'Smackdown' to air as weekly program

After a little over a year of grappling with low ratings, MyNetworkTV has turned to WWE to boost its profile with viewers.

“WWE Smackdown,” which is ending its run on the CW later this year, will air weekly starting in the fall. The show represents a major investment for MyNetwork, which launched in September 2006 with a slew of telenovelas that failed to take hold.

World Wrestling Entertainment ended negotiations with the CW on Jan. 31 when the two couldn’t come to a new agreement, even though the show performed well.

Last week, “Friday Night Smackdown” was one of the CW’s top shows, averaging 4.56 million viewers, and it will continue on the network until the end of the season.

Prior to appearing on the CW, wrestling had a home on UPN since 1999.

“The momentum at MyNetworkTV continues with this major acquisition,” said My Network prexy Greg Meidel. “This partnership with WWE is a perfect fit for viewers, advertisers and affiliates.”

WWE chairman Vince McMahon added: “We have an unmatched record of delivering ratings success to every network partner we’ve worked with. We fully intend to bring that same level of success to MyNetworkTV.”

Meidel said MyNetworkTV would control the “advertising inventory,” meaning it would sell commercial time and retain ad revenue.

In its first few years with UPN, WWE essentially rented the net’s Thursday-night block and controlled all of the ad sales for the program, though the deal terms later changed to a more conventional licensing arrangement.

“It’s a guaranteed win (in that wrestling has performed well on other networks in the past),” Meidel said. “When the CW elected to pass, we moved as quickly as possible. WWE is a huge franchise, and this fits us like a glove.”

Meidel added that while “Smackdown” has not yet been allotted a timeslot, he is confident the show will work on Thursday or Friday night, either of which would be popular with film studios hoping to build word of mouth among potential weekend filmgoers.

Wrestling permeates cable as well, with “Monday Night Raw” on USA and “Extreme Championship Wrestling” on the Sci Fi Channel.

MyNet remains an also-ran among the broadcast nets, but it is on the rise. Thanks to one-off specials and a few decently performing series such as “Celebrity Expose” and “Jail,” it’s averaging 1.11 million viewers this season, up from 782,000 at this point in its inaugural season a year ago.

By comparison, CW is averaging 2.62 million viewers, down from 3.28 million a year ago.

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