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Oxygen Surrenders to Crime Wave in Programming Strategy Revamp

Oxygen is giving in to the crime wave sweeping across the television dial.

Starting this summer, the NBCUniversal cabler will revamp its programming strategy to focus its entire schedule on crime-related programming with appeal to young women.

The plan has been under consideration for some time, ever since the cabler’s Friday-Monday “Crime Time” programming block began to show real signs of life in the ratings. Oxygen’s felonious makeover comes as middle-tier cable networks are under pressure to grow or run the risk of losing carriage on major MVPDs. Confirmation of the refurbishing plan for Oxygen also comes on the heels of NBCU’s decision to shutter Esquire Network as a linear cable channel in favor of a digital-only strategy.

Among the original unscripted series planned for new-model Oxygen is a revival of “Cold Justice,” the true-crime series from producer Dick Wolf and Magical Elves (“Top Chef”) that ran on TNT from 2013-2015. Oxygen is also queuing up a jury-focused series produced by Nancy Glass, and “Three Days to Live,” a gritty look at abduction cases that bows March 5.

Wolf, whose Wolf Entertainment banner is based at Universal Television, is understood to be in discussions with NBCU brass on a possible broader partnership involving Oxygen. The cabler will be shopping for off-network acquisitions in the crime and legal arena to supplement its original series. The vast archive of Wolf and Universal TV’s “Law & Order”-branded shows are a natural fit. Oxygen at present carries the meat-and-potatoes procedurals “NCIS” and “CSI.”

Frances Berwick, president of lifestyle networks for NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment, said the move from unscripted series about subcultures and personalities of interest to multicultural millennial women to the crime beat was fueled by the appetite Oxygen’s target audience has shown for the genre. The sleeper success of the podcast “Serial” and the Netflix docu-series “Making a Murderer” in 2015 ignited the current mania for cold cases and deep dives into obscure crimes.

“People are really passionate about this genre,” Berwick told Variety. “There is an opportunity right now to really lean in to the genre and capitalize on the moment. This has been demonstrated online where you see (true-crime) podcasts exploding and armchair detectives out there on social platforms trying to solve crimes. This felt like the natural extension of something that was already working well for Oxygen.”

Berwick said the initial focus is on finding a group of “unscripted procedurals” as well as documentary miniseries and tentpoles. With the shift, most of Oxygen’s existing slate of originals, including “Bad Girls Club,” will be dropped after the shows run their course through the spring and early summer.

Oxygen is targeting a June or July rollout of the crime revamp. To stoke the audience, Oxygen recently launched a true-crime weekly podcast, “Martinis and Murder,” hosted by John Thrasher and Daryn Carp. The cabler also has had a crime-of-the-week unscripted franchise “Snapped,” focusing on female killers, on its air since 2004.

There are no plans at present to change the channel’s moniker. “We think Oxygen works really well in the new context,” Berwick said.

A name change could also trigger changes in NBCU’s existing carriage agreements for the channel.

Without rejuvenating its audience, Oxygen is in danger of being dropped by significant MVPDs as the pay TV market begins to focus on skinnier bundles of channels dominated by must-have networks. Oxygen in its current form doesn’t have the kind of marquee shows or overall stickiness with viewers to command continued carriage, let alone the affiliate rate increases that drive growth.

But Oxygen is also moving into crowded territory. Discovery, Investigation Discovery, A&E, Lifetime, National Geographic and even HBO and Netflix are among the TV heavyweights pouring resources into investigative docu-series.

“There is a huge demand for this type of programming,” Berwick emphasized. “We feel like we’re in a really good position to bring a younger female viewership to these shows, and produce them in a high-quality way that makes sense for us right now.”

Here’s a look at Oxygen’s three series greenlights:

“Three Days to Live”: premieres March 5 

Produced by Joke Productions and Lusid Media with Joke Fincioen, Biagio Messina and Zak Weisfeld serving as Executive Producers.

It’s a story that dominates the headlines all too often – every hour a woman is taken, and the chances of finding her alive diminish greatly if she is not found within 72 hours of her disappearance. “Three Days to Live” delves into the crucial days immediately following a harrowing abduction with vivid, visceral recreations and compelling first-hand interviews from authorities and loved ones. Distinguished news correspondent, SuChin Pak, narrates the series, taking viewers through the twists and turns of each tormenting case.

Cold Justice”: premieres 3Q 2017

Produced by Wolf Reality & Magical Elves with Dick Wolf and Tom Thayer serving as Executive Producers for Wolf Reality and Jane Lipsitz, Dan Cutforth, Casey Kriley and Nan Strait serving as Executive Producers for Magical Elves.

From executive producer Dick Wolf, Oxygen revives “Cold Justice,” a real life crime series that follows former prosecutor Kelly Siegler and her team of detectives as they dig into small town murder cases that have lingered for years without answers or closure. Together with local law enforcement from across the country, the “Cold Justice” team has helped bring about an astounding 16 indictments, 28 arrests, 6 confessions, 8 guilty pleas, and 10 convictions.

“The Jury Speaks”: premieres 3Q 2017

Produced by Glass Entertainment Group with Nancy Glass, Jon Hirsch, J.C. Mills and Eric Neuhaus serving as executive producers.

Robert Blake. George Zimmerman. Michael Jackson. Their trials sparked media frenzy, but their fates were all decided by a single jury. “The Jury Speaks” is self-contained, true-crime series that reexamines some of the most high-profile and controversial cases through the eyes of the original jury. These ordinary citizens were catapulted into the limelight.  But what really went down inside the courtroom walls? It’s time to get their side of the story and find out if after all these years, would they cast the same vote, or have their minds changed?

(Pictured: “Cold Justice”)

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