Distaff Nets Tread on Different Series Paths

Two female-targeted networks are taking decidedly different thematic courses in an effort to draw additional viewers.

Lifetime Television will continue its pursuit of drama-tinged content by launching two new scripted series, part of a second night of original programming.

By contrast, Oxygen — which hopes to appeal to female viewers' funny bones — will launch six new comedy-based series within its overall fall programming lineup.

To cover the most ambitious original programming rollout in its history, Oxygen is increasing its programming budget by 25 percent over 2002 levels, although network president of programming Debby Beece would not disclose specific figures.

"We've been ramping up and getting more shows on air that are emblematic of the network, but I think this is the biggest full-series slate we've had," she said.

Comedic leanings

The six new comedy-based programs will help distinguish the network from others in the marketplace, said Beece.

The new lineup includes Can You Tell, a reality game show, and two animated entries: Hey Monie, a co-production with Black Entertainment Television about a single African-American professional woman; and Life's a Bitch, which looks at the lives of 30-something women.

Other new shows: Sexual Anthropology,
a "dramedy" focusing on a 20-something man looking for love; and In Your Dreams,
about a working and romantic relationship between two book writers.

Additionally, Oxygen and the British Broadcasting Corp. will co-produce eight new episodes of Absolutely Fabulous, set to bow early next year. Oxygen is currently airing library installments of the popular import.

In addition to the new shows, Oxygen will also bring back six other original series, notably Oprah After The Show, Girls Behaving Badly, The Isaac Mizrahi Show, and Talk Sex With Sue Johanson, Beece said.

But Candice Bergen's second vehicle for the network, Candice Checks It Out, will not return, as the former Murphy Brown
star is involved with several acting projects, according to network executives.

Oxygen will also team with film production company Working Title (Four Weddings and a Funeral) to produce its first original movie, A Tale of Two Wives, starring Peter Gallagher and Cheryl Hines.

While Nielsen Media Research does not officially rate the network, Beece said Oxygen averaged a 0.3 rating for the first three weeks of April.

Saturday night Lifetime

For its part, Lifetime will launch a new night of original programming, beginning in August, with Saturday night the most likely destination.

The new night will be anchored by a pair of scripted series. 1-800 Missing, starring Gloria Reuben
(ER) and produced by Lions Gate Television, centers on a no-nonsense FBI agent and a psychic who team up to find missing persons. It is based on the novel 1-800-Where R U
by Meg Cabot, said network executives.

Wild Card, from Fireworks Entertainment, focuses on a former blackjack dealer turned insurance-fraud investigator. Joely *Fisher (Ellen, Inspector Gadget) is in the lead role.

Lifetime will add at least one other show to complete the original programming block, but it's unclear whether it will be another scripted show.

The network has also filmed two other pilots: Follow the Leeds
with Sharon Lawrence and Maria Pitillo as two sisters running a private detective agency; and Nick and Shelly, featuring Julie Warner and Adrian Pasdar as divorced police detectives who still work cases together.

Lifetime's Sunday-night success with original dramas like The Division, Strong Medicine
and Any Day Now
helped the distaff-oriented channel to wear the primetime household ratings crown in 2001 and 2002.

This year has not been as kind. Lifetime fell to No. 4 in the first-quarter primetime rankings, behind Fox News Channel, Turner Network Television and Nickelodeon. During April, Lifetime finished in a tie for fourth with kids' networks Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and Disney Channel, according to Nielsen Media Research data.

Mike Reynolds contributed to this report.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.