Cable networks are putting to rest any preconceived notions that women’s programming typically consists of uplifting stories about love and family or house-making how-to-do fare, as evidenced by several outrageous and irreverent shows that are capturing sizeable female audiences.
According to Lisa Berger, executive vice president of programming for E!, it was HBO’s Sex and the City that was the inspiration for today’s popular trend of women misbehaving on cable. “At the time, it was so irreverent and such a breakout because it showed women talking about that dirty, little secret which was sex,” said Berger. “I think it really broke the glass ceiling for future women’s programming allowing shows to become a little bit edgier, bad or naughty.”
Nowhere are these naughty themes explored more deeply than in E!’s The Girls Next Door, a reality series following the lives of Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner’s three girlfriends who live with him at the Playboy Mansion.
The Girls Next Door was originally developed to fill the male viewership void left by shock jock Howard Stern when his show departed E! However, Berger said the show quickly morphed into a “buddy-comedy” of sorts and is the top-rated show among women 18-34 on all ad supported cable on a consistent Sunday night basis.
“We were happily surprised that the core viewers for Girls Next Door were women 18-34,” said Berger. “Women viewers respond to The Girls Next Door because they love, laugh and make mistakes. It’s women simply showing different facets of themselves. It’s okay to be emotional, driven and sexual. I think a lot of our programming captures this.”
Keeping Up With the Kardashians is another ratings hit for E!, debuting as the network’s highest-rated series premiere since The Girls Next Door, with over 1.2 million unique viewers. Its finale ranks as one of the top-five highest-rated telecasts among women 18-34 in the network’s history.
“At the core of the show — which you don’t see often in this type of reality programming — is a family with a focus on the sisters,” said Berger. “You’d think the show would be all about Kim Kardashian, given that she’s the hot new socialite, but our viewers are responding to the entire family. As we piloted the show, it soon became apparent that it was more of an ensemble piece and not all about one person.”
While Berger concedes that The Girls Next Door and Keeping Up With the Kardashians allow viewers to vicariously live the fantasy of its stars, she also points to specific touchstones that are very relatable to viewers.
“Everyone has an expectation of what beautiful women should look and act like,” said Berger. “But with our shows there is a lot of heart. We expect the same type of reaction from viewers with Denise Richards. In an odd way, it’s fun, uplifting, dramatic and outrageous.”
Premiering this summer on E!, Denise Richards is an unscripted series that will follow the much-maligned actress as she tries to balance her chaotic family life with the demands of being in the glare of the Hollywood spotlight.
NABBING 'BAD’ RATINGS
Like E!, Oxygen is attracting women viewers with its own brand of bad-girls programming.
On February 26, Oxygen’s The Bad Girls Club made network history with its second season premiere episode (“Taken for a Ride”). The episode was the most-watched Oxygen telecast ever, delivering 1.17 million total viewers. It also scored as the highest-rated and most-watched telecast ever for key women’s demos 18-49 (603,000) and 18-34 (451,000).
Additionally, the network was ranked seventh for the hour among all cable non-news networks for women 18-49.
The Bad Girls Club brings seven self-proclaimed “bad girls” together in a beautiful Los Angeles mansion.
No stranger to playing up the bad girl angle, CMT recently unveiled the third season of The Ultimate Coyote Ugly Search on March 7. Once again, the tough-talking founder of the legendary New York City bar Coyote Ugly, Liliana Lovell, is on the hunt to fill the sixth and final spot in the Coyote Ugly traveling troupe, a group that tours the country singing and dancing on bar tops.
“With a show like Coyote Ugly, one immediately assumes it is going to be a show that is popular with men. It’s actually a high female viewing show because the viewers all feel like they wish they had the guts to reach for the brass ring in the way that the contestants do on the show,” said Bob Kusbit, head of development for CMT.
“CMT shows like Coyote Ugly and Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders: Making the Team will be a mainstay of our programming because we find out that both the female and male audience like them. While they skew largely to a female audience, they also bring the men along. We’ll always be in the market for these types of shows.”
THE REAL DEAL
According to The Style Network executive vice president Salaam Coleman Smith, it’s the reality TV phenomenon that has completely transformed the programming landscape for women.
“The transition of the American public becoming the star of the show has transformed the image of women in media,” said Smith. “It’s an exciting time because there is so much diversity with how women are portrayed whether positive, negative, outrageous, irreverent or traditional.”
The Style Network recently announced a second season pick-up for reality series Kimora: Life in the Fab Lane. With new half-hour episodes, the new season, premiering April 20, will continue its candid look at the frenetic life of model, mogul and mom Kimora Lee Simmons.
As Style’s highest-rated original series ever, the first season of Kimora — which debuted August 5, 2007 — performed ahead of the network’s primetime average by 105% among households and 150% among women 18-49 across its premieres.
Smith attributes its success to tapping into the true desires of what women really want to watch.
“There is this assumption of what young women want to watch which is positive role models and people that represent the best that we can be,” said Smith. “The hidden truth is that women are just like any other audience. We want to laugh, we want to be entertained, we want to see outrageous behavior and things that are very different. And we also want to be inspired at the same time. Kimora captures all of these elements. She’s aspirational, inspirational but also bold and outrageous.”
One of the potential pitfalls with producing shows centered around women misbehaving is that they aren’t necessarily advertiser-friendly, according to Smith.
“At Style, we’ve been able to develop properties that speak to our viewers but also showcase personalities and characters that advertisers want to be associated with,” Smith said. “Kimora is a good example of this. Edgy enough to bring in that young demo, but still accessible to not scare away advertisers.”