitney Houston, Aaliyah, etc.), but usually never while they're still alive. In 2017, they decided to bring Britney Spears' turbulent story to life, but had neither Spears' blessing nor the rights to any of the iconic music that made her a star. (Only the covers that she's recorded over the years could be used because Spears doesn't have control over those.) Hilariously, they didn't even get the iconic denim dress she wore to match then-boyfriend Justin Timberlake at the 2001 American Music Awards right, dressing star Natasha Bassett in a denim jumpsuit instead.

27. The Unauthorized TV Show Story series: Starting in 2014 with The Unauthorized Saved By the Bell Story, Lifetime found itself with a mini-franchise of films that took a look at the allegedly true stories behind some of the most iconic TV shows from the '90s. They followed that up with three in 2015, focusing on Beverly Hills, 90210, Full House, and Melrose Place. Each with more hilarious approximations of bad hairdos and even worse clothing than the one that came before it. 

28. Coco Chanel: The most wild thing about this 2008 biopic on the pioneering French fashion designer was that the legendary Shirley MacLaine agreed to appear in it.

29. On Thin Ice: See above, only replace 2008 with 2003 and MacLaine with Diane Keaton.

30. Grace of Monaco: See above, only replace 2003 with 2014 and Keaton with Nicole Kidman. (To be fair, this one was meant for theatrical release and only wound up on Lifetime when no one else stepped up to distribute it in the U.S.)

31. You: OK, so this series, starring Penn Badgley as a homicidal social media stalker, wasn't terribly wild in the grand scheme of things—although his public masturbation on NYC streets in broad daylight as he watches his object of affection through her blinds-free bay window was truly insane. Things got really wild when Lifetime decided to dump the show after one season, in which it only garnered, on average, 600,000 viewers an episode, selling it to Netflix, upon where it became a massive hit, dominating social media conversation and leading to a major brag from the streaming service, who claimed it was on track to be streamed by over 40 million viewers within its first month of release on the platform. Ouch.

32. The Client List: This 2010 film starring Jennifer Love Hewitt was a fictionalized take on a 2004 prostitution scandal in Odessa, Texas that followed a mother of three who became a prostitute to keep her house from going into foreclosure. In the end, she got arrested, but sold out her clients for a lesser sentence, returning to college and a waitress job when she's released from jail. You know, the usual beats for a story like that. Upon the film's popularity, however, it became a series, with Hewitt playing a new character in similar circumstances, erasing that moralizing "happy ending" from the film. (No pun intended.)

33. Cyber Seduction: His Secret Life: This 2005 film starring Jeremy Sumpter as a talented high school athlete whose addiction to internet porn becomes so intense that it tears his family apart seemed to exist solely to terrify parents into keeping their kids off of computers forever.

34. Amanda Knox: Murder on Trial in Italy: This 2011 film starring Hayden Panettiere was an almost too realistic portrayal of the murder of British student Meredith Kercher and the media circus that surrounded Amanda Knox's trial. 

35. Surviving R. Kelly: The entirety of this list has been limited to Lifetime's scripted output because it's all just too perfect to leave out. But the network's also delivered on the unscripted front, as well. And this six-part 2019 docu-series, which revealed the saga surrounding the women alleging to have been victimized by singer R. Kelly over the course of his career, is a damning and brutal piece of television that's insane in an entirely different way. 

The College Admissions Scandal premieres Saturday, Oct. 12 at 8 p.m. on Lifetime.

(This story was originally published on February 1, 2019 at 1:23 p.m. PT.)