March 15, 2010 -- Sometimes real-life headlines are too good to be true.
At least that's what Lifetime thinks.
"Who Is Clark Rockefeller?," which aired this weekend, is the story of a man who conned his wife and everyone around him. The made-for-TV movie stars Eric McCormack, formerly of "Will & Grace," and is the most recent original movie to be based on real-life events.
Later this month, Lifetime will show "Amish Grace," based on the schoolhouse slaughter in a Pennsylvania Amish town in 2006.
While Lifetime has always used reality as fodder for its original movies, recently the number of "based on a true story" movies has grown. And viewers have responded, making Lifetime movies a multimillion-dollar industry and Lifetime and the Lifetime Movie Network the No. 1 and No. 2 women's networks, respectively.
Tanya Lopez, Lifetime Network's senior vice president of original movies, strongly believes that their formula of turning real-life events into movies is working.
"I think that real-life events make great movies in general," Lopez said. "You can look at the [theatrical] movies that did well this season. Take the 'Blind Side' as an example. Audiences love movies based on real-life events and women love them too, and they have since the inception of the TV movie."
Lopez's department hears between 400 and 500 movie pitches a month. But why are people so interested in these "based on a true story" films?
"I think people are drawn to these movies because they are drawn to the idea that they can watch the train wreck of somebody else's life," Lopez said, "or because they are going to be inspired by somebody else's story and then say I can take that into my life and inspire myself."
Below are the two newest Lifetime movies:
'Who Is Clark Rockefeller?'
Clark Rockefeller was widely seen as the longest running con in FBI history. He had five known aliases and impersonated a Pentagon adviser, talk-show host and heir to the Rockefeller family.
In Lifetime's newest adaptation, Eric McCormack plays Clark Rockefeller whose real name is Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter. McCormick said he chose the role because of the story's subject matter.
"The character was fantastic," McCormack said. "He almost seemed fictional, and as it turns out, he was."
The movie focuses on Rockefeller's life with wife Sandra Boss, played by "ER's" Sherry Stringfield. Rockefeller first meets Boss, a Harvard graduate, millionaire and partner at management consulting firm McKinsey & Co, after moving to Boston and embedding himself in the city's high society. The couple soon marries and has a daughter, Reigh.
Boss stayed under the spell of Rockefeller for 12 years before becoming suspicious. When Rockefeller couldn't provide identification as to who he said he was, Boss started divorce proceedings. Despite the settlement agreement, which gave Boss full child custody, Rockefeller kidnapped his daughter and went on the run for a week before he was arrested by the FBI Aug. 2, 2008.
Eric McCormack said the hardest part of playing this role was finding a balance between the two sides of Clark.
"There was his creepy, sociopath side," McCormack said. "Which is what makes for a sensational movie, but that had to be balanced by his very charming side."
After first looking at the story, Lopez said Lifetime decided to focus on the emotional journey of the Sandra Boss character.
"The question became not how did he dupe certain people in the community, but how was he able to con this woman that he was married to for 12 years and who was a very bright and successful woman," Lopez said.
McCormack added that despite it all the story really is a love story between Rockefeller and Boss.
"Some people look at this film and think he had her pegged as his meal ticket from the beginning," McCormack said. "And maybe he did, but he also loved her and she him."
Some have wondered why Lifetime chose to cast Eric McCormack who is better known for comedic roles, not to mention that he is much better looking than the Rockefeller imposter, whose real name is Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter.
Lopez has a simple answer: "Women like looking at great men, villain or otherwise."
On a crisp fall day on Oct. 2, 2006, in rural Pennsylvania, a community that tried so hard to be separate was thrust into the media spotlight when a man with a gun entered an Amish schoolhouse. An hour later, five girls were dead, and five were wounded and bleeding.
Lifetime decided to focus on the event from the point of view of two women close to the tragedy. Ida Graber, played by Kimberly Williams-Paisley, depicts a mother who loses her child in the shooting and the other, Amy Roberts, is the shooter's widow, played by Tammy Blanchard. Ida Graber is a composite of multiple mothers who experienced the loss of their children in real life.
After the tragic shooting, most people were surprised that the Amish community forgave the killer, as their faith requires, and some members of the tight-knit group even attended his funeral.
The movie is based on the book "Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy," written by three experts on Amish life.
"For us the story was about overcoming the unimaginable," Lifetime's Lopez said. "And that became a talking point for mothers across the country. When I read the book, one of the things that struck me most was that one of the Amish women said she had to do it every day, she had to forgive every day."
"Amish Grace" will premiere Sunday, March 28, at 8 p.m. ET on the Lifetime Movie Network.
Here's a retrospective of Lifetime's best flicks based on true stories.
'Prayers for Bobby'
Sigourney Weaver played Mary Griffith, the mother of Bobby Griffith, a real-life man dealing with being gay in a devoutly Christian household.
The film begins with Bobby questioning his sexuality and eventually coming out to his family. At first, Mary believes that homosexuality is "curable" with prayer. Bobby tries to reconcile his feelings with the church's teachings but quickly spirals into depression. On a warm late August day, Bobby commits suicide by jumping from a freeway overpass in front of an 18-wheeler. Facing the loss of her son, Mary searches for answers and reaches out to the gay community, eventually finding the Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG).
The Lifetime movie is based on the lives of Bobby and Mary as told in the book "Prayers for Bobby: A Mother's Coming to Terms with the Suicide of Her Gay Son," written by Leroy Aarons, the founder of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association and former Washington Post reporter.
Lopez said that women can relate to this story because we all deal with internal conflicts at some point in our lives.
"All of us have a strong point of view on something," Lopez said. "The question becomes how does that get in our way and how do we deal with it within ourselves."
'The Two Mr. Kissels'
"The Two Mr. Kissels" stars John Stamos as Andrew Kissel , who, along with his younger brother, becomes overcome with the power of money and the wives who watch it happen.
In real life, the Kissel brothers were both murdered. Andrew was a real estate developer involved in some shady dealings who was found stabbed to death in his basement in August 2006, and his brother Robert, played by Anson Mount, was allegedly killed by his wife who served him a strawberry milkshake laced with sedatives and then bludgeoned him to death in November 2003.
The movie begins in reverse order with Andrew's murder. Through flashbacks, we see how the brothers climbed the social ladder and fell from it hard. Both brothers are obsessed with achieving what they call the "ultimate F-you number" or the amount of money they must have to never work again. Since it is Lifetime, the movie focuses on the emotional journeys of the brothers' wives.
"What we really loved about this story was the wives of these men," Lopez said.
And of course getting John Stamos to star wasn't bad either.
"Again, women like looking at great men," Lopez said. "And we are still an entertainment network after all."
The trailer for this original movie shows the dramatic image of a Natalee Holloway missing poster crumpled and stained being ripped from a tree by the wind while Beth Twitty, her mother, played by Tracy Pollan, tells a group of gathered press that she will never stop looking for her daughter.
The 17-year-old blonde went on her high school's senior trip to Aruba, and after a night of partying, she was never seen again with rumors circulating that she was either sold into white slavery or thrown into the ocean.
In the summer of 2005, Natalee's name was everywhere with cable news dedicating hours to covering the search. The three main suspects, Joran Van der Sloot, Deepak Kalpoe and Satish Kalpoe, have been arrested and released multiple times.
Based on "Loving Natalee: A Mother's Testament of Hope and Faith," the movie centers around Beth Twitty's involvement in the search for her daughter and her emotional journey. The real Beth Twitty was very involved in the filming of the movie, including visits to the set and screenings. According to Variety reports, the movie drew an average audience of 3.2 million.
'The Pregnancy Pact'
The poster for this movie boldly said "not all teen pregnancies are unplanned."
The movie was inspired by the incredible spike in teen pregnancies at Gloucester High School in the small fishing town of Gloucester, Mass., during the 2007-2008 school year when 18 girls, now referred to as the Gloucester 18, became pregnant. The school principal started the pact rumor by telling Time magazine that the girls had made a deal to all become pregnant. Later the mayor denied that there was a pact, and its existence has never been confirmed.
The movie is told through the eyes of Sidney Bixon, played by Thora Birch, an online magazine journalist who is reporting on the incident. Besides the plotline of the girls pact, the second storyline involves a fight between the school nurse who wants to hand out contraception and a family values advocate, whose 15-year-old daughter is one of the pregnant girls, who says condoms will cause students to have sex.
"With this movie, we wanted to create conversations with our viewers like the ones going on in the town about abstinence and birth control," Lopez said, "We don't say one is right and one is wrong, but we wanted women to start looking at the issue and start a dialogue."
When the movie premiered on Lifetime, some viewers criticized the movie for being too fictional. In Lifetime's defense, the movie was only ever billed as being "inspired by real events." Either way, viewers didn't seem to care. The movie had 5.8 million viewers.