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Monday, February 18, 2008

It's Down to 2 networks to air WWE SmackDown! - MyNetworkTV and Superstation WGN


‘SmackDown’ Cuts Contenders to Two
Flagship WWE Show Looking for Post-CW Home
By Chris Pursell

World Wrestling Entertainment, seeking a new home for “SmackDown” when the show departs The CW network, has narrowed its suitors down to two, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the negotiations.

Barring last-minute bidding by a third party, MyNetworkTV and Tribune Broadcasting are vying for the wrestling show.

MyNetworkTV would bring the program back to the former UPN affiliates that once had the property.

Tribune has a number of options for where it could put “SmackDown,” including Superstation WGN. Tribune was a surprise entry in the bidding, with most pundits expecting NBC to be one of the last bidders standing.

Both MyNet and Tribune have been undergoing soul-searching in the past year, adding executives to fine-tune their business structures. With The CW’s decision to drop “Smackdown” from its lineup earlier this month, both companies are looking toward the WWE product as a means to incorporate an instant brand—and built-in audiences—into their lineups.

WWE’s shows, and “SmackDown” in particular, have a history as brand builders for the outlets that carry them. WWE’s “Raw” helped pull viewers to USA originally, then helped relaunch SpikeTV before returning to USA last year. The series currently earns around 4.5 million viewers on the channel.

In the late 1990s, “SmackDown” averaged more than 7 million viewers as a series that helped anchor UPN, providing some much-needed viewers for the struggling network. As part of The CW’s lineup, the series has earned closer to 5 million viewers per week. That makes it one of the network’s most popular shows, although it brought in different audiences than other series in the outlet’s lineup.

“Since the CW’s exclusive negotiation period ran out as of … Jan. 31, we have been contacted and have been in negotiations with other networks,” WWE executives said in an earlier statement. Its final appearance on The CW will be Sept. 12.

WWE declined to comment for this story. Tribune and MyNet are both undergoing changes. Tribune tapped the knowledge and experience of Fox Television Network president Ed Wilson several weeks ago, hiring him away to oversee the Tribune Broadcast Group as president. Now he oversees the company’s 23 stations as well as Superstation WGN, Tribune Entertainment and WGN Radio.

In recent months, Tribune, under the guidance of new owner Sam Zell, has streamlined operations, including shuttering its television syndication distribution business.

Should Tribune add “SmackDown” to its roster, likely for WGN, the move would present a potent quick strike for Mr. Wilson just days after taking the position.

Mr. Wilson would not comment on the company’s interest in the show.

As for MyNet, the network has been quietly building audiences with series such as “Celebrity Expose,” “Paradise Hotel” and “Jail.” It has been working to flesh out its programming roster, most recently ordering 13 episodes of “Under One Roof,” a new half-hour comedy from C to the B Productions and Qtopia Entertainment. That series, starring Flavor Flav, is scheduled to debut this spring and marks the channel’s initial foray into first-run sitcoms.

MyNet President Greg Meidel, who was tapped for the position early last year, has revamped the network after its initial incarnation as an outlet exclusively featuring English-language telenovelas. That experiment failed to find audiences, and MyNet shifted to a combination of reality shows, second-run movies and celebrity-driven news specials. The network added scripted fare to development in October.

The addition of “SmackDown” to MyNet would return the brand to a number of stations that originally aired the show when it was part of UPN. A company representative would not comment on the status of negotiations.

Following the expiration of The CW’s exclusive negotiating period on Jan. 31, the WWE announced The CW would stop carrying “WWE SmackDown” in September.
Additional Information:

WGN (Tribune Company) is an affiliate of Chicago's The CW.

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