Round They Go: Roller Derby Returns

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Everything old is new again, so why not Roller Derby?CBS Cable, The Nashville Network and Jerry Seltzer, the son of the original RollerDerby's founder, agreed.

So, Roller Jam -- a modernized, action-packedversion -- is speeding into January primetime on TNN.

Combining the fast pace of Roller Derby with in-lineskating and the buff athletes of syndication's more recent American Gladiatorstelevision series, TNN has slated the next generation of this "sportsentertainment" for a Jan. 15 premiere at 8 p.m. It will air weekly on Friday nights,with Saturday-afternoon repeats.

TNN has a 26-week commitment for the first year, withoptions well beyond that, a network spokeswoman said.

Confident that RollerJam can attract theteen-agers and young adult males who make in-line skating, extreme sports and wrestling sopopular, Brian Hughes, TNN's vice president of programming, said last week that thisevent's ratings should outperform all but TNN's strongest NASCAR auto races.

"I don't know that we anticipate getting to thoselevels, especially for the Winston Cup races," he said.

CBS Cable is also bullish on Roller Jam, sinceit's investing, with coproducer Pageboy Entertainment LLC, unspecified millions ofdollars in the venture, including on production and on the track -- a 120-foot-by-65-footbanked oval that'll enable the skaters to reach 35 miles per hour, according to CBSCable's announcement.

The "jam" is the 60-second period during whichcertain skaters, or "jammers," can score points by passing opponents, Hughesexplained.

Seltzer -- whose father promoted the original RollerDerby in the 1930s, seeing it become a TV staple in the 1950s -- is the commissionerof the World Skating League, which consists of six teams.

Although the producers licensed the property from Seltzer,he retains no control over the TV rights, Hughes said.

A primetime documentary on the original Roller Derbyis also due for multiple December-through-January runs on TNN as a way to build interest.

TNN just began pitching potential advertisers last week, aspokeswoman said. There will also be a licensed-merchandise push, including for theleague's new skate design, she added.

When asked if Jam might be "fixed," as Derbywas in the old days, Hughes didn't give a direct reply. Like wrestling, he said, RollerJam is "sports entertainment. This is true competition, but, like Roller Derby,we're going to work this. There's always been a lot of showmanship, but alsoreal athletic competition."

In the future, there will be live touring events in majormarkets, which will also be shown on TNN, Hughes added.

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