Reality show 'NXT' to replace series

After struggling in the ratings, “ECW” will end its run on Syfy today with World Wrestling Entertainment replacing the series with a reality show that revolves around the company’s newest roster of grapplers.

The new hour-long show, appropriately titled “NXT,” bows Feb. 23, and will pair up eight of WWE’s current stars with rookies that come from Florida Championship Wrestling, the company’s talent development camp in Tampa, Florida.

As of late last week, McMahon had narrowed down the teams to 12, but wouldn’t disclose names. Eight will ultimately be chosen for the first season. The series had also yet to start filming.

“NXT” will be a first for WWE, essentially lifting the veil of how the company operates.

WWE has long kept that a secret from fans, opting to produce shows that turn its athletes into colorful characters involved in over-the-top storylines.

But “NXT” will have pros mentoring rookies, with egos often getting in the way, as they learn the ropes of competing in the ring in front of live audiences, creating characters and speaking on camera.

“This is an opportunity to show another side you’ve never seen,” Vince McMahon, WWE’s colorful chairman and CEO told Daily Variety.

Given that WWE’s shows air 52-weeks of the year, “NXT” will be broken up into two or three seasons, where talent graduates to one of WWE’s other series. The reality show concept will also enable the pairs of mentors and rookies to crossover to WWE’s top shows, “Monday Night Raw” on USA Network and “Friday Night SmackDown” on MyNetworkTV.

“These kids crash and burn a lot,” McMahon said. “By putting them into this environment we’ll find out if they can make it. There’s no better way to develop skills than being in front of an audience. And that makes for good television.”

“NXT” won’t be WWE’s first reality show, however. The company produced three seasons of “Tough Enough” with MTV from 2001-2004. But that show was more of a competition that ended with one wrestler being recruited to join the WWE.

WWE needed to come up with a replacement for “ECW.”

“‘ECW’ feels old, it feels tired,” McMahon said. “Sometimes our brands need freshening up. You have to continue to reinvent yourself.

The show has been struggling to catch on with audiences lately. Its format of matches between an exclusive lineup of wrestlers each week was considered too similar to WWE’s two stronger shows, but with lesser-known athletes.

WWE bought the “ECW” brand, which stands for “Extreme Championship Wrestling,” and its video library in 2003, and after finding success with pay-per-view fights and merchandise, launched the series with 13 episodes on Sci-Fi in 2006. At the time, the show generated a 2.79 rating, but it’s currently generating a little more than a 1 rating.

In the past, “ECW” had been able to stand out with edgier bouts like barbed-wire matches and fans throwing chairs into the ring for wrestlers to use on their opponents. But now that WWE has gone PG, that kind of action doesn’t fit in well with its lineup of series.

“As we introduce this brand new franchise exclusively on Syfy, ‘NXT’

will have a completely different look and feel from our other WWE television programming,” McMahon said.

Syfy didn’t object to the change. The network has been reinventing itself with a new name, tagline and lineup of shows to boost ratings.

“Syfy is excited to continue our partnership with WWE, Vince and his team with this innovative live event-reality show,” said Syfy president Dave Howe. “The ‘NXT’ rookies take the challenge of our new tagline ‘Imagine Greater’ to heart as they embark on their ultimate dream quest to be the next generation of revered heroes and champions in the fantastic arena of the WWE.”

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