20/20 Sparked Wrestling Movie’s Woes?

New York Post – March 8, 2000
By Don Kaplan

A 20/20 profile of pro-wrestling star Mick Foley was the spark that ignited a war between WWF honcho Vince McMahon and the makers of a new wrestling film called Beyond the Mat.

The day after the 20/20 piece aired, McMahon accused Beyond the Mat distributor Lions Gate Films of using the ABC newsmagazine to promote the movie.

“Vince McMahon called up one of our assistants in New York and started yelling the day after the 20/20 segment,” Lions Gate honco Tom Ortenberg said.

“In typical bully fashion, he screamed that he owned Mick Foley and that Foley was not allowed to promote our movie,” Ortenberg said. “We didn’t even set up the [Foley] interview for20/20“, Ortenberg said. “Mick Foley hasn’t been available to us.”

The 20/20 profile contained clips from the movie and an interview with its writer/director, Barry Blaustein.

WWF officials would not comment “on conversations we believe to be private,” a spokesman said.

Meanwhile, on Monday the TV tabloid show National Enquirer abruptly canned a story about the controversy after getting flack from WWF officials, Ortenberg said.

“They told me that the WWF was not cooperating with their story, that until now they had a good working relationship with the WWF and that they didn’t want to jeapordize it over this story,” Ortenberg said.

The 20/20 piece also spurred McMahon to compare the appearance of Foley’s wife, Colette, to Robin Givens’ famous rip on Mike Tyson while he was a guest on a sports radio talk show.

McMahon and Foley later reconciled.

Last week, the WWF — which controls most of the advertising on its shows — banned advertisements for Beyond the Mat on UPN and the USA Network, despite signing contracts with the film’s distributors to air the ads.

In order to not jeopardize their relationships with the WWF, both USA and UPN have refused to air commercials for the movie during any of their other programs.

UPN’s Smackdown is responsible for reviving the ailing network’s ratings, while Raw is the highest rated show on the USA Network.

Lions Gate officials say they are contemplating legal action against the WWF, but probably won’t file a suit until after the film opens on March 17.

“It will be a lot easier to claim damages if the film doesn’t do well,” a studio source said.

UPN officials declined to comment, but according to published reports some local station officials told Lions Gate executives they didn’t want to do anything to jeopardize their relationship with the WWF. After the WWF banned the ad, Lions Gate officials separately approached 54 local stations that carry UPN and Smackdown to try to buy some local slots that the WWF does not control — all but nine rejected the ad.

“This may be the first time a supplier of network programming has controlled the local advertising on individual TV stations [the supplier] doesn’t sell,” a media executive told Ad Age, an industry trade magazine.

In the New York area, WWOR/Channel 9 initially agreed to air an ad for Beyond the Mat but said it would charge $15,000 for 30 seconds. A day later the station raised its rate to $30,000 to air the ad.

When Lions Gate accepted the terms, WWOR officials changed their minds again, saying that they wouldn’t accept the ad for any amount of money.

Channel 9 officials could not be reached for comment.

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