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  May 25, 2000



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READER ALERT: For all the latest wrestling happenings, check out our News & Rumours section.

SLAM! Wrestling Editorial: What the ratings really mean
By JOHN POWELL -- SLAM! Wrestling

Served up week after week for our consumption, those trivial weekly wrestling ratings are an annoyance to me. Numbers thrown out there without any context to assist us in determining the importance of the information. With nothing to compare the stats to we are left with only one chapter to peruse through. The rest of the story remains untold.

Wrestling fans have been led to believe that those weekly grappling shows we know and love are unstoppable ratings juggernauts laying waste to the competition. That may be true in the extended cable industry which has a limited viewership. The numbers they generate in that market are impressive. The WWF's SmackDown! show alone has been cited as the reason why UPN hasn't tanked. However, if we were to measure them up against regular prime time, basic cable programming, we would start to see that the situation is similar to if The Rock were to join some indy federation on the outskirts of New Mexico. The sobering revelation is they are big fishes in a very small ponds.

The most watched wrestling program and cable show currently is of course, Raw Is War. That's according to the Nielsen Media Research Company, the industry's leading source of weekly television ratings. By dividing Raw into two parts (Raw Is War 9:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. and War Zone 10:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.), the WWF's flagship show gets counted as two separate shows. In the latest Nielsen cable ratings (May 8th to 14th), War Zone was the Number One show receiving a 4.9 rating. Since each Nielsen ratings point equals 1,008,000 households, 4.99 million homes turned on War Zone.

Pretty cool, huh? Not really. Its main competition in that time slot, the emergency service drama, Third Watch on NBC, picked up an 8.1.

Raw Is War with a 4.6 (4.65 million homes) fares even worse. Ally McBeal on FOX (7.9), Everybody Loves Raymond on CBS (11.4) and Law And Order on NBC (12.2) swallowed it whole.

Nitro's overall rating of a 2.3 (2.279 million homes) didn't even come close to amassing any sort of challenge to the basic cable networks on Mondays. ECW On TNN with it's point zero to one ratings can't come close to harming Boy Meets World (3.5) on Friday nights.

On the star-studded Thursday nights, SmackDown! is battered. Friends on NBC (20.0), Frasier on NBC (22.1) and Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? on ABC (12.4) clean up in a big way. SmackDown! received a 4.7, placing it 66th on Nielsen's Prime Time Ratings listing. That's tied with an episode of Cops on FOX, 7th Heaven on The WB and FOX's Thursday Night Movie, True Lies. SmackDown! did manage to win out over such shows as Futurama on FOX (3.7), Buffy The Vampire Slayer on The WB (3.4) and Dawson's Creek on WB (3.0). Basically SmackDown! has more viewers than anything on the Warner Brothers network (WB) and UPN.

Stacked up against mainstream prime time programming Raw Is War has as many people watching it as King Of The Hill on FOX (4.6) might. War Zone has close counterparts in Early Edition on CBS (4.9) and 7th Heaven on The WB (4.7). Nitro shares the same numbers as Charmed on The WB on Sunday nights (2.0) and Felicity on The WB (2.0). ECW On TNN soundly thrashes episodes of Diagnosis Murder and the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? rip-off, Twenty-One on NBC.

So what's this all mean? That we as wrestling fans shouldn't let our heads get too big. In the grand scheme of things, wrestling is an extended cable cash cow. The television industry as a whole though isn't feeling the heat. Wrestling's popularity is holding it's own against cable networks who are still establishing themselves. Grappling on the tube is beating out some of these high-priced Hollywood productions that take days to film. That's something to cheer about. Those veterans though are pinning us left, right and centre.

If I have learned one lesson in my years as a film critic and it is that ratings mean jack. You can't judge the caliber of a film by the box office stats released every Monday morning. Those numbers are indicative of a film's financial success. What they sure don't reveal is whether a motion picture is worth seeing or not. Titanic hauled in $601 million, Home Alone $285 million and Grease $182 million smackeroos during their stints at movie houses to place them on the Top All Time Highest Grossing Movies list. Enough said.

Monster ratings are sign of widespread popularity and not much else. The product (a movie, television show, a book, a CD) has been accepted by a large portion of the population. As I write this 'N Sync and the Backstreet Boys hold prominent positions on the The Billboard Top 200 Chart. Danielle Steel's The Wedding closes out Chapters' Top 10 Fiction Books in Canada and the crapfests Random Hearts and Double Jeopardy can be found on the Top Ten DVDs.

Following the ratings can provide die-hard federation loyalists with more stones for their slings. That's about it. Mainstream popularity translated into mega ratings doesn't necessarily equal quality, folks.

Case closed.

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