Somebody tell Oprah! Oxygen Media is apparently trying to "compete with Lifetime" by competing with "The Man Show."
The New York Times reports today that on Sunday, the network will launch "Campus Ladies," a "ribald comedy about two middle-age suburban women who go back to college and indulge in some age-inappropriate partying and carousing with male undergraduates." One commercial for the show, produced by the Toy agency, includes a voice-over from "Paige, the founder of Students Against Overage Drinking," who warns male college students that "extremely drunk middle-aged college women are trying to have sex with you."
Anne Bologna, a co-founder of Toy, said that (the Times is paraphrasing here) "women can gravitate to traditionally male humor, if given the chance."
Finally, the chance we've been waiting for!
"Women want to be respected, and they have a sense of humor," Bologna went on. "Why should men get all the funny commercials? Why should only men get to have a higher level of entertainment in their advertising? Women are people, too, and they deserve to be entertained."
The bar, ladies, has clearly been set very high.
I do think there's way too much fuss over whether certain forms of "entertainment" are "fluffy" and therefore "bad for women." Come on, it is entertainment -- and women can tell the difference between "Baby Monitor: Sound of Fear" and C-SPAN, thank you very much. (Plus, as a colleague once remarked: "No one ever says, 'The Tony Danza Show': Is it good for men?")
(Also, in the interest of full disclosure, I admit I do have a personal ax to grind with Oxygen Media. Let's just say that they're not the sharpest knife in your back.)
But I've got a larger point here. Ribald can work, as can sex with younger men. But this "Campus Ladies" show just sounds really, um ... bad? Aggressively, embarrassingly so. It reminds me of how, in my earlier days as a standup comic, I'd watch other new female comedians try to look "cool" by being gratuitously filthy. And guess what? They were just as unfunny as the gratuitously filthy guys. Which doesn't get anybody anywhere. The female funny that succeeds does because it's funny, not because it's coming from a girl. (And that's when it becomes "good for women.")
Another new show on Oxygen: "The Janice Dickinson Project," which promises to be something along the lines of "America's Next Middling Model." According to a press release, "The 10-episode series ... offers viewers an intimate view into Dickinson's life as she tackles the grueling work of starting her own business and teaching a new generation of aspiring models the business from the ground up. Viewers watch as Dickinson juggles motherhood, champions her new models, and tries to run a profitable agency -- all while dealing with skepticism from the industry she helped to define. The show goes beyond Dickinson's runway persona to show a woman on the verge of a new phase in her career and determined to redefine American beauty."
"She's starting a new business with all its challenges, while trying to be a good mom and guide new models through a tough business. It's a balancing act for her and it's fascinating to watch her as she goes through it," said Debby Beece, president of programming.
Riiiiiiight. As a friend of mine commented in response: "Do what you want, you're a moneymaking business ... but DON'T pretend this is a show about women starting small businesses and being NURTURING! Admit it's all about Janice's scary face and body and tantrums."
Hey, here's one way to compete with Lifetime: Become a political lobbying force. Yes, even as you "entertain!" Through its public affairs office, Lifetime has been able to rally its audience to back legislation important to women. The Justice for All Act of 2004, for example, which sought to speed kits for the DNA testing of rape, was scrambling for attention at first. ("I had many a press conference," Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, a Democrat from New York who sponsored the act, told the Times (registration required), "and the only press in the audience was Lifetime TV.") Lifetime collected 110,000 signatures, and the president signed the bill into law. (Top that, Campus Ladies!)
Or at least quit trying to be one of the guys.