NEW YORK – The Oxygen television network is looking behind bars for inspiration.
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The NBC Universal-owned network said Wednesday that starting this summer, it will focus its programming on crime stories that appeal to women, joining an already crowded television genre.
Its other programming, such as "Bad Girls Club" and "Battle of the Ex-Besties," will be phased out.
Oxygen's saga speaks to the survival pressures faced by many cable networks. NBC Universal recently decided to shutter its Esquire network and make it digital-only. When Oxygen's launch was announced in 1998 with prominent backers that included Oprah Winfrey, the goal was to make it a general interest network for women to compete with Lifetime, only hipper.
The change won't be completely abrupt. Oxygen has seen success during the past year with a prime-time block of crime-oriented programming on three nights, recently increasing it to four. That helped Oxygen to a 42 percent increase in viewers during the last three months of 2016 compared to the same period a year earlier, the Nielsen company said.
Crime stories are easily found onscreen now, from the dramas on CBS' prime-time lineup to Investigation Discovery, probably the most successful cable network launch in some time. Frances Berwick, president of lifestyle networks for NBC Universal Cable, said Oxygen will take cues from the successful podcast "Serial" and Netflix's "Making a Murderer" in finding stories that viewers can follow to guess the outcome of true crime stories.
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"We felt like we could do that in a different way than there is currently out there, one that appeals to a younger demographic," Berwick said.
In March, Oxygen will premiere a new series, "Three Days to Live," focusing on the stories of women who have been abducted.
Veteran producer Dick Wolf is behind the upcoming series, "Cold Justice," which features former prosecutor Kelly Siegler and a team of detectives as they try to solve real-life crime cases across the country.
Wolf's series will start this fall, along with "The Jury Speaks," which examines noted criminal cases as seen through the eyes of the jury that decided them.
Oxygen is also launching its own podcast, "Martinis and Murder," that delves into the details surrounding murder cases.
"This is definitely a moment where people are interested in solving crimes themselves," Berwick said. She said Oxygen believes it is a genre with enough different stories and ways to tell them that interest won't be soon exhausted.