Grappling Fare Squares Off Jan. 4
by R. Thomas Umstead -- 12/21/2009 2:00:00 AM
Spike TV is going to the mat against rival World Wrestling Entertainment, pitting a Jan. 4 three-hour special show from wrestling outfit Total Nonstop Action against USA Network's highly-rated WWE offering, Monday Night Raw.
Nashville-based TNA, whose weekly series, TNA Impact!, runs Thursday nights on Spike TV, will trot out former WWE star Hulk Hogan as its main attraction for the Monday-night programming stunt. Network president Kevin Kay expects TNA's offering will draw significant attention from avid wrestling fans and its core young male audience.
The TNA franchise has been a consistent performer for Spike, averaging 1.3 million viewers for its weekly Thursday-night series. Kay believes the Monday night special can hold its own against the Monday Night Raw ratings juggernaut, although he would not project an audience number for the special.
USA's two-hour WWE Raw series averages 5.4 million viewers a week. Spike TV, then known as TNN, had lured Raw away from USA in 2000, only to see the characters network reacquire the grappling series in 2005.
“I think it will be huge — Hulk Hogan is the most iconic wrestling superstar in the world,” Kay said. “Going head to head with the WWE is a great way to start off the year.”
Kay said the network will look to offer a quarterly Monday-night TNA special and if the show can pin down significant audiences, Spike would consider permanently pitting TNA against the WWE and Raw.
“If it's successful, I'm not opposed to moving it to Monday nights,” he said. “This is the time for this … TNA has a lot of momentum with Hulk Hogan and we have the ability to market and promote it.”
The TNA stunt marks the beginning of a big sports-programming month for Spike. The network will air a live Ultimate Fighting Championship mixed-martial-arts card on Jan. 11, as well as a special highlighting the best action from the Pride MMA franchise later in the month.
The network in January will also launch its college football-themed scripted comedy series Blue Mountain State. Spike will run a sneak peek of the series Jan. 11 before the show — about three freshman football players who adapt to life and lifestyle at faux collegiate power Blue Mountain State — settles into its weekly Tuesday night time slot beginning Jan. 12. With syndicated episodes of HBO comedy Entourage as its lead-in, Kay believes that Spike's male-targeted audience will gravitate to the new series.
“Only about 30% of our audience has really seen Entourage, so a majority of guys have yet to be exposed to the series,” he said. “We think we have a big opportunity on Tuesday nights.”