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Tuned In: Oxygen channel takes its first breath today

Tuesday, February 01, 2000

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

If you were holding your breath for a new women's cable channel, you can stop. Oxygen arrives today.

The much-ballyhooed competitor to cable's Lifetime will be carried locally by AT&T Cable on Channel 59 of some systems, including East Liverpool, Martins Ferry and Steubenville, Ohio; Canonsburg, Carnegie, Castle Shannon rebuilt, Coraopolis, Greensburg rebuilt, McKeesport, Penn Hills, Ross rebuilt, Rostraver, Waynesburg, Bedford, Central City and Somerset.

Oxygen will not be available in the City of Pittsburgh, but that may be no great loss for the immediate future. While Oxygen launches with a lineup of mostly original programs, questions remain about how compelling it will be.

One of the lead shows, "Oprah Goes Online" (8 p.m. Sundays), invites viewers to tune in and watch as Oprah Winfrey learns to use a computer. "The Simpsons" or Oprah clicking a mouse? I don't think I'll miss Homer and family for that.

Winfrey is one of the founders of Oxygen Media, which also has a Web site (www.oxygen.com). Other principals in the company include Geraldine Laybourne (credited with putting Nickelodeon on the map) and Marcy Carsey, Tom Werner and Caryn Mandabach (the brains behind "3rd Rock from the Sun" and "That '70s Show").

"I don't know when this has happened before - that a bunch of cheeky people, most of them women, have launched a venture of this kind and this scope totally independently," Carsey said at last month's TV critics press tour in Pasadena, Calif.

The day begins with "Inhale," a 7 a.m. yoga show, and ends with "Exhale with Candice Bergen" (10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays), an interview show.

"And then on the weekends, of course, what do we want to do?" Mandabach asked rhetorically. "We wake up. We want to shop, and so we have a show called 'SheCommerce,' " a two-hour block about shopping online and in person at 8 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

"Eventually what you'll get is the spirit of Oxygen, because we are a bunch of rowdy girls, truly," Mandabach said. "And I think that our real spirit is going to come out on the weekend."

Laybourne said Oxygen aims for a younger audience than Lifetime and "women that are leaning into their lives and taking charge." Whatever that means.

But men can watch, too.

"The name of the network is Oxygen, not Estrogen," Mandabach said. "Everybody needs it."

AND YOU THOUGHT AGE DEMOS WERE TOUGH TO FOLLOW: Just when understanding TV ratings couldn't get more complicated, NBC executives are embracing a new way to measure the audience.

NBC West Coast president Scott Sassa showed a chart at the January press tour that rated the networks based on how many of their viewers use personal computers and the Internet.

"We are way off the map here ahead of everybody," Sassa said. "It's important because the fourth quarter of this year was driven by the dot-com business. Dot-com advertising was huge."

Sassa said NBC's high percentage of viewers who also use the Internet will benefit the network because dot-com companies are most interested in people who are already online.

What about NBC's "The West Wing," which doesn't draw as many advertising-friendly young viewers as other NBC shows? It draws more viewers from households that make at least $75,000 per year.

"Different things become important to different advertisers," NBC Entertainment President Garth Ancier said, "and having that in your portfolio when you go out to the marketplace to sell is a wonderful addition because you will get premium advertising dollars for a show of that quality that attracts those kinds of people."

HOLLYWOOD SPEAK: Consider this the first in a continuing series of lessons on how to speak like someone in Tinseltown.

This example is the province of assistants to publicists who have the thankless job of returning phone calls from members of the press.

"Can I have him return?" or "I'll have her quick return" both mean the publicist will get back to you later. Those of you with more time, feel free to say "return the call."

NAME GAME: So why did the name of UPN's show "Shasta McNasty" get shortened to simply "Shasta"? It wasn't the network's idea, according to UPN president Dean Valentine.

"It was actually the producers who felt that the 'McNasty' part might be turning some viewers away," he said. "Go figure."

Go figure, indeed. Didn't it occur to them before the show hit the air that "McNasty" doesn't roll off the tongue so much as drips in globs?

Valentine seemed equally perplexed.

"It was 'Shasta McNasty' for 20 weeks; what difference could it possibly make? But people call it 'Shasta,' and we thought it would give them a hand." Valentine said. "I don't know about it helping to bring viewers in, but maybe just 'Shasta' will not scare them away."

"GRAPEVINE" RETURNS: The CBS comedy "Grapevine," a remake of a half-hour comedy of the same name that aired on the network in summer 1992, returns Feb. 28, airing at 9:30 p.m. after "Everybody Loves Raymond."

The following Monday the show moves to its regular time slot, 8:30 p.m., where it displaces "Ladies Man," which will return April 10.

"Grapevine" follows the lives of four Miami friends and stars Kristy Swanson, George Eads, David Sutcliffe and Steven Eckholdt.

"BATMAN" TV? Rumors have swirled on the Internet about a possible "Batman" TV series coming to The WB this fall. The project in development, "Bruce Wayne," would chronicle the life of Batman as a teen.

In mid-January, WB Executive Vice President of Programming Jordan Levin confirmed a "Bruce Wayne" script has been written, but not specifically for The WB.

"We'll get the script for consideration, and they will send it out to all the networks," Levin said. "They think it's right for us, but we have nothing to do with it."

Warner Bros. and D.C. Comics control the "Batman" franchise, and Levin said "Bruce Wayne" could go to the big screen rather than TV if the powers that be decide a prequel is the best way to revive the film series.

Or it could get sacrificed so as not to detract from the film series, which is what Cinescape Online suggested could be the fate of "Bruce Wayne" last week.

Rob Owen can be reached at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com. Post questions or comments about TV to www.post-gazette.com/tv under PG Online Talk.

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