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New Network for Women Goes On Air

February 1, 2000

NEW YORK (AP) _ The first thing that strikes you about Oxygen is the suffocating cuteness of its name.

Part of an audacious startup called Oxygen Media, this is a women-targeted cable network that pledges to be a breath of fresh air, a resource to draw on, a supportive atmosphere.

But will Oxygen get in your blood? Maybe not, at least for a while.

Although the Web component already is available to any PC user with an Internet connection (oxygen.com), when Oxygen TV starts flowing Wednesday at 8 p.m. EST, it will reach between 7 million and 10 million cable homes. (This compares with the 75 million-plus homes receiving its heretofore unchallenged rival Lifetime, which has programmed for women since 1984.)

What those viewers who get Oxygen will see is an estrogen-laced menu of original, nonscripted programming.

Oxygen is pointedly leaving TV movies and ``Golden Girls″ reruns to Lifetime. Instead, there will be a morning yoga session called ``Inhale,″ and a nightly talk show called ``Exhale″ with Candice Bergen as host. ``Pure Oxygen″ is a midday block of news and humor, including a financial advice show, ``ka-Ching.″ Comedy and talk are scheduled at the dinner hour.

Saturday at 10:30 p.m. EST, ``X-Chromosome″ presents women-oriented animation.

And Friday at 10 p.m., a certain chat show (according to Oxygen’s lofty sales pitch) ``playfully twists the classic sleepover ingredients _ taboo topics, mind-bending trends and far-out music _ into grown-up friskiness.″ The show is called ``Pajama Party.″ Everybody wears jammies.

Whether any of this will qualify as appointment viewing _ and if so, by whom _ remains to be seen. However, as billed, ``Pajama Party″ sounds best suited to the heavy-breathing constituency of Comedy Central’s ``Man Show.″

The person who created Oxygen out of thin air is Geraldine Laybourne, the not-to-be-underestimated inspiration behind Nickelodeon and Nick at Nite.

Among her creative and financial partners is Oprah Winfrey, who initially will appear on Oxygen in a 12-week how-to series about Web surfing.

Marcy Carsey, Tom Werner and Caryn Mandabach _ creators of such hit sitcoms as ``Roseanne,″ ``Cybill,″ and ``Grace Under Fire″ _ are also part of the Oxygen team.

But are these names _ even Oprah’s _ that will drive up Oxygen’s ratings? However colossal her following, can even Winfrey bring to Oxygen anything that her fans don’t get every weekday from her syndicated talk show? And do ``Murphy Brown″ devotees care to see Candice Bergen without a script and a laugh track?

Or perhaps those are Old Media questions in a New Media world. Oxygen seems to frame itself less as a slate of TV series than as a media haven where sisters are doing it for themselves. Oxygen presents itself as a virtual gathering place by and for you, the smart, take-charge woman who wants to ``lean into your life″ (whatever that means).

``We think it’s high time for the media to involve you as a companion, contributor and critic,″ says Oxygen’s promotion. ``We’re the facilitators, you’re the star.″ You are your own drawing power.

And with Oxygen’s cable network linked to its interactive Web site, you’ll join your co-stars to inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale _ hey, take it easy! You’re hyperventilating!

Maybe Oxygen, for all its breathless talk of social crusades, is just another entry in the race for TV-Internet convergence.

In Oxygen’s words, convergence is ``the idea that every television will be able to serve up the World Wide Web and every computer will be able to display TV and cable programs.″

Similarly, you might describe convergence as ``an interlocking chain of news and information delivery that meets all levels of viewers’ needs.″ Those are the words of NBC President Robert Wright in 1995, when he announced the creation of MSNBC.

Like Oxygen, the MSNBC cable-and-online brand was created from the inside out. MSNBC Cable and Online supplement each other, welcome audience input, and promote themselves as a multimedia environment. Oxygen vows to do the same.

But despite the heft of NBC in tandem with Microsoft, MSNBC has yet to spark any perceptible revolution or change anyone’s life. Will Oxygen and its partners, which include the irrepressible America Online, be the venture that makes convergence (in Oxygen’s description) ``as natural as breathing″?

The visionary Laybourne may succeed in her latest quest. But it’s worth recalling that her brainchild Nickelodeon triumphed by bringing girls and boys together.

With somewhat the opposite strategy, Oxygen may live up to its name in unintended ways, proving weightless and, for the time being, mostly invisible.

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Elsewhere in television ...

`48 HOURS’: It’s a tale of two California couples: the Adairs and the Shapiros. When Mindy Shapiro discovered that her husband was having an affair with Jeanie Adair, their marriage abruptly changed course. The scenario is not unlike that for most divorces except for one thing: Jeanie Adair’s husband was bludgeoned to death and each woman blames the other. Correspondent Bill Lagatutta reports. ″48 Hours: Who Killed Mr. Adair?″ airs Thursday at 10 p.m. EST on CBS.

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EDITOR’S NOTE _ Frazier Moore can be reached at fmoore ``at″ ap.org

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