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January 12, 2013

Slate: The Oxygen network thinks young women want horrible TV

WASHINGTON — I'm always suspicious when an entertainment executive claims to know precisely what young women are looking for. But there was something particularly infuriating about the pitch given by Rod Aissa, senior vice president for original programming and development at Oxygen Media, at the Television Critics Association press tour in Pasadena, Calif., this week. Apparently what I've been looking for all my life is a Birkin bag, my mother to judge my teen-age dating decisions and a man to pop the question after humiliating me.

I have no problem with the idea, as Aissa put it, that "a viewer who is living life on their own terms . . . wants to watch shows that are fun, have emotion and passion, but yes, they have to have key ingredients of high stakes and drama." I don't know what "living life on their own terms" means exactly, but fun, emotion, passion, high stakes and drama are definitely what I like in my TV. It's why I cried when Ben Wyatt proposed to Leslie Knope on "Parks and Recreation," and why I'm so excited for audiences to get in front of FX's new drama "The Americans," which stars Keri Russell as a Soviet spy embedded in 1980s Washington. It's the rest of Aissa's argument that had the critics sitting around me worried that I was about to break out in rage-hives.

Because check out Oxygen's lineup: shows with names like "Fat Girl Revenge," which follows women who "have a score to settle" with people who made fun of them at their prior weights. (Fun!) Then there's "Find Me My Man," a matchmaking show based on the idea that we've all got an Ideal Husband waiting for us out there somewhere, and the reasons we're not meeting him are all about us. (Emotion!) There's "Too Young To Marry," which is based on the idea that it's really hilarious to make fun of teen-agers who think that they've found True Love. (Passion!) And finally, there's "Propos'd," a combination of a prank show and a proposal program in which, as Aissa put it, men who are dating "fiancezillas" have their turn to "get a little revenge, a little payback time for her. She'll get the ring, but in a very, very surprising original way." (High stakes!) The clip of "Propos'd" they showed us featured a man who staged an arrest so that his girlfriend would be terrified she was about to lose him when he finally popped the question. And that's not even to mention the already-airing "All My Babies' Mamas," a reality show about a young man and the host of women seeking child support from him. (Drama.)

It's news to me that as a young lady, I'm obsessed with past slights, single because I'm a flawed, gross person, or that some day, I'll deserve to be punished for getting married. If that's living life on my own terms, I'd rather not.

Rosenberg writes about culture and television for Slate's XX Factor. She also contributes to ThinkProgress and theatlantic.com. @AlyssaRosenberg

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