TNN Sees Wrestling as Springboard to Top 10

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Pasadena, Calif.-The Nashville Network is banking on the World Wrestling Federation and its 20 million weekly viewers to make it one of the top 10 cable networks in terms of ratings, officials told TV critics last week.

"We believe the WWF will serve as an excellent platform to jump-start the new TNN as a top 10 television destination for viewers," vice president of programming Brian Hughes said. "It will make TNN a 'must-have' among cable viewers, cable operators and advertisers."

Hughes made his remarks during TNN's session at last week's Television Critics Association summer tour here.

According to Hughes, TNN-which has been in the process of moving beyond country music to a "country-lifestyle" format that includes sports and original series-was No. 12 in total-day viewership last year.

World Wrestling Federation Entertainment Inc. president and CEO Linda McMahon also addressed the TV writers on behalf of TNN, discussing the WWF's upcoming move to both TNN and MTV: Music Television.

"We are looking very forward to our new relationship with TNN," she said. "And we do hope to bring our 20 million-plus viewers that we currently have every week to the TNN platforms."

Viacom Inc. plans to spend $8 million on advertising, in addition to promotion on MTV Networks properties, to proclaim the WWF's move to TNN this fall, according to McMahon.

She told TV writers MTVN chairman Tom Freston guaranteed that WWF fans would be well aware of where the programming is moving.

Just weeks ago, USA Networks Inc. lost a lawsuit in which it tried to keep the WWF on its USA Network. A judge ruled that Viacom, parent of MTVN, could go forward with its strategic alliance with WWFE, with the programmer gaining rights to four WWF series, including Raw Is War.

In addition to those series, under a five-year deal, Viacom will also distribute WWFE's upcoming XFL football-league games on TNN and possibly United Paramount Network.

Unlike TNN, MTV didn't mention it was getting wrestling during its session with the TV writers.

TNN will air the WWF's Monday-night series, Raw Is War, as well as its two weekend series, LiveWire and WWF Superstars.

McMahon said she had been "quite flattered" at the way the WWF was "so aggressively and enthusiastically pursued by Viacom, which does include the TNN platform, the MTV platform, potential specials on CBS [and] also our XFL football league will be on UPN, as well as on TNN."

She added that there was "a good prestige factor for us with that association with Mr. [Viacom chairman Sumner] Redstone and with [Viacom president] Mel Karmazin."

TNN, which signed a three-year deal with WWF rival Extreme Championship Wrestling last year, will drop that Friday-night show because the WWF pact is exclusive.

ECW officials had threatened to take legal action. But at TNN's session, Hughes said, "We had discussions with the ECW lawyers. However, the threat of lawsuits has not entered into those conversations."

According to Hughes, "We have had a good relationship with the ECW folks and, simply, it did not perform to the levels of our expectations." TNN has a 90-day termination clause with ECW that the network plans to honor, and Hughes added that he would support ECW "throughout the remainder of their stint."

TNN's target demographic is now men and women ages 18 through 49, according to Hughes.

"High-energy sports and high-energy sports entertainment, as well as high-energy dramas, are key components to TNN's new programming direction," he added. "And the country lifestyle-demonstrating the all-American spirit, from country music to motor sports to fishing in the great American outdoors-are also very key to TNN's programming strategy."

Under the category of "high-energy dramas," TNN has renewed its first original action-drama series, 18 Wheels of Justice, for a second season, ordering 22 episodes, Hughes said.

The network has also acquired off-network series Starsky & Hutch, which debuts July 31. That series will be stripped Mondays through Fridays at noon and 6 p.m.

Wheels is part of TNN's "Action Wednesday" lineup, which has seen an 87 percent increase in viewers aged 25 through 54 in the first half of this year, Hughes said.

TNN has a number of programming stunts planned for this summer, including "Bad Boys Week" Aug. 14 through 18, which will be hosted by Tonya Harding. The stunt will feature episodes of off-network shows that highlight "rotten behavior."

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