Cat Deeley is interviewing a person who wants to change their life. They commit to a goal, and leave the set. Cat walks across the stage, from left to right. She arrives at another couch and chair, identical to the ones that are on the other side of the stage, and reintroduces the same person, who comes back out.
In those few seconds, an entire year has passed, and so the person has transformed. That’s the magic of This Time Next Year, which debuts tonight on Lifetime (Tuesdays at 10).
The transformations are instant thanks to the power of editing and a few practical effects: there are magical swirling graphics appearing on a wall behind Cat as she walks, and Cat is also wearing the same clothes one year later, to make it appear as if no time at all has passed.
It’s part talk show, part transformation show. Each standalone episode features six different people or families, and we see their transformations—or lack thereof, in some cases—immediately. It’s like an entire season of Biggest Loser or episode of Extreme Makeover in five seconds.
Lifetime is so confident about the show that it’s already ordered a second season, its head of programming Liz Gateley said during a press conference at the Television Critics Association winter press tour on Sunday.
The show is based on a UK format, and Cat watched an episode when the show was pitched to her. “I sat in my bed and cried and cried and cried,” she said, and thought, “Yep, I’m in.”
The show’s concept “ticks big boxes for me,” Cat told me, because of the conversational nature. “The one common thread I always have through any job I do is I really enjoy people. I like finding out what makes them tick, I like listening to their stories, I like hearing them, I like their sense of humor,” Cat said. “I think you can learn so much from people if you’re truly listening and having a conversation.”
“I think that’s what we want to hear right now—we want to hear stories that are challenging and inspiring and bring out the best in human beings rather than the worst in human beings,” Cat told me. “Humans can be pretty great sometimes.”
Cat Deeley interviews, and connects with, 113 people
At the start of production, Cat interviewed 113 people—about 25 people a day. She was briefed about each person and their stories. “By the end of the day, I feel like a frazzled husk of my former self,” she told me. “I’m completely invested in them. This isn’t just a job to me, I’m there with them.”
Cat said she worried about being too invested—especially during the reveals. But then she realized, “I’m reacting exactly the same way that someone would” at home. “And the right thing will come to me, whether that’s jumping for joy, sobbing like a fool, cackling like a hyena—whatever it is, you’ve got to trust in it.”
The studio audience for the year-later reveals was shown Cat’s original interview with the person, and Cat also found those helpful to watch, so she’d know “what had made the cut and what hadn’t” from the original interviews.
The audience and viewers later see some footage of their progress throughout the year, but I wondered if the instant transformation, while a fun effect and great for short attention spans, undersells how much hard work has gone into the change, and how much time it takes to achieve real change.
During the TCA press conference, I asked showrunner Laurie Girion about that, and she said the conceit and the editing makes This Time Next Year an “entertaining television program without making light of the hard work or the seriousness of what they’ve put into it.”
Of the 113 people Cat interviewed, 70 people returned after a year to share how well they did. Girion told me when I interviewed her later that some participants just didn’t want to return, as things had changed in a year: “It’s a long time, and it is a commitment.”
Just two producers were responsible for checking in with the participants regularly during the year, Girion said. The footage from the year was filmed mostly by the participants themselves on their phones or other devices, though occasionally the production sent a crew to film a moment, such as a childbirth or an event.
That means there’s some imperfect footage, though Girion said, “I think we’re also in a different stage where people appreciate something that feels real and raw rather than overproduced.”
Of the 70 who did come back, not all achieved their goals.
For me, one of the most inspirational stories in the first episode comes from a person who didn’t reach the milestone she set, but still made progress, and is enthusiastic about what she’s accomplished. After all, real progress and change is often incremental, and includes moments of success and failure.
So You Think You Can Dance season 15?
What will Cat Deeley be doing in her future? Another season of So You Think You Can Dance?
“I don’t know,” she told me. “I’m hoping it’s going to—this would be season 15. I never in my wildest dreams—I came here 12 years ago and I loved the idea of the show but I had no clue it would still be going, so we just have to wait and see.”
I told her how I felt about last season, and she said, “I felt the same, and that’s something I’ve heard again and again from people. We had some great people. Lex is top three of all time.”
Cat added, “I love that show. Fingers crossed.”