Atlanta Journal-Constitution – March 20, 2001
By Scott Leith
World Championship Wrestling is down but not necessarily out.
Turner Broadcasting is dumping WCW from the company’s TBS and TNT network schedules, marking a final fall for professional wrestling on Turner, which has aired events in one form or another since the 1970s.
The change doesn’t come as a major surprise, given that Smyrna-based WCW has continued to trail the higher-rated, raunchier World Wrestling Federation. But it is likely to affect a pending deal to sell WCW to a New York company.
WCW will go off the air for what is being called a “hiatus” after next week’s TNT broadcast of “WCW Monday Nitro.” It is unknown when and where WCW shows might reappear. Movies will run in wrestling time slots for now.
The decision was made by Turner Broadcasting’s new chairman and chief executive, Jamie Kellner, and Turner entertainment chief Brad Siegel. Kellner, founder of the WB network, recently agreed to join Turner.
Turner spokesman Jim Weiss said wrestling doesn’t fit the company’s goal of shifting the appeal of TBS and TNT. TBS is aiming for middle-class men, while TNT is showcasing original series and made-for-TV movies.
“Professional wrestling, in its current incarnation, just is not consistent with the high-end, upscale networks that we’ve created,” Weiss said.
In January, Turner reached a deal to sell the money-losing WCW to Fusient Media Ventures of New York. Fusient still might buy WCW but under different terms. Another bidder also could win WCW.
Fusient officials could not be reached for comment. WCW already is featured prominently on the company’s Web site.
WCW employees in Smyrna are awaiting word about what will happen next. Spokesman Alan Sharp said a staff meeting is scheduled for March 28, two days after WCW’s last scheduled event in Panama City, Fla.
Sharp said WCW has 150 staffers, including workers in finance, marketing and public relations. WCW also has 80 people it puts in the talent category: wrestlers, announcers, “Nitro girls” and so on.
WCW personalities include stalwarts such as “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, along with younger stars like “Big Poppa Pump” Scott Steiner. One of the WCW’s biggest draws, former University of Georgia football player Bill Goldberg, has been out with an injury.
The cancellation of wrestling marks the end of an era for Turner, which was built partly on the success of wrestling broadcasts.