Television musical chairs
Lineup spots changing nights as jostling among wrestling companies continues
TJ MADIGAN - Calgary Sun
The biggest wrestling news story of 2005 is not about a match, a title change or even a business war between rival grappling groups.
In fact, the biggest wrestling news story of the year isn't even about wrestling itself. It's all about the game of musical chairs that's playing out between WWE, TNA and several U.S. TV networks.
Over the next 30 days, the wrestling TV landscape will go through one of the biggest transformations in modern times, with WWE's weekly air time being drastically reduced as a result.
It all starts this coming week, when Smackdown will be moved from its prime time Thursday slot to become a regular Friday night feature on UPN. This can't be painted as anything but a negative, since Friday is the TV ratings death night for the 18-34 demographic which WWE (and its advertisers) covet.
Here in Canada, Smackdown will continue to air Thursday nights on the Score (albeit an hour later than before) until someone realizes how confusing it is to air Friday Night Smackdown the night before it theoretically happens.
The next big change will be the cancellation of WWE's long-running B-shows, with 'Sunday Night Heat' and 'Velocity' set to be axed by the end of the month. The weekend WWE recap shows, Afterburn and Bottom Line are also going to be dropped from syndication in all North American markets.
Then, starting in the first week of October, Monday Night Raw makes the move from Spike TV to USA Network. It's a higher profile cable home for WWE's flagship show but will cost the WWE millions in ad revenue due to a less favourable deal.
That same week, TNA gets its first real chance to be a factor in the North American grappling scene, launching its weekly wrestling show on Spike TV's Saturday night lineup. This will also be TNA's first major clearance in Canada, opening themselves up to the massive wrestling fan base north of the border.
Other big changes over the next few months include a one-hour Raw show launching on Saturday mornings on USA Network and a twice-a-year WWE TV special in the Saturday Night Live slot on NBC.
RHODES RETURNS: Dusty Rhodes is on board as the newest member of the WWE creative team. After meeting with Stephanie McMahon a few weeks back, Rhodes has been formally hired as a writer for the Smackdown brand.
As part of the deal, WWE will produce a biography of Rhodes' career and will likely induct him into the Hall of Fame next April.
FOLEY COMING BACK: Mick Foley is coming back to WWE and could be on TV in time for Monday Night Raw's debut on USA network.
Foley, one of the company's biggest home-grown superstars, left WWE in late 2001 after a series of disputes over the creative direction of the product. He has since made several short-term comebacks, usually for a single high profile match on pay-per-view.
According to WWE's website, Foley has agreed to terms to return to the company and the contract details are being hammered out as you read this.
HITMAN ON DVD: Bret Hart spent much of the past two weeks at WWE's TV studios in Connecticut, finishing up work on his upcoming DVD project. The original title (Screwed:The Bret Hart Story) has been dropped in favour of Bret Hart: The best there is, the best there was, the best there ever will be. The DVD biography, which Hart has partial creative control over, will hit stores in November.
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