Giving Women TV That Resonates

Nov 10, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Some industry insiders shook their heads when Dawn Ostroff, who made a name for herself developing programming for women at Lifetime Television, was named president of entertainment at UPN.
UPN had earned a reputation as the testosterone network because of its strong wrestling franchise.
While Ms. Ostroff didn’t make it a mission to draw more women to UPN, the network has blossomed among female viewers under her leadership. In addition to existing shows such as “Half and Half” and “Girlfriends,” which already enjoyed high popularity with women, Ms. Ostroff’s first development slate since her arrival at UPN in February 2002 has succeeded in reaching women with shows such as “Eve” and “All of Us.”
“When I came to the network, the perception was that the net was very male. In fact, it was 47 percent female and 53 percent male. It was almost 50-50. Last year, the gap narrowed even further to 49 percent [female] to 51 percent [male],” said Ms. Ostroff, who added that more than 30 percent of the audience for `WWE SmackDown!’ is female.
The figures are impressive: Of the top 10 female-skewing shows in prime ime, five are on UPN, more than on any other network. “Half and Half” and “Girlfriends,” the top two prime-time shows in terms of female audience percentage, air on UPN, which has more shows that skew 70 percent or more female than any other broadcast network.
“Clearly, there is a need out there for women to find shows that are speaking directly to them. I don’t think a woman could watch `Girlfriends’ and not relate to any of those characters in one way,” said Ms. Ostroff.
Before joining UPN in January 2002 Ms. Ostroff served as executive VP, entertainment, at Lifetime Television, where she oversaw all programming and production, scheduling and acquisitions, including Lifetime’s original movies, prime-time series, specials, documentaries and sports as well as all programming for the Lifetime Movie Network and Lifetime Real Women. Under her leadership, Lifetime rose from the sixth-highest-rated network on cable to No. 1 cable network in prime time.
Working at Lifetime gave Ms. Ostroff a lesson in what women want from television.
“There needs to be an emotional connection,” she said. “Women want to see themselves reflected in a way that represents their lives. Even a show like `America’s Top Model’ is about women pursuing their dreams.”
Dawn Ostroff
Job title: President of Entertainment, UPN
Date of birth: March 31, 1960
Place of birth: Brooklyn, N.Y.
Length of time in current gig: 11/2 years
Why her? In her previous job Ms. Ostroff played a pivotal role in making Lifetime the No. 1 cable network in prime time. At UPN, she took a big chance trying to fill “Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s” shoes on Tuesday nights with female-skewing comedies-and it paid off. Both “All of Us” and “Girlfriends” skew nearly 70 percent female. “One on One” and “Rock Me Baby” are close behind with female comps of more than 66 percent.