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Muppets take over WWE’s “Raw”

Promo deal benefits upcoming Disney pic

With guest hosts like Hugh Jackman, Pee Wee Herman and Bob Barker, WWE’s “Monday Night Raw” has looked like “The Muppet Show” for several years. Tonight, it actually turns into the Muppets’ show.

As a promotion for “The Muppets” movie, out Thanksgiving weekend, Disney offered WWE its felt-covered stars to serve as hosts of the company’s weekly series, appropriately enough, during the company’s Halloween episode, airing live from Atlanta.

WWE had long been looking for a way to work with the characters but couldn’t come up with the right reason — until Disney greenlit the new Muppet movie.

Nine of the film’s characters, including Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy, will appear during segments of the two-hour show in which they interact with WWE’s wrestlers. The film’s live-action stars, Jason Segel and Amy Adams, will not be present.

Disney wanted to work with WWE again after it arranged for Jackman to host “Raw” on Sept. 19 to promote DreamWorks’ “Real Steel,” in which he stars.

That stunt wound up getting picked up by a large number of media outlets, giving both companies a considerable PR payoff. They now expect the Muppets to generate even more attention.

“We’ve had guest stars ranging from Jeremy Piven, to Shaq, to Bob Barker, and most recently Hugh Jackman, but I have to say I think we’ll have the most fun with the Muppets!” said Stephanie McMahon, executive VP of creative for WWE.

WWE started promoting the Muppets’ appearance on “Raw” in mid-September with promos featuring Kermit and Miss Piggy during the company’s shows and on social-media platforms, giving Disney months of exposure for “The Muppets” before its bow with a specific audience it may not normally reach.

Ever since WWE switched to an all-PG format in 2008, the company has aggressively courted families and kids to watch its programming as a way to boost ratings and attendance figures of its live events but also create a following among a younger demo that it hopes will grow up with the brand.At the same time, WWE has been able to turn the hosts into ambassadors to try to knock down some of the stigma that still hovers over it and promote itself as a mainstream entertainment company with some serious marketing muscle.

“The guest host concept was designed to bring in viewers and demonstrate the power and reach of the WWE to other entertainment brands as well as potential sponsors,” McMahon said.

WWE airs two shows a week, “Raw” on USA Network (consistently the cabler’s top-rated show) and Syfy’s “Friday Night SmackDown,” that reach 500 million viewers a week around the world. It’s readying to launch its own TV channel, is overhauling the kinds of movies it makes, publishes magazines, videogames, sells toys and runs a popular website, Facebook page that boasts 40 million fans, and Twitter feed that’s been trending tens of terms during each series’ broadcast.

“I can only imagine what will trend this week with the Muppet’s guest starring, especially when the audience sees what the Muppets are going to do,” McMahon said.

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