'Smackdown' completes run at end of season

The CW is getting out of the ring, parting ways with the WWE’s “Smackdown” franchise after failing to reach a new deal with the wrestling org.

WWE announced the split late Thursday night, saying it had been “in negotiations” with other nets since last week. CW’s exclusive negotiating frame with WWE ended Jan. 31. “Smackdown” will end its run at the end of the 2007-08 season.

There was no immediate word on where “Smackdown” might land, but cabler USA might be a logical home. It already has a relationship with the WWE.

NBC has also aired some primetime grappling, but a weekly

franchise– even in the era of “American Gladiators”– would be off- brand for the network, one net insider said. News Corp.’s MyNetwork TV might also make sense, though the lack of an announced deal would suggest that such a pact isn’t a slam dunk.

“After a successful decade of ‘Smackdown’ on both UPN and the CW, World Wrestling Entertainment and the CW have agreed to conclude our partnership,” WWE said in a statement explaining the move. Org did not give a reason for the decision.

CW put out a similar press release that offered no further explanation.

With the WWE and CW unable to come to a quick agreement, it’s believed CW execs had begun telling its stations that a deal might not make, people familiar with the situation said. Rather than wait for rumors to begin leaking out, WWE apparently opted to get the news out first.

CW (and previously UPN) execs had mixed feelings about the WWE franchise. “Smackdown” consistently delieved solid ratings for the network and its UPN predecessor since 1999, giving the net a pulse on weak nights such as Friday. “Smackdown” also filled two hours of programming, allowing CW to focus on fewer nights.

On the other hand, wrestling didn’t always fit in with the femme focus the CW has tried to cultivate via hits such as “Gossip Girl” and “America’s Next Top Model.”

It’s believed CW execs were open to the idea of keeping “Smackdown” on their air, but only at the right price. Since that price wasn’t available, CW execs seemed to have decided to bite the bullet and move on without wrestling.

Still, given the CW’s difficulties generating big ratings with scripted shows, losing “Smackdown” will present problems for the young net.

WWE was careful to word its statement without any sharp comments, even going so far as to praise CBS Corp. supremo Leslie Moonves and CW chief Dawn Ostroff. A CW rep couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

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