And So They Begin--Oxygen Kicks Off Cable Upfronts
Oxygen kicked off the season early - read: before said buyers got tired of the game - this morning with a breakfast at Cipriani, the ladies' network's first upfront event. They'd decked out the joint - a perennial upfront favorite - with pink tablecloths, curtains and flatware, and spared no expense at shipping their talent out for cameos in what was ultimately a very cute show. Janice Dickinson, sex granny Sue Johansson, comedian Mo'Nique and the girls from Campus Ladies, fresh from their weekend puff piece in Sunday's New York Times, all did stage bits. So did Oxygen sales execs, as well as programming chief Debby Beece, COO Lisa Gersh and the network's founder, Gerry Laybourne (left). Apparently schooled in the ways of how to amuse sleepy media buyers, dragged from bed to an 8:30 a.m., Oxygen took care to include the requisite spoof clips of media buyers themselves acting in the network's shows (media buyer mock auditions for The Bad Girls Club, pre-selected media buyer gets "randomly selected" to win a painting from new Oxygen star Tori Spelling, media buyer gets advice from the martial arts guru from the network's martial arts series, etc., etc.).
Laybourne and Gersh explained the network's jump on the season as Oxygen recognizing that "upfront" buying is becoming an increasingly antiquated notion, as deals get done throughout the year. Sales execs implored the crowd to do those deals with Oxygen, which they - as you can be sure every other network will do - promised they were up in viewing, down in media age and truly tapped in to what their audience wants. (In Oxygen's case, these claims are largely true - the network, while small, was up 17% with total viewers and 24% in women 18-49 during fourth quarter).
The coup de grâce was a surprise performance from Jamie Foxx, who has no affiliation with the network, but is in town for back-to-back performances at the Garden. The crowd took to his serenade, purportedly a song he'd written to his pregnant wife about how she "still got it" despite the fact that she'd gained weight, was seeking spiritual guidance from Oprah and was afraid to try on jeans. "Be happy with who you are and what you're doing," he told the appreciative, female-heavy crowd. "You don't need no guy. You look great." Lulled into a 9:30 a.m. calm by his crooning, the baby buyers I'm sure forgave the awkwardness after his performance when he was left on stage, apparently not told that he was to end the event, not pass the mike to anyone else. "I'm standing here looking stupid as hell," he said, quickly recovering, "but I love Oxygen, baby! Breathe it in!"
By Anne Becker