×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

NBCUniversal, Dick Wolf in Talks to Transform Oxygen Into Crime-Centric Channel (EXCLUSIVE)

NBCUniversal and prolific producer Dick Wolf are in discussions about turning the Oxygen cable channel into a crime-centric outlet anchored by Wolf’s Universal TV-produced drama series.

Sources cautioned that the discussions are still in the early stages and that a formal deal may not come together. It is understood that Wolf might wind up with a small equity stake in the revamped channel.

NBCUniversal declined to comment. A rep for Dick Wolf also declined comment.

The discussions are a sign that even the largest cable programmers are feeling the pressure when it comes to under-performing channel assets. Oxygen has been in a ratings slump with few buzzy series to draw attention. In primetime, the network is down 12% in adults 18-49 — and 13% in women 18-49 — from 2015, in Nielsen’s live-plus-seven ratings. Its average primetime draw is 228,000 total viewers, with 99,000 in the 18-49 demographic, and 72,000 women in that demo. Oxygen already has taken steps to shift its programming focus by recently adding a “Crime-Time”-branded block of unscripted true-crime series on four days of the week, Friday-Monday, to capitalize on the growing interest in such docu fare. That block is producing 44% ratings gains over the year-ago performance.

As part of that “Crime-Time” block, Oxygen has put several project into development with the Universal TV-based Wolf Entertainment banner.

Oxygen Media was formed in 1999 in the heady days of the dot-com boom as a venture led by Geraldine Laybourne, with investors that included Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and Oprah Winfrey. The channel launched as an independent outlet in February 2002 with a focus on female-oriented lifestyle and comedy programming. NBCUniversal bought the company in October 2007 for $925 million, including debt.

Under NBCUniversal, the channel’s focus shifted to celebrity-driven unscripted programming. In 2013, oversight of the channel was put under the direction of Frances Berwick, the exec who helped shape Bravo into a major player for NBCUniversal. Under Berwick, Oxygen has trained its focus on young multicultural women with aspirational reality shows and docu-series tied to distinctive subcultures.

But Oxygen’s ratings volatilty have made it vulnerable for subscriber losses at a time when traditional MVPDs are looking to tamp down on programming costs and create smaller bundles in an effort to combat cord-cutting. The threat of continued subscriber losses eating away at cable earnings has become a growing concern, even for congloms as big as NBCUniversal parent Comcast and Disney, which is battling the same problem with the erosion of ESPN’s subscriber base.

Within NBCU there has quietly been discussion about possible revamps of Oxygen along with other lower-profile channels in the group.

Wolf, meanwhile, has been on a roll for the past two seasons with the success of his “Chicago”-themed procedural drama series. He’s launched three shows 2012: “Chicago Fire,” “Chicago P.D.” and “Chicago Med,” with a fourth on the way in midseason: “Chicago Justice.” He’s also reviving the mothership “Law & Order” brand on NBC next year with limited series based on notorious true crime tales, starting with the Menendez brothers double-murder case.

Wolf’s “Law & Order: SVU” is in its 18th season on NBC. The mothership “Law & Order” produced some 456 episodes during its 1990-2010 run on NBC. “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” ran from 2001 to 2011 on NBC and USA Network.

With that kind of library, it’s no surprise there would be talk within NBCU about a Wolf drama-branded channel.

(Pictured: “Chicago P.D.”)

More TV

  • Walt Disney Archives Founder Dave Smith

    Walt Disney Archives Founder Dave Smith Dies at 78

    Walt Disney Archives founder Dave Smith, the historian who spent 40 years cataloging and preserving the company’s legacy of entertainment and innovation, died Friday in Burbank, Calif. He was 78. Smith served as Disney’s chief archivist from 1970 to 2010. He was named a Disney Legend in 2007 and served as a consultant to the [...]

  • TV Writer Christopher Knopf, Former WGA

    TV Writer Christopher Knopf, Former WGA West President, Dies at 91

    Prolific Emmy-nominated television writer Christopher Edwin Knopf, former president of the Writers Guild of America West, died in his sleep of congestive heart failure on Feb. 13. He was 91. Knopf was born in New York and attended UCLA, leaving during his senior year to join the Air Force during World War II. He finished [...]

  • Jussie Smollett The Black AIDS Insitute

    Jussie Smollett Case: Two Suspects Released Without Charges as New Evidence Emerges

    After two days of questioning, the Chicago Police Department announced Friday evening that it has released two suspects in the Jussie Smollett case without filing charges. Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said that detectives had developed new information in the case. Police no longer consider the men to be suspects. “Due to new evidence as a [...]

  • GOTHAM: L-R: Guest star Cameron Monaghan

    TV News Roundup: Fox Drops 'Gotham' Final Season Trailer (Watch)

    In today’s TV news roundup, Fox released a new trailer for an upcoming episode of “Gotham” and Disney has announced the cast for its upcoming “High School Musical” series.  FIRST LOOKS Showtime released a new trailer and the official poster for the upcoming fourth season of “Billions,” premiering March 17 at 9 p.m. ET/PT. In [...]

  • Chris Rock

    Chris Rock to Direct Kenan Thompson Comedy Pilot at NBC

    Chris Rock has come onboard to direct the NBC single-cam comedy pilot “Saving Kenan,” Variety has learned. Rock will also executive produce the pilot, which stars “SNL” mainstay Kenan Thompson. Thompson will play a newly widowed dad determined to be everything for his kids while begrudgingly letting his persistent father-in-law become more involved in their lives [...]

  • Peak TV Saturation TV Placeholder

    Apollo Global Management Buys Majority Stake in Cox TV Stations

    Private equity giant Apollo Global Management has cut a deal with Atlanta-based Cox Enterprises to buy a majority stake in Cox’s 13 TV stations as well as three newspapers and a handful of radio stations in Ohio. Apollo has been in the hunt for broadcast TV stations for some time. Cox’s station group, which includes [...]

  • Ken Jeong TV Take Podcast

    Listen: Ken Jeong on His Return to Stand-Up and New Netflix Special

    Welcome to “TV Take,” Variety’s television podcast. In this week’s episode, Variety’s executive editor of TV, Daniel Holloway, talks with Ken Jeong about his Netflix comedy special, “Ken Jeong: You Complete Me, Ho,” and being a judge on Fox’s “The Masked Singer.“ Jeong started working on his new standup act after ABC canceled his show “Dr. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content