WWF pins nets on ‘Mat’ blurbs

USA joins stations banning ads for pic

The ongoing feud between Lions Gate and the WWF has escalated with USA Networks joining UPN as well as Paramount- and United-owned stations in banning all advertisements for the upcoming wrestling docu “Beyond the Mat.” The WWF is going for the pin, using expiring contracts with the two networks to get its way.

The World Wrestling Federation recently withdrew support for the upcoming Lions Gate pro grappling docu because it believes the pic paints an unflattering portrait of the behind-the-scenes world of the WWF. During “Raw” on Monday, all of the ads for the movie were pulled from the commercial lineup on USA; the spots were similarly pulled during Thursday’s “WWF Smackdown!” telecast on UPN. Also this week, all pre-sold ads for the docu on the two networks were canceled. The WWF, which controls all advertising that appears during its programs, is currently negotiating with both networks to extend the expiring contracts for the two blockbuster shows.

In addition, the WWF has told Lions Gate that it can use neither the wrestlers’ names nor the federation’s logo in any commercials despite agreeing to their use while Barry Blaustein was filming the docu.

“Vince McMahon has declared war on ‘Beyond the Mat,’ after he failed to buy the film,” said Lions Gate co-prexy Tom Ortenberg. “The film treats wrestlers as human beings and with respect, and using their leverage with UPN and USA is unreasonable.”

The WWF has said that because it has no financial or emotional attachment to the film, there is no reason to support its release and that it considers “Beyond the Mat” as competition to its product.

Execs Michael Rosenberg, Brian Grazer and Ron Howard of Imagine Entertainment, the pic’s production company, continue to support the film and will appear next week on Paramount newsmag “Entertainment Tonight” to plug the movie.

Meanwhile, Lions Gate has sold commercial time to WWF competitors, World Championship Wrestling and Exteme Championship Wrestling. Ortenberg also says there will be a grassroots marketing campaign for the docu through the Internet as well as other outlets.

“Beyond the Mat” will open March 17 nationally.

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