World Wrestling Entertainment is re-launching the cult favorite wrestling brand Extreme Championship Wrestling, a former competitor-of-sorts whose assets the WWE purchased after it went out of business in 2001, on the Sci Fi Network next week.
After a nostalgia DVD about ECW exceeded expectations and a reunion pay-per-view sold really well, the company has seen the profitability in bringing this brand back. In fact, the company's demise actually seems to have played into its mythic status, as the WWE content about ECW sold far more than ECW ever did. After all, low ratings on TNN was one of the contributing factors to the original demise of the company.
It remains to be seen how fans will react to this re-launching and if they will buy WWE's version of ECW as a valid descendant of the original. WWE has assigned the former owner of ECW, Paul Heyman, to oversee this incarnation, which may buy the project quite a bit of credibility with fans. One thing's for sure--the company has gained a surge in stock price after adding ECW to its already successful RAW brand on USA and Smackdown brand on what will soon be the CW Network.
However, one major question that fans have--how will ECW fit in with the Sci Fi Network? It was assigned there because WWE is only allowed to air its products on NBC-affiliated networks, and Sci Fi was the only network significantly interested. However, many Sci Fi fans are, shall we say, skeptical as to whether a pro wrestling show can really fit in with the mantra of the network, since wrestling ostensibly has only loose connections at best with science fiction (and The Undertaker won't even be in ECW!) But Sci Fi President Bonnie Hammer has worked with WWE in the past and feels confident that ECW will fit in well with Sci Fi.
The ECW weekly show will debut on Tuesday, June 13. Dave Meltzer reports that some rumors have circulated that the network may require ECW to have a science fiction storyline at any given time, a move that would likely anger hardcore ECW fans while doing nothing to appease the Sci Fi fans, since it would obviously not be a natural part of the wrestling product. However, Meltzer has found that the only current plans are to include a group of wrestlers that are vampirish, something that actually has a history in the WWE with The Brood.
USA Network will air a special on Wednesday night related to ECW, and the next reunion PPV is next Sunday, all leading up to the program's debut the following Tuesday. WWE has already moved one of its bigger RAW stars, Rob Van Dam, and arguably the greatest wrestler on Smackdown, Kurt Angle, to ECW full-time, in an attempt to bring a significant number of new fans to the ECW brand. But what will be the repercussions of airing the program on the Sci Fi Network? Will their be a backlash among hardcore Sci-Fi fans to the wrestling programming? How will hardcore ECW fans react to the reincarnation? And can ECW attract new fans on a full-time basis?
Since WWE only had the Sci Fi Network to choose from, it seems worth the risk to explore the selling power of the ECW name and to use the brand to create new stars and another alternative brand to its RAW and Smackdown shows. If the brand remains viable, it will be great for the wrestling business, with three WWE full rosters in addition to the TNA wrestling promotion airing on Spike TV and owned by Panda Energy.
But will it be successful? We'll begin to find out next week.