TV's 'Hairy' Situations

Can the cutthroat world of New York hair salons team with television to create one more formulaic reality series - let alone two?

Fox TV Studios and cable's Oxygen network think so. They're hoping audiences will be captivated by the glamorous, gossipy and gaudy lives of hairstylists and the customers who love them.

From Fox comes "Making the Cut," (search) a one-hour series that follows the exploits of Australian-born New York hairstylist Rodney Cutler as he opens a downtown salon, accompanied by 40 aspiring hairdressers from all over America.

One Fox exec describes it as "American Idol" meets "The Restaurant" meets "Shampoo."

"Most people care about fashion and looking as good as they can," says Cutler, the proprietor of Cutler Salon on East 57th Street, which specializes in primping runway models.

"This provides an incredible opportunity, not just from a public relations standpoint, but as high drama."

Much of that drama will be provided by the ambitious, young hairstylists who'll compete for work among the glitterati and on glamorous magazine shoots like the one Cutler did recently with David Bowie.

By the second or third show, Cutler will choose 10 finalists whose personal and professional lives will be chronicled for the next 10 episodes. Three stylists will survive the final cut - so to speak - and fulfill their fantasies by working in Manhattan.

"It's a chance of a lifetime," says Fox's David Martin, executive vice president of Alternative Productions.  "Generally, Rodney makes newcomers spend three years washing hair before he lets them cut a client's hair."

Cutler, a husband and father of twins, will also be scrutinized both personally and professionally.

"People might find my life boring," he says modestly. "If they're looking for a rock star, I'm not the guy."

The brass at Fox differ. They use words like "sexy" and "charismatic" to describe him. The show is expected to begin shooting in January and air by next summer.

Meanwhile, over at the Oprah Winfrey-owned Oxygen network, "Hair Salon" (search) is shaping up as a bit of a documentary/soap opera, focusing on the blow-drying activities of several different salons in and out of Manhattan.

"This is going to be a series that's funny, delightful and a little bit outrageous," says one of the show's co-producers, Kit Laybourne.

"We're looking for a compelling narrative that works as great theater. What the locker room is for the guys, the hair salon is for women."

Last May, the producers began scouring more than 100 New York area salons in a quest to find the right mix of sexiness and dramatic possibilities.

By the time the show debuts, maybe as early as December, they'll focus on just three.

The cable network found that most beauty emporiums were more than happy to allow the cameras inside. One exception: the Frederic Fekkai (search) salon, which apparently feared the cameras might disturb its upscale clientele. (Customers interested in being part of the show have to sign a release; otherwise their faces will be blacked out.)

The producers say they want strong characters - especially a "Warren Beatty-type Lothario" they hope will generate plenty of heat.

They'll follow the stylists' escapades in and out of the office.

"This could be a perfect match for a woman's network like Oxygen," says Robert Thompson, the director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University.

"Women have a very intense relationship with their hair. It's a place where people figuratively and literally let their hair down."

News Corp. is the parent company of the Fox TV and