Wednesday, December 12, 2007

WE need a Lifetime of Oxygen?

Ok, sorry for the extremely bad pun as this post's title. I couldn't help it, but my brain is too fried to actually make it any good. Since most of my time at the office is spent working on the original of the three major "women's networks," this Slate article was pretty interesting to me.

Why is my brain fried?
By Christmas break, I'll have watched over ten of Lifetime Movie Network's titles, and will have written promos for said films. And that's just writing. I'm overseeing/coordinating/producing a run of FORTY EIGHT PROMOS. After so many newly single mothers discovering love where they least expected it, independent women discovering strength when they needed it most, and mother/daughters discovering a bond they never knew they had, well, I'm done with discovery. Come Yuletide, I'll be recovering in front of utterly apathetic and thankfully phlegmatic C-SPAN.

As Slate points out, the differences between Oxygen, Lifetime and WE come down to demographics. Sure, it's all about the chicks, but there are many different kinds of women. First on the scene, Lifetime's been around since 1982 and is partially owned by the Walt Disney Company (who knew?). Currently, their original programming includes "Army Wives," "Cheerleader Nation," and "Gay, Straight, or Taken." Re-runs of "Will & Grace," "Desperate Housewives," and "Grey's Anatomy" also have found homes here.

If Lifetime is the old standard bearer and tries to gently appeal to all women, then Oxygen is the young upstart, launched as a network in 2000. (How young and hip? Well, it was originally conceived to be an interactive network with an important website component. And it also showed softcore porn.) It's mostly known thanks to Oprah's early involvement. However, the network was recently sold to NBC Universal. If Lifetime shows "Will & Grace," Oxygen shows "Xena: Warrior Princess." That should say it all (along with their current roster of sleazy bridal/slutty/true-crime/all of the above reality shows).

Lastly, WE: Women's Entertainment has been trying to make a home in the space between Oxygen and Lifetime. Originally it was a supplement to AMC, and showed romance movies without commercial interruption. (I never knew that.) Now it focuses on its hit Bridezillas, in between re-runs of Dharma and Greg. Slate points out their new slate of programming is mostly reality based (cash-cow rehashes of Bridezillas).

Surely there has to be more to women's television than bridal shows, fashion shows, and re-runs of older comedies? What Slate doesn't explore is whether or not there's really room for three of these networks. With such similar programming, one or all of the networks has to find a way to distinguish itself from the others, and hopefully break away from the pack. Looking at the programming offered, it'd be very easy to create a single channel using only the best programming from each: Army Wives, Bridezillas, Bliss (I can't resist!), etc. I don't think all three networks will survive in the long term, definitely not in their current incarnation.

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