Wrestling back in the ring with NBC

Net kicked off first of two annual specials March 18

Vince McMahon and his wrestlers continue to keep TV auds pinned, and now they’ve got a fresh hold on NBC.

The net kicked off the first of two annual specials March 18 as the “Saturday Night Main Event.”

Unfortunately, the primetime two-hour event collided with an NCAA Basketball Tournament game on CBS, which beat wrestling handily in total viewers, men 18 to 34 and men 18 to 49.

It was wrestling’s first appearance on NBC since 1992, when the net ended a seven-year stretch of specials that ran once a month in the “Saturday Night Live” time period.

Back then, NBC programming chief Brandon Tartikoff countered criticism about the slotting of wrestling in the venerable “SNL” time period by saying, “Yes, but it’s quality wrestling.”

Quality wrestling may be an oxymoron, but McMahon’s programming has a bigger national footprint than ever.

The weekly “Raw” returned to the USA Network last year after a solid run on Spike TV, propelling USA to the rarefied air of No. 1 primetime network in all of ad-supported cable over the last five months. Friday-night series “Smackdown” continues to shine for UPN.

Promotion and marketing are two of the durable McMahon’s strong suits, and the 60-year-old entrepreneur himself even graces the cover of the April issue of Muscle & Fitness Magazine — shirtless, sporting muscles that look like granite.