While one broadcast network has taken potshots at
wrestling's contribution to basic cable's ratings clout, another might be about
to jump into the ring with cable on future wrestling matches.
A source familiar with the talks said that the NBC is close
to a deal with Turner Network Television about carrying World Championship Wrestling
specials in primetime. The shows could begin as early as February, said the source.
But a spokesman at Turner Broadcasting System Inc., the
parent of both TNT and WCW, declined comment. "We've got nothing to say"
about the talks, he said.
There was no indication as to the number of specials being
sought or contract terms. A Turner Broadcasting Sales Inc. spokesman doubted that there
would be joint NBC/Turner sponsorship sales.
Although Turner veteran Scott Sassa is now an NBC
executive, the Peacock Network ran wrestling specials long before his arrival. In the
mid-1980s, NBC ran late-night Saturday Night Main Event matches of the World
Wrestling Federation. Those matches, which rotated with Saturday Night Live reruns,
featured Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage and other WWF stars who have since gone over to the WCW.
Last September, however, NBC ran a primetime special,
entitled Pro Wrestling's GreatestSecrets, that revealed how various
key wrestling moves are faked.
Last spring, ABC aimed newspaper ads at ad-agency buyers
during the upfront selling season that took cable to task for relying so heavily on
wrestling for ratings.
In the ad's headline, ABC asked buyers, "Are You
Still Wrestling With Your Mix?" The copy went on to say, "Thinking of shifting
ad dollars from broadcast to cable? Take a look at the top shows on cable." ABC
pointed out that at the time "cable's top 15" hits in the Nielsen Media
Research ratings were dominated by eight wrestling shows on TNT and USA Network.
R. Thomas Umstead contributed to this story.