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Wrestling reaps rewards
McMahon's successful WWE will make return to mainstream cable network
By TJ MADIGAN - Calgary Sun


If it weren't for his two torn quad muscles, Vince McMahon probably would be doing cartwheels down the corridors of Titan Tower. Things are looking up for World Wrestling Entertainment and not just because the company knocked the ball out of the park with its biggest annual pay-per-view last Sunday.

The good news actually came the morning after Wrestlemania, with the announcement Monday Night Raw will be leaving Viacom-owned Spike TV and returning to USA Network.

Now a part of the NBC Universal family, USA Network was Raw's home when the franchise debuted nearly 12 years ago. In 2000, WWE took its flagship show to what appeared to be the greener pastures of TNN (now Spike TV).

It was supposed to be a massive coup for both sides but many of the cross-promotional deals never came to fruition and ratings steadily dropped.

The move back to USA has been in the works for a couple of months but came to a head in March when Spike TV bosses decided they were no longer interested in renewing Raw's contract. Outside of USA, no other networks made offers.

TV execs tend to shy away from wrestling because of its low ad revenue, cyclical nature and edgy reputation. Even in TNA's case -- it is one of the top-rated shows on Fox Sports Net -- the group can still only get on the air by paying for the time, just like an infomercial.

USA is willing to look past wrestling's stigma because the network is battling TNT and TBS to be the No. 1 cable station in the U.S. With Raw on board, it will firmly secure its spot at the front of the pack.

The three-year arrangement will start in October, with Raw airing in its traditional Monday evening position on USA Network. The deal will not affect Raw's clearance in Canada, where it'll continue to air on TSN.

Raw will also broadcast in Spanish on USA's sister network, Telemundo, capitalizing on WWE's phenomenal popularity with Hispanic audiences. The company will even bring in new Latino talent to coincide with the move, starting this week with the signing of former ECW TV champ, Super Crazy.

USA also has signed on for one of WWE's weekend B-shows, likely Sunday Night Heat, which means Velocity and WWE Experience will be mercifully axed.

Onef the biggest coups for WWE is two 90-minute specials each year on NBC in the Saturday Night Live timeslot. It's been more than a decade since WWE programming appeared on one of the big four American networks and securing an NBC spot will do wonders for the company's image.

Outside of the new TV arrangement, the good news continued throughout the week.

Wrestlemania received rave reviews and the talent headed to Australia for a sold-out international tour.

For the rest of April, the good news likely will continue, with sold-out TV tapings in Britain and the rating-grabbing draft lottery on the horizon.

The question now is whether McMahon can keep the momentum going or if this is just another false start on WWE's road to recapturing ratings glory.


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