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Oxygen Finds Its Voice With New Series

2/15/2009 5:00 AM Eastern

Oxygen is putting its money where its mouth is, as the “Live Out Loud”-branded network turns up the volume with several new reality series.

The female-targeted network has already turned the rowdy, obnoxious women of Bad Girls and colorful Hollywood personality Tori Spelling of Tori & Dean into ratings bonanzas. Now, under the watchful eye of senior vice president of original programming and development Amy Introcaso-Davis, Oxygen will be expanding the roster of rowdy characters that rule with viewers.

Up first in March is the reality show Pretty Wicked, which pits 10 rude, obnoxious prima donnas against each other to see who can beautify themselves from the inside out, said Davis, who joined the NBC Universal-owned network in March 2008 after a stint at sister service Bravo.

Also on the docket for this year: Addicted to Beauty, which goes behind the scenes at an exclusive beauty-enhancement facility in California; and Dance Your Ass Off, in which overweight men and women look to get slim through dance exercise.

These new entrants join Oxygen shows such as Bad Girls, where drink-throwing, cursing and hair-pulling are common occurences among the rowdy female housemates.

Davis said the saucy shows are part of a long-term programming strategy positioned to appeal to young, entertainment-loving female viewers between 18 and 34 years of age, whom Oxygen refers to as “Generation O.”

“We like to say they're spenders, trenders and recommenders; they're young and really interested in pop culture and entertainment,” she said. “They haven't necessarily made their life choices in terms of brands, so they're open to everything.”

The new shows were also created to differentiate the network from older-skewing competitors Lifetime, WE TV and even Bravo.

“The characters you see on Oxygen are very different — we have loud, noisy, boisterous characters that appeal to our very young audience,” Davis said. “I think that's catching many viewers these days … you have to cut through the clutter, and I believe that in the reality world the casting is the most important thing.”

It certainly seems to be working thus far for Oxygen. The network had its best year in 2008, bolstered by hits like Bad Girls and Tori & Dean, which follows the lives of Tori Spelling and her husband, Dean McDermott.

Oxygen scored double-digit gains in several key demograps, including a 34% hike in 18-to-49-year-old viewers, a 35% increase in 18-to-49-year-old female viewers and a 27% gain in women 18 to 34. Overall the network averaged 392,000 primetime viewers in 2008, a 31% increase over the 299,000 watchers it averaged in 2007.

Last month, the network posted a 34% increase in its target female 18-to-34 demo on the strength of such Oxygen staples as Snapped, which profiles women accused of murder.

Davis said the network's decision to reformat such series as Tori & Dean and Bad Girls to hour-long shows from 30-minute episodes helped boost viewer interest.

“We think our audience is interested in stories, and a half-hour can only go from watercooler moment to watercooler moment,” she said. “It's very hard to get a sense of what makes these Bad Girls tick in a 30-minute format, so I think the hourlong [format] has helped us enormously, and we'll continue to do that for all of our shows.”

Along with the aforementioned series, the network is also developing several other shows, including Hogs and Heifers, based on the owner of the lively New York and Las Vegas bars; and The Naughty Kitchen, which follows the exploits of boisterous Dallas-based chef Blythe Beck.

Davis said the network will stick with the reality format for now, but wouldn't rule out the development of an original movie before the end of the year.

However, Oxygen will not move into the scripted series arena anytime soon. “We think reality is where our strength lies,” Davis said.

March