Turner to stop airing WCW
By JUSTIN BACHMAN -- AP Business Writer
ATLANTA -- Turner Broadcasting System Inc. has decided to stop airing World Championship Wrestling, a mainstay of the network's lineup since its fledgling days in the 1970s, as it continues to scout a buyer for the troubled company.
The decision means that the WCW will go on hiatus after a March 26 event in Panama City Beach, Fla., pending its sale to a new owner.
Turner spokesman Jim Weiss said Monday that Turner expects the company -- which lost an estimated $80 million last year -- will be sold quickly.
"It was a nice ride, but it's time for the ride to be over," Weiss said.
The decision to scrap wrestling was one of the first major programming decisions made by new chief executive Jamie Kellner.
He assumed control of Turner when AOL Time Warner merged the company's channels -- TBS, TNT, Turner Classic Movies, the Cartoon Network and all of the CNN networks -- into the WB network. Kellner helped establish the WB in 1993.
Weiss confirmed that one of the bidders for WCW is its longtime rival, World Wrestling Federation, whose ratings have trounced the WCW in recent years.
Another bidder is Fusient Media Ventures, a New York media investment firm, that announced its purchase of the company in January. That deal fell through when Turner decided to end its wrestling programming, leaving the WCW without a broadcaster.
"At this point, they're still talking," Fusient spokesman Paul Breton said.
The decision to scrap pro wrestling -- a vehicle which Turner Broadcasting founder Ted Turner rode to ratings success through much of the 1980s -- marks the end of a 30-year era for TBS.
The transition comes as Turner seeks to reach a more affluent segment of television viewers with an emphasis on more original programming and movies. Older shows such as "The Andy Griffith Show" and "The Dukes of Hazzard" will give way to newer programs such as "Friends" and "Seinfeld," Weiss said.
The WCW's shows, "Monday Nitro" is on TNT, while TBS features "Thunder" on Wednesday.
"Professional wrestling, in its current form and its current style, is not consistent with the higher-end, upscale brands we've created at TNT and TBS," Weiss said. "These are huge, big-time networks. It's not the old TBS anymore."
The company will fill its WCW slots with movies.
Turner began airing wrestling shortly after he bought a local Atlanta television station in 1970, and later carried it nationally when the company gained access to a satellite in 1976.
With big-name stars such as Hulk Hogan and the Nature Boy Ric Flair, Turner turned the WCW into the most popular TV wrestling brand.
But as the rival WWF developed newer, younger talent and racier story lines based on ribald language and situations, the WCW slipped into irrelevancy for many wrestling fans and its pay-per-view revenues and TV ratings slumped.