USA wrestles with ‘eBaum’

Cabler puts 'World' in ring with WWE

USA Network is hoping to keep WWE fans in its ring a little longer.

While no net has been able to use wrestling as a launchpad for shows, USA is plowing ahead with a series of programs that execs are betting on to take advantage of the consistently top-rated franchise.

First project out of the gate is “eBaum’s World,” from Fox Television Studios, based on the Web site of the same name.

USA has greenlit production on the one-hour pilot, which execs expect to bow as a latenight companion to “Monday Night Raw.” Goal is to get at least one companion for wrestling on the air by this fall.

Since World Wrestling Entertainment joined the sked last September, its ratings have vaulted USA to the top spot in basic cable’s primetime ratings race. Last week’s edition of “Raw” delivered 2.6 million adults 18-49 — topping the demo for the week on cable.

The male-skewing eBaum’s World Web site features hundreds of irreverent or shocking clips, some viewer-submitted and often poking fun at celebs and pop culture. Eric Bauman created the page in 1998, using footage he’d secretly taped of his high school teachers yelling at him. Site today draws an average 1.2 million hits a day.

But eBaum’s World has also been a center of controversy — critics say Bauman steals and often manipulates content from other sites for his own. Viacom once threatened to sue the Web site owner unless he removed material related to “Judge Judy,” “Dr. Phil,” Howard Stern and Tim Meadows.

USA and Fox TV Studios said Bauman will not be involved with the day-to-day production of the pilot. No litigation with the site is pending.

Small-screen edition will feature footage from the site as well as new content and interviews with the video subjects and “auteurs.”

USA exec veep of programming Jeff Wachtel said he’s confident the cabler will find a match for WWE, which had an eight-year run on USA prior to moving to Spike in 2000.

During its first tour with wrestling, USA tried to launch shows like “Happy Hour” out of the event to no ratings avail.

Net currently surrounds “Raw” with action movies and episodes of “Law & Order: Criminal Intent.”

“It’s a real challenge, and no one has succeeded before, but I think we’re going to be the first network to build a bridge from wrestling to the rest of our schedule,” Wachtel said.

“The WWE audience is a huge part of our strategy. Over 5 million viewers are watching our network on Monday nights, and that’s an incredibly strong and pure demo. EBaum’s World is outrageous, and its base of young guys seems perfectly compatible with the young core audience of wrestling.”

In addition, Wachtel said USA is developing several other projects — including both scripted series and TV movies — to pair with wrestling; “eBaum” is the first to move to pilot.

Spike had some success leading out of wrestling toward the end of its run with WWE. Men’s cabler launched reality skein “The Ultimate Fighter” out of “Raw,” and the skein continues to deliver solid ratings independent of wrestling.

Wachtel said USA won’t consider twinning WWE with another sports event. “Wrestling is such a huge brand, we wouldn’t want to cannibalize it,” he said.

The “eBaum” series is the first project to move forward within USA’s alternative division since the short-lived reality show “Made in the U.S.A.” Fox TV Studio exec VP of alternative Holly Jacobs is overseeing for the studio; Simon Andreae is exec producing via his Incubator production banner.