News

Prelaunch Hits Iceberg

1/30/2000 7:00 PM Eastern

Pasadena, Calif. -- At the Television Critics Association
winter tour here, Oxygen's presentation on its programming got off to a rocky start.
It started more than 10 minutes late, basically squandering one-third of the time the
network had to address the gathered, impatient writers.

While Geraldine Laybourne, Marcy Carsey and Caryn Mandabach
were present, none of Oxygen's talent -- not Oprah Winfrey nor Candice Bergen -- was
at hand. A number of disappointed writers began to chant, "Oprah, Oprah, Oprah,"
as Oxygen tried to start the session.

"She's working today … She has a studio and
a thing in Chicago," Carsey told the crowd, who then questioned why Winfrey
couldn't at least be present via satellite. "You're hurting my
feelings," Carsey said.

In TheWashington Post, Lisa de Moraes wrote
that Carsey's remark wound up "hurling the feminist movement back about two
decades. Yes, this gal network was getting off to a great start."

Bill Goodykoontz, TV critic for The Arizona Republic,thought Winfrey should have been there. "Her perspective would have gone a long
way toward getting a handle on Oxygen's mission," Goodykoontz said.
"Without her, we were left with a gaping hole in the network's strategy and
vision."

Some writers later on were critical of a clip they saw of
Oxygen's series, Oprah Goes Online, in which the talk-show host talks viewers
through the most elementary computer lessons.

Tom Jicha, TV critic for the Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Sun-Sentinel,
was among those voicing complaints about Oxygen based on what he saw at the TCA.

"If the purpose of public relations is to present your
product in the best possible light, especially for influence molders, Oxygen's launch
is the biggest calamity since the Titanic," Jicha said. "Women [all
viewers, in fact] don't want to be talked down to -- the tone I sensed at the TCA.
They want to be entertained, ideally in an intelligent manner … [and] the way they
described Oprah's computer class is insulting. 'The power button turns it on
… ' This is a network that respects women's intelligence?"

At TheSeattle Times, TV writer Melanie
McFarland, who also attended the TCA session, raised some questions about how broad
Oxygen's appeal will be. She wrote: "Not all women are career dynamos. Not all
women use computers every day, let alone shop online. Yet Oxygen assumes every woman, from
ladies who lunch to waitresses, will relate."

Jicha laid odds that Lifetime would remain the dominant
women's network. "I made a bet with another critic that five years from now,
Oxygen will still be gasping in Lifetime's exhaust," he said.

October