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June 24, 2006

ECW a Hit--But Controversy Continues on Sci-Fi

World Wrestling Entertainment's version of Extreme Championship Wrestling has now aired its first two episodes on the Sci-Fi Channel, to follow up on a post from a few weeks ago. A lot of people on both the wrestling side and the sci-fi side have questioned how a wrestling program could fit in on the network, including a sci-fi fan who responded to our previous entry here.

Ratings-wise, we've gotten our answer. ECW blows away anything else that airs regularly on Sci-Fi in the ratings. Before ECW's debut, according to Dave Meltzer, the highest rated show on the network was Ghost Hunters, which regualrly draws about a 1.2 rating. In its first week, ECW drew a 2.8 rating, more than double the highest rated regular Sci-Fi program. The second week, in opposition with the NBA finals, the show drew a 2.4, and Sci-Fi and NBC Universal are ecstatic.

But that doesn't mean that ECW is still a particularly good fit on Sci-Fi. The regular Sci-Fi fans are resentful. Fans on both sides seem ignorant of any aesthetic value in the other side's entertainment. Wrestling fans have no interest in what they perceive as any "sci-fi" influence creeping onto their show, and the sentiments of the fan who posted here, saying that Sci-Fi is a refuge from terrible programming like wrestling, sums up how many sci-fi fans feel about wrestling.

So, let's establish this: neither Sci-Fi programming nor pro wrestling is inherently bad, but trying to mix the two could be. The wrestling fans don't particularly care what network a show comes on, as long as it's true to what it's supposed to be: wrestling. But Sci-Fi marketing people, according to Dave Meltzer, made suggestions that Martians and vampires appear on the ECW show in the arena and that ECW wrestlers should go into other dimensions. Well, you can imagine how regular ECW fans, and even WWE fans, felt about a suggestion like that. The WWE made fun of the very idea on the initial ECW episode, with a wrestler named The Zombie coming down to the ring, only to get caned by The Sandman, an old ECW regular. From WWE's perspective, Sci-Fi probably was not their top choice (I'm sure that would have been USA), but they knew they wanted to launch an ECW show, and their exclusivity deal with NBC Universal dictated that it could only be on one of the conglomerate's networks...Sci-FI was the only network that displayed a strong interest.

While the sci-fi community has been vocally upset about the wrestling influence, wrestling fans were incensed by these suggestions and happy that the Sci-Fi channel got their answer with the caning. It was a joint statement by WWE and Sci-Fi to wrestling fans that ECW would not be mired by such silly gimmicks. Consessions to the sci-fi sentiment, at least in the network's eyes, include a set of vampire cultish wrestlers in ECW, as well as pushing Paul Heyman's character as a cultish leader of ECW.

The only thing at this point that's hurting ECW with the wrestling fanbase are the hardcore ECW fans who can't see the new version of ECW as being true to the original, which WWE purchased the rights to. The first episode, while doing "extremely" well in the ratings, was considered a disappointment aesthetically by most fans and many with the company. But the following week introduced some new characters and started to reveal the direction the show will be going. And wrestling fans must realize that ECW can't be a reunion show and remain a vibrant weekly television program, so there has to be a new version that draws in the wider WWE fan base, in addition to the hardcore fans.

USA Network and Sci-Fi are working hard to make the two wrestling shows cross-promote each other, but both networks have come to realize something about wrestling fans: they feel little loyalty to the network, so that WWE fans are most likely to tune in when their show comes on and tune back out as soon as the show is over. The only value WWE adds to the network, then, is increasing the ratings of the network substantially, especially since wrestling draws lower advertising rates than many other shows, despite its high ratings, because of the unfair stereotypes against its fanbase. For USA, this means that it more consistently wins its war to top the weekly cable ratings because WWE inflates its numbers. For Sci-Fi, this means that they have a show that, ratings-wise, is their biggest hit. And, with ECW and Monday Night RAW cross-promoting each other, the two networks are at least giving wrestling fans more to tune into and trying to keep those flagship shows high.

So, at this point, that appears to be the impasse. If Sci-Fi fans will support or at least ignore ECW's presence, it will be a boon to the network's numbers. Conversely, if Sci-FI stays out of ECW's programming, wrestling fans care little what network their show airs on. And it's a win-win...unless the fan communities have to come into contact again; then it turns into another battle royal.

By the way, my suspicions about Stephen Colbert reading this site are nothing more than conspiracy theories, but I've got proof that Warren Ellis does.

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