Strategy focuses on tongue-in-cheek reality shows

Oxygen threw its first-ever upfront in Gotham on Tuesday, unveiling a schedule and development slate heavy on comedy and tongue-in-cheek reality skeins.

“Comedy is Oxygen’s voice,” said CEO Geraldine Laybourne before introducing a clip reel of taped gags with some of the most prominent media buyers in the nation.

The broadcast networks don’t present their schedules until May but, like the political season, the upfronts keep creeping earlier as cable nets seek to grab the fractured attention of Madison Avenue.

Founded in 2000 with an ambitious digital strategy, Oxygen was hit hard by the tech downturn but has slowly built distribution, reaching 71 million homes in 2006. It expects to reach 80 million, or near-full distribution, this year.

Company is returning to its roots by rolling out two digital ventures, social network and broadband channel, which will provide on-demand access to Oxygen programming.

In addition to Oxygen stalwarts “Campus Ladies” and “The Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency,” Oxygen is expanding into full series the two-hour specials “Monique’s F.A.T. Chance,” a plus-sized modeling competition, and “Fight Girls,” a reality show about female kickboxers.

The network has a tiny but growing audience, averaging 250,000 viewers in primetime in 2006, up 14% from the year before. Ad sales senior veep Mary Jane Cavanagh said that the net’s average age has dropped to under 30.

The net broke the $100 million mark in advertising in 2006, Cavanagh said.

To gin up some excitement, the net announced a racy development slate of reality and scripted series pilots as well as original movies.

Oxygen signed a deal with Go-Go Lucky Prods. to produce “Rodeo Girls,” which it described as ” ‘Laguna Beach’ at the rodeo,” and with Reveille for “Adfight,” a reality series delving into the advertising world.

Scripted series pilots include “Graphic City Limits,” from producer Tod Tapert, and a made-for-Oxygen movie, “Husband for Hire,” written by Kris Isacsson and produced by Tim Perell’s Process Media.

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