We’ve all seen that look-the one from high-level network execs at various industry gatherings. Little direct eye contact. Fixed smile. And an unmistakable sense that they’d rather be somewhere-anywhere-else. So it was a pleasure to spend an evening recently with Gerry Laybourne, chairman and CEO of Oxygen, who was in her element at a concert sponsored by the net (which aired Nov. 9) and never sported that all-too-familiar look. Upon arriving at Manhattan’s Supper Club one rainy Tuesday recently, where Oxygen was taping the concert, Laybourne didn’t pepper her staff with questions about the pending arrival of the featured artists, Sarah McLachlan and Avril Lavigne. Instead, she apprised them of her latest informal research on Oxygen’s status in the cultural zeitgeist of late 2003. "My driver wanted to come," she said, clearly pleased by his interest. After her predominantly female staff-yes, that includes a female head of security and head of operations-gave her an update, she herself posed on the red carpet for a posse of photographers, looking as if she does it every day. Her Zen-like demeanor belies her focus. She was here to work. In between sneaking peeks of the singers through the crowd, and at one point with a Coors Light in hand, she chatted up advertisers-and potential advertisers, such as Mercedes-Benz-distributors and Oxygen employees. She spends two to three evenings a week at Oxygen-related functions or on her passion-children’s causes. With a schedule like that, she savors those rare Tuesday evenings when her husband, producer Kit Laybourne, is teaching and she has their home to herself. By 7:30 on the night of the concert, the VIP entrance was thick with TV personalities, cable industry honchos and assorted guests streaming in three and four abreast. Everybody wanted to say hello to Laybourne. After greeting Time Warner Cable programming chief Fred Dressler, she told me, "So many of these people I know, but I get panicked [over whether I have the right name.] It’s not like at the cable conferences-it all melds into one." McLachlan apparently didn’t remember that she had met Laybourne once before, on a three-day cruise from Helsinki to St. Petersburg that billionaire (and Oxygen investor) Paul Allen had chartered to bring together 200 of his interesting friends. Jamming with the guitar-playing Mr. Allen, a then-pregnant McLachlan had serenaded the party-goers, Laybourne recalled. Laybourne is more Norah Jones and India.Arie than Avril, although her favorite is Roy Orbison. Although she’s not a big concertgoer, when I caught up with her during McLachlan’s set she picked Paul Simon and Ladysmith Black Mambazo as her favorite concert. Her least favorite was the Simon & Garfunkel reunion. Laybourne is nothing if not generous with praise for her team, some of whom, namely Oxygen’s production head Geoffrey Darby and programming president Debby Beece, have worked with the exec for more than two decades. Over a dinner break of grilled squash, marinated mozzarella balls and shrimp, Laybourne touted the genius of Darby, a co-founder of You Can’t Do That on Television, which became a Nick hit in 1984. A friend of Darby’s gushed over her first visit to Laybourne’s vacation home near Telluride, Colo., which Laybourne visits less often than she’d like because of her many trips to Los Angeles to visit son Sam, 28, daughter Emmy, 32, and Emmy’s new baby girl. When in Colorado, she told me, she sleeps outside almost every summer night on a specially designed bed that rolls inside and outside on railroad tracks. Snagging McLachlan for the concert, her first for television in six years, was a coup for the network. McLachlan’s performance before about 1,000 guests coincided with the release of her long-awaited seventh album. Laybourne will no doubt get some mileage from the show. "This is just the type of buzz Oxygen needs," one MSO executive told her. "You couldn’t get a ticket." Which explains why at least one cable insider, Kagan World Media’s Larry Gerbrandt, crashed the show.

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