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Wrestlers try H’w’d headlock

'X-Men's' Simon to seek film, TV projects for characters

World Wrestling Entertainment has created a Los Angeles-based film division and tapped producer Joel Simon as its prexy.

Simon, a co-producer of Fox’s “X-Men” and the executive producer of Warner Bros.’ “Wild Wild West,” has a mandate to seek out both film and TV opportunities for the WWE-branded characters.

“In Joel Simon, we have someone with the tenure and expertise to make this new venture a success,” said Linda McMahon, CEO of WWE, adding that WWE Films will aim to create and produce material that “will appeal not only to our loyal fans, but to a larger public as well.”

Increasingly, TV viewer loyalty has become a nettlesome issue for WWE: While still delivering healthy ratings numbers of young male viewers, company’s grappler shows like “UPN Smackdown” and its TNN cablecast have experienced double-digit declines in young male viewership over the last year.

McMahon said Simon, a former marketing exec who worked with clients like Coke and McDonald’s, will create feature film opportunities which WWE will produce. The crossover success of WWE star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and his toplined theatrical feature with Universal, “The Scorpion King,” is one example of the type of opportunity WWE will continue to seek in feature films: placing WWE characters in prominent roles.

In addition, Simon will develop television projects that will benefit from an affiliation with the WWE or its characters.

Company will finance its own overhead and development for these projects.

Untapped resource

Simon called WWE “a powerful brand” that is “an untapped creative resource for Hollywood.”

He added: “I believe that the WWE has created a new breed of action-adventure hero: one with a ready-made audience. WWE attracts a strong, youth-oriented audience, the type of moviegoers and viewers who can financially make or break a film.

“My job is to show how the WWE brand and its Superstars can be used to best advantage to bring its global audience of teens and young adults to new film and television projects.”

Simon comes to WWE from his own production company, Joel Simon Prods., formed in October 2001. He was formerly president of Quincy Jones Media Group and Quincy Jones/David Salzman Prods.

Previously, he was a producer-partner in Todman/Simon Prods. He most recently produced “Til Death Do Us Part,” a pic due out next year, with Michael Douglas toplining.

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