Less than five weeks away, WWE is gearing up for its big debut on the Fox broadcast network.
The first episode of Smackdown on Fox on Oct. 4 will mark the 20th anniversary of the blue brand.
The move to Fox marks the show’s sixth network home since 1999 when it launched on the now-defunct UPN. It has aired on NBC Universal networks (Syfy and later USA) since 2010. It joined Raw on USA in 2016 and moved to a live format at that time.
Both parties are optimistic about the show’s future and hope the partnership leads to even more opportunities.
“WWE and Fox are a perfect match,” WWE chairman and CEO Vince McMahon said last year following the announcement of the five-year deal (valued at $1 billion) between his wrestling juggernaut and Fox. “Moving ‘Smackdown Live’ to broadcast TV and having the ability to leverage Fox’s extensive portfolio of world-class sporting events will expand the reach of our flagship programming.”
“Since we announced our five-year agreement last June, we have been eagerly counting down the days to the launch of Smackdown Live on Fox Sports,” said Eric Shanks, CEO and executive producer of Fox Sports. “We couldn’t be more excited and are pulling out all of the stops to commemorate Smackdown’s 20th anniversary celebration.”
Accordingly, WWE is planning a blockbuster show similar to its Raw Reunion episode in July that drew big numbers for the company. That stellar lineup had initially been planned for Smackdown’s debut on Fox, but USA officials pushed WWE brass to put the show on its network in an attempt to revive sluggish Raw ratings.
WWE is acutely aware that its first impression will be an important one on the new network and in its new Friday night time slot. And there would be no one better than Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, whose catchphrase gave the brand its name when the show debuted in 1999, to kick off the new era of Smackdown.
While McMahon is pulling out all the big guns — everyone from Ric Flair to Brock Lesnar (who will be making his first advertised Smackdown appearance in 15 years) — Johnson, the man who put the blue brand on the map, has yet to be announced for the show. WWE has reached out to the megastar and reportedly is awaiting a firm commitment. In the company’s favor is the fact that Smackdown will be conveniently held at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Johnson’s base of operations.
With Johnson’s busy Hollywood movie schedule and several projects in the works, it’s unclear if he will be able to commit. It’s also possible that WWE will feature a surprise appearance for the live crowd and TV audience.
The 47-year-old third-generation superstar, who topped Forbes’ list of highest-paid male actors of 2019, credited the wrestling business with his success on a recent episode of "Live with Kelly and Ryan."
“I miss wrestling, I love wrestling. Yes, I do,” said Johnson, who married longtime girlfriend Lauren Hashian on Aug. 18 in Hawaii. “I quietly retired from wrestling because I was lucky enough to have just a really wonderful career and accomplish what I wanted to accomplish, but there’s nothing like a live crowd, a live audience, a live microphone, as you both know.
“Plus, I grew up in wrestling. For a lot of you guys that don’t know, my grandfather wrestled, my dad as well, my whole family. And I actually had my very first match ever in the WWE, was in Madison Square Garden and it was a big pay-per-view, and it was funny because I credit my time and my journey in pro wrestling to getting me to where I am at today.”
Rock or no Rock, there will be no shortage of star power at the Smackdown premiere. Already announced for the show are Bill Goldberg, Hulk Hogan, Sting, Mick Foley, Kurt Angle, Jerry Lawler, Trish Stratus, Lita, Booker T and Mark Henry.
Neither John Cena nor Steve Austin, who was the star of the Raw Reunion, have been listed for the show, but both are expected to be announced soon.
Viewers can also look for some new wrinkles as Eric Bischoff assumes more of a role as executive director of the Smackdown brand. New camera angles reportedly will be tested in an attempt to give the show a unique, cinematic feel, along with moves to differentiate Smackdown from Raw, something that’s been done in the past with little long-term success.
Things, however, might not be as rosy as Fox had envisioned with WWE, which recently announced a deal with USA to air a live two-hour NXT show on Wednesday nights starting Sept. 18. The company will go head-to-head with All Elite Wrestling, which will debut on TNT two weeks later on Oct. 2 and just two days prior to Smackdown’s debut show on Raw.
“The move to USA Network provides an opportunity to deepen our relationship with NBC Universal and further build the NXT brand,” Vince McMahon said in a press release. “Over the long term, our goal is to develop a following that can be monetized to the same level as our flagship programs, Raw and Smackdown.”
That announcement comes as NBC, which signed a five-year deal to keep Raw on USA Network, is losing Smackdown to Fox, which hadn’t counted on five live hours of WWE programming (three on Raw on Monday night and two on NXT on Wednesday night) prior to its new show on Friday night.
That could cause a problem, say some insiders.
It could also take some steam out of a planned Tuesday night studio show beginning this fall on FS1 that was recently announced by WWE exec Paul “Triple H” Levesque.
“If you are a WWE fan across the board, this is the show that will be ‘can’t miss’,” Levesque said of the new show. “Because it’s going to talk about everything you love in a way that you can’t get any place else.”
The move to put the NXT show on USA couldn’t have been good news for WWE’s new broadcast partner, which has promised to cross-promote WWE across its sports rights portfolio. The new “Wednesday Night Wars” could very well affect Fox’s big-money investment in Smackdown on Friday nights, noted Dave Meltzer on Wrestling Observer Radio.
“Now all of a sudden, WWE has made it so that Fox is not the WWE channel, USA is. USA Network is gonna have Miz & Mrs., they’re gonna have the Steve Austin show (Straight Up Steve Austin), they’re gonna have Raw, they’re gonna have two hours on Wednesday,” said Meltzer.
Fox officials reportedly are seeking at least 3.3 million weekly viewers for Smackdown when it moves over to their network. This means that WWE will have to increase its blue brand viewership by at least 25 percent. That may be a tall order.
“Look, if the ratings aren’t good then (Fox will) be upset, but they’re very confident that the ratings will be good and they’re not upset right now. Can they get upset? Yes, they can. If this thing, let’s say the thing (Smackdown) does a solid 2 million viewers every week — I don’t think they paid that amount of money expecting 2 million, so look, it’s Friday night maybe, that’s what it’ll do,” said Meltzer.
Since last year’s announcement of the deal, Smackdown ratings have declined.
Now the show will be aired in the dreaded “Friday night death slot,” a perceived graveyard slot in television that often leads to a show’s cancellation. Considered the network television wasteland, it’s generally where networks send shows off to die. The two-hour show will run until 10 o’clock, which is when Fox’s national prime time programming ends.
Smackdown also faces a preemption early in its run, with Fox airing the World Series on Oct. 25. It looks to be the only week Smackdown will be preempted, though, and WWE has plans to move to FS1 for that one week.
WWE can increase its odds of success by presenting a fresh new product on Friday nights, one that showcases creative storylines and interesting characters. While it’s nice to kick off the new era with a loaded show with current stars and legends from the past, it will be more important to deliver compelling shows that will bring back viewers week after week.
If they can do that, then maybe Smackdown can celebrate another anniversary 20 years from now.
OSCW Golden Ticket
A Golden Ticket Battle Royal — with the winner getting a shot at any title, any time, in the promotion — will highlight an upcoming Old School Championship Wrestling show Sept. 8 at the Hanahan Rec Center.
“No big screens, fog or fancy lights here, but what you can expect is an evening of great live pro wrestling action from start to finish, and a ton of fun for all ages,” touts the promotion.
And, as Kurt Angle might say, it’s true.
The card will feature Caleb Konley defending his OSCW Intercontinental title against former champ John Skyler, Brady Pierce returning to face OSCW champ Tracer X and Cheerleader Melissa defending her OSCW women’s title against Stormie Lee.
Also on the bill:
- Team Fearless vs. The Lynch Mob
- Gangrel and Kevin Thorn vs. Francisco Ciatso and Josh Powers
- Anna Diaz vs. Savannah Evans
Other names on the show include Logan Creed, Drew Adler, Brandon Paradise, Eric Darkstorm, Kevin Phoenix, Austin Jordan and Chris Valo.
Promoter Joe Blumenfeld says he is particularly excited about the event.
“It will be interesting to see who wins the Golden Ticket and how or when they use it. It will be like a wild card in their pocket.
“I’m also very excited about the return of Team Fearless. Lodi has been appearing at OSCW since about 2007. He’s always been a fan favorite, and it will be great to have him back.
“2019 has been a great year for OSCW thus far, and excited for another great show.”
Bell time is 5 p.m. Doors open at 4:30.
Adult admission (cash at door) is $12; kids under 12 get in for $7.
For more information, go to www.oscwonline.com or call 843-743-4800.