During season of joy, Lifetime finds getting ‘Grumpy Cat’ helps

Arturo Interian

Arturo Interian

By Janet Di Lauro

Holiday season movies are often full of a lot of sweetness and light, but thanks to Lifetime that’s changing a bit this year, thanks to their original film Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever. Arturo Interian is the vice-president of original movies for Lifetime, and in that role he oversees development and production of movies and miniseries for the network.

So, you’re the brains behind Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever. What inspired you?
Actually, necessity at first. We needed a Christmas movie event. We were at a brainstorming session and my daughters had shown me this Internet meme of a miserable grumpy cat, saying miserable grumpy things. I threw that out there at the meeting and people really responded to it; it just seemed like Grumpy Cat was sort of a natural Grinch kind of figure for the holidays.

From there, we reached out to Grumpy’s manager, who took this tremendous leap of faith with us. We said, “Great, we’re going to do a movie in time for the holidays.” I was able to get Tim Hill [Alvin and the Chipmunks; SpongeBob SquarePants], who is a tremendous director. So to bring his sort of madness into the mix gave us a very funny movie. Then, most recently, Aubrey Plaza [Parks and Recreation] came aboard. She’s the voice of Grumpy Cat and it couldn’t be funnier.

You said it was your two daughters who mentioned Grumpy Cat to you?
It was my two daughters that showed me the internet meme. Just the cat saying miserable surly things about the holidays and about people in general. I should say we are making some history. This is the first movie, to my knowledge, that’s ever been made of an Internet meme. That started as a picture of a cat on the Internet with captions saying, “I had fun once. It was awful.” These sorts of funny, silly quotes that now have become a movie.

This isn’t exactly traditional holiday programming, is it?
Grumpy kind of undercuts all the sentimentality. You do have those sort of heartfelt moments, but then Grumpy is just coughing up a fur ball or disgusted by the scene or not buying it. So it really is kind of a great antidote to sort of those traditional holiday moments in the film. We wanted to be hipper. We wanted to be more irreverent. There is a not overplaying into the shmaltz of it, which I think is kind of cool.

Does that irreverent attitude help grab the younger demographic?
I think so. I think it was also a way to differentiate ourselves from so many channels that have their Christmas movies and really brand their November and December around it. We are trying to carve out our own voice, our own vision. With this slate – with Grumpy Cat at the helm, and An En Vogue Christmas and Wishin’ and Hopin’ (based on the Wally Lamb bestseller) – we think we’re doing that.

Aubrey Plaza, Grumpy Cat

Aubrey Plaza and the furry wonder known as Grumpy Cat.

Do you think that holiday programming really helps your brand?
Oh, without question.  It’s one of our highest rated times of the year. It’s cold outside. People want to watch holiday movies, and it’s a great platform for us to not only get a lot of ratings success, but to launch stuff in January, February and March, which we can obviously promote during these films that are highly watched and get the eyeballs on.

What types of programs usually perform best?
We tend to go a little more heartfelt, a little more Christmas-themed for obvious reasons. I think there’s something about the whole genre. You can be a little more sentimental. You can have a bit of a Christmas miracle to these stories and the audience will go with that white magic at this time of year. Whereas in January you might want to be a little more grounded and reality-based. But, even with that, it’s more of an irreverent, hipper slate. It still has heart, but we’re not quite overplaying to the heart of it.

Is the goal to stick pretty much to tradition or try something new?
It’s a little bit of both. I think these movies and especially Grumpy really tweak the conventions.   Where if you go for that heartfelt moment, something undercuts it or it goes in a surprising left turn. We very much know the conventions of a Christmas movie, but we want to turn some of them on their head and still provide a satisfying movie experience.

Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever airs on Lifetime Saturday, Nov. 29 at 8 p.m. ET

The Cynsiders column is a platform for industry leaders to reach out to colleagues, followers, and the public at large. In their own words, columnists address breaking news, issues of the day, and the larger changes going on in the ever-evolving world of television, video and digital. Cynsiders columns live on Cynopsis’ main page and are promoted across all daily newsletters. We welcome readers’ comments, queries, and column ideas at RDawn (@) cynopsis.com

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