Orlando Sentinel – July 7, 2000
By Ric Russo
Behind-the-scenes Grappling Makes Extreme’s Media Battle As Exciting As Its Ring Action
Extreme Championship Wrestling prides itself on delivering the most “hard-core” product in the sports entertainment industry – one that features some of most violent, innovative matches seen in pro wrestling.
But lately the behind-the-scenes action over the company’s television contract with The Nashville Network has been just as exciting as what’s happening in the ring. Last week, TNN canceled ECW’s one-hour Friday night broadcasts effective Sept. 22, even though there are two years left to go on the contract.
That decision came just two days after a Delaware court ruled in favor of the World Wrestling Federation and Viacom Inc., TNN’s parent company, in a contract dispute with the USA Network. The ruling paves the way for the WWF to take its highly rated programs over to the Viacom family with broadcasts on TNN and MTV beginning in October.
The cancellation has ECW officials, to put it mildly, a little upset.
“I can tell you this, it’s going to be a war,” said ECW owner and executive producer Paul Heyman. “Right now, we are checking all of our options so we can devise a plan that will ensure the future success of Extreme Championship Wrestling.”
The relationship between Heyman’s company and TNN has been tumultuous. ECW debuted on the network last August and has averaged a 1.0 Nielsen rating. According to TNN, the low ratings justify cancellation because the contract states the program must attain a 2.0 share of the audience.
ECW feels TNN reneged on its agreement on several fronts, including its marketing. ECW officials were also angry when Viacom began negotiations with the WWF earlier this year.
“As it stands right now, Extreme Championship Wrestling is the No. 3 professional wrestling outfit in the industry and that comes from very little promotion and very little national exposure,” said ECW attorney Steve Stern. “Imagine where it would be if it had a big media outlet behind it supporting it properly.”
That’s exactly what ECW is looking for as it shops for a new television deal. One possible scenario has the group hooking up with USA Network after USA’s agreement with the WWF ends in the fall. It seems USA and ECW would be a perfect fit, but a lot can happen between now and September.
“That court ruling in Delaware last week changed the landscape of the playing field in terms of professional wrestling on television,” Stern said. “Discussions are taking place on several fronts in regard to ECW.”
ECW’s impact on pro wrestling the past few years can be seen in a variety of ways. Some of the top stars on the WWF roster and that of World Championship Wrestling have worked for Heyman. WWF performers Chris Jericho, Tazz and the Dudley Boyz all have ECW roots.
Aside from raiding the group for talent, the WWF and WCW have borrowed from ECW in terms of the types of matches they stage. Did you ever see a table match in the WWF before the Dudleys came on board?
Recently ECW has been hit with defections of some of its top talent. The group lost Tazz and the Dudleys last year, and Mike Awesome and Lance Storm have left for the bigger dollars of WCW.
Heyman feels that’s a direct result of the lack of support he received from TNN.
“If we would have had the proper backing from management, we may have been able to fend off some of those raids of our talent,” Heyman said. “Unfortunately, we just don’t have as deep pockets as the other guys do.”
How does TNN feel about this? Spokesman David Schwarz would say only that “ECW was not doing as well as expected. We appreciate the efforts ECW and Paul Heyman have made to bring wrestling fans to TNN.”
No matter what happens, rest assured you have not heard the last of ECW.
“Our crew features some of the toughest, hard-working SOBs in the business,” Heyman said. “This (TNN canceling the show) will motivate us to do better and try harder.”
Bash in Daytona. WCW brings its act to the Ocean Center in Daytona Beach Sunday night at 7:30 for the Bash at the Beach pay-per-view. Will Vince Russo return? Will the Scott Hall situation finally be put to rest? Can Scott Steiner and Terry Taylor coexist?
Rumors say Russo should be at the event, but in what capacity? He has been taking some time off because he’s upset about how some of the WCW telecasts were being edited by Time Warner’s standards and practices division.
Hall has been an enigma in WCW for over a year and one of the matches at the Bash states his contract is on the line. Hall, when at full-strength and not battling inner demons, has proved to be a talent, but is he worth the risk?
Steiner was suspended last week for an altercation with Taylor, who has been filling in for Russo in some capacities. Steiner has been unhappy with WCW for quite a while and might be looking for a way out.