Spike keeps ‘Fighting’

Men's cabler keeps 'Fighting' thru 2008

Spike TV has struck an exclusive multiyear deal to keep its top-rated franchise, Ultimate Fighting Championship, on the air through 2008.

Pact includes an order for three additional seasons — 13 episodes each — of reality show “The Ultimate Fighter,” plus 10 “Ultimate Fight Night Live” specials and 26 episodes of “UFC Unleashed,” best-of compilations from past pay-per-view events.

Execs from Spike TV and UFC declined to comment on the financial terms of the deal.

Spike is expected to announce the news as part of an upfront presentation today in Gotham. Viacom-owned cabler also will reveal its new look and tagline as part of an overall brand bolstering campaign (Daily Variety, March 15); men’s channel now will focus on edgier originals and more action-centric programming.

“Ultimate Fighter,” a hybrid docusoap-sports show, premiered in early 2005 and quickly became the first show on any network to benefit from wrestling as a lead-in, averaging a robust 2.1 million viewers. Spike locked up more seasons shortly thereafter (Daily Variety, May 3).

Newly ordered fifth and sixth seasons of the show are scheduled to air in 2007, followed by a seventh cycle in 2008.

The upcoming third installment of “Ultimate Fighter” premieres April 6, moving from its Monday night perch to Spike’s newly minted Full Contact Thursdays.

“A lot of our videogame and movie studio advertisers are there. It’s really a young guy night,” Spike exec VP-general manager Kevin Kay said. “There is no wrestling there, either, so it’s a good opportunity to make it a destination for us.”

Night will kick off at 9 with new episodes of “UFC Unleashed,” followed at 10 by “Ultimate Fighter” and cabler’s TNA (Total Nonstop Action) Wrestling at 11. (Spike airs its “Fight Night Live” three-hour specs on different days throughout primetime.) Both franchises have done wonders in keeping Spike’s primetime numbers from hemorrhaging despite its loss of WWE wrestling to USA last fall.

Second season finale of “Ultimate Fighter” edged the tally for the first with a total 2.64 million viewers tuning in Nov. 5.

“Our goal for the next couple of years is to build ratings, grow our fan base on Spike and to do more live fights on-air,” UFC prexy Dana White said.

Monday nights now will be home to Spike’s new hit “Pros vs. Joes,” which drew 1.7 million viewers (795,000 men 18-49) in its March 6 premiere.

Pilgrim Films and Television’s Craig Piligian (“American Chopper”) exec produces “Ultimate Fighter” alongside Zuffa’s Frank Fertitta III, Lorenzo Fertitta, Dana White and Spike’s Kay.