Oxygen Tells Shows: Take Summer Hours

A $100 million annual production budget will only go so far, even for glorified start-up Oxygen Media. Last week, the company said four of its series-Pure Oxygen, Trackers, Inhale and Exhale-were going on "summer hiatus," and it would run repeats of the shows that have already been produced.

Oxygen spokeswoman Laura Nelson said that while the network had planned to run repeats of Inhale and Exhale during the summer, it originally didn't expect to cease production of Pure Oxygen and Trackers. "Both shows were slightly over budget. In order to remedy that, we're putting them on hiatus," she added.

About one-dozen of the 120 staffers who work on Pure Oxygen and Trackers were laid off, but the network hopes to rehire them when the shows return, she said. Pure Oxygen will resume in mid-August, and Trackers production will resume in September, Nelson added.

Oxygen also plans to "rejigger" its programming grid during the next couple of weeks, but Nelson said she didn't know what changes would be made.

Oxygen staffers learned of the cuts last Tuesday in a memo from president of convergence Geoffrey Darby.

"Over the past several weeks, we have had to make some difficult business decisions. It is because we feel an obligation to all of our stakeholders, our investors, our shareholders, our audience and to you that we have set upon these issues," Darby wrote in the memo, which was posted on a media-news Web site last week.

Before Oxygen launched in February, CEO Geraldine Laybourne said the network would spend $400 million on original programming during its first four years of operation, including $100 million during the first year.

Nelson insisted that the network wasn't in financial trouble. Laybourne and Darby weren't available for comment, she added.

While Oxygen claims commitments that will put the network in 27 million homes within several years, it is currently available in about 10 million homes.

Distributors include Cox Communications Inc., AT & T Broadband, MediaOne Group Inc., Charter Communications Inc., Insight Communications Co. Inc. and RCN Corp. Key holdouts include Time Warner Cable, Cablevision Systems Corp. and Comcast Corp.

Pure Oxygen, Trackers, Inhale and Exhale comprise 15 hours of Oxygen's weekday schedule, including original airings and repeats.

The network's move to repeat much of its programming four months after its launch "would probably be a cause for concern" for operators that haven't yet agreed to launch the service, MediaOne senior vice president of video Judi Allen said.

Allen said that although Oxygen executives hadn't contacted her regarding programming changes, she understood why they would make such moves.

"Of course I want a new network to do its best. I want all networks to do their best. I also think they have to be responsible about managing a business. And if they're over budget, they have to look at that," she added.