AS I SEE IT 9/13: Independent wrestling loses a major TV outlet
by: Bob Magee
As a sad postscript to the ECW tenth anniversary story and your comments over the last two weeks....Philadelphia wrestling fans were greeted this past week with the news that the longtime Philadelphia channel for professional wrestling (including the last one to air ECW locally); WGTW Channel 48 in Philadelphia, has been sold to the far-right Trinity Broadcasting Network, and will drop ALL wrestling programming (as well as other programming) as of September 30th, 2004.
Trinity Broadcasting Network, was founded in 1973 Paul and Jan Crouch, and bills itself as "the world's largest Christian television network". Its programming airs on a network of over worldwide network of 800 broadcast and cable outlets, from the "International Production Center" in Irving, TX.
WGTW had been owned by noted black businesswoman Dorothy Brunson, who presided over the rebirth in Philadelphia of Channel 48.
Channel 48 had been off the air after the collapse of the Kaiser Broadcasting/Field Broadcasting empire. Kaiser/Field Broadcasting had stations in Detroit (WKBD), Philadelphia (WKBS), Boston (WLVI), San Fransisco (KBHK), and Chicago (WFLD). As WKBS, Channel 48 is noted in broadcasting history as the first television station in the history of American broadcasting to voluntarily return its license to the FCC and go off the air, which it did on August 31, 1983.
Under the Brunson ownership, WGTW featured a variety of vintage syndicated programming, local public service shows, and infomercials, as well as such cult favorites such as Cheaters and the urban music programming shows Urban Expressions and Tunez, as well as its midnight wrestling block.
In place of WGTW's longtime variety of programming, Philadelphians will be limited to such offerings as American Center for Law and Justice Today (an informercial for a right-wing "counterpart" to the ACLU), apocalyptic preacher John Hagee (ironically, a favorite of WWE's own HBK), "Revival of Power", and a number of syndicated evangelical preachers and religious services such as Marilyn Hickey, Rod Parsley, Creflo Dollar, and Kenneth Copeland.
The network also presents fringe programming such as Messianic Jewish (aka "Jews for Jesus") type shows.
TBN also operates a number of stations throughout the United States, and has undertaken at least one situation similar to that in Philadelphia...where a diversity of local and syndicated programming was replaced by TBN's all-religious format.
All-religious though it may be, the owners of Trinity Broadcasting Network have somewhat less than a pristine reputation.
TBN has had more than its share of controversy in the past regarding diversity issues in programming. The Orange County (CA) Register reported that TBN was charged by the FCC in 1999 as "unfit to hold a license" for Miami television station WHFT because the network has created a "sham" minority-controlled company called "National Minority Television Inc." to get around FCC ownership limits. It took a two year court fight for TBN to eventually regain the license.
The Los Angeles Times reported than TBN also was forced in 2002 to settle a multi-million dollar plagarism lawsuit filed against them by a West Virginia minister, who charged that the network had taken her book "The Omega Syndrome" and used it for an Armageddon-themed movie about an anti-Christ figure entitled "The Omega Code" without crediting her.
The Crouches have made millions with their religious/broadcasting empire. They are reported by the Los Angeles Times to own several homes, including a three-story nearly 9,500-square-foot California home valued at $5 million with an elevator, nine bathrooms, a climate-controlled wine cellar, an elevator, six-car garage and tennis court. Another Crouch residence is an 80-plus acre ranch in Colleyville, TX, in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. The "ranch" contains eight houses as well as horse stables, and is estimated to be worth nearly $10 million.
Further, the Crouches own and run Trinity Christian Center of Santa Ana, CA, which is the corporate entity that oversees TBN ventures. This Center has $444 million in net assets as of the year 2000.
Further, Paul Crouch was among the participants of the "Inaugural Prayer Luncheon for Unity and Renewal" event associated with the inauguration of current President George Bush. The event was sponsored by the Unification Church (Sun Myung Moon) operated Washington Times Foundation on January 19, 2001. Many mainstream religious evangelicals got as far away as possible from the event after discovering the ties with the Unification Church...but not Paul Crouch.
Paul Crouch also used his Trinity Broadcasting Network to actively campaign for the confirmation of current Attorney General in the early as the nation's next attorney general in early 2001 by running special segments on Crouch's own ''Behind the Scenes'', airing on all TBN related stations and the TBN cable network.
Even though TBN is a charitable organization with a 501 c (3) nonprofit tax status, and Federal law prohibits it from endorsing political candidates, Crouch continued with the pro-Ashcroft ''Behind the Scenes'' segments, with the logic that since Ashcroft's potential job as Attorney General "is an appointed position...there is no conflict".
If those weren't enough, it was reported just 24 hours ago by the Los Angeles Times that TBN co-owner Paul Crouch has been waging "a fierce legal battle" to prevent former (male) employee Enoch Lonnie Ford from making public allegations that he and Paul Crouch had a sexual encounter in 1996. Ford met Crouch at a TBN-affiliated drug treatment center in 1991, and later went to work for the Crouch-owned network.
Ford threatened to sue TBN in 1998, claiming that he had been unjustly fired. Crouch reached a $425,000 settlement with Ford, but made a condition that Ford not to discuss the claim of a sexual encounter with Crouch.
For those who wish to read the full story, you can go to this link.
So all of this...and the hypocritical mindset behind it...are what Philadelphia wrestling fans will have to look forward to lieu of their wrestling and various entertainment programs over the next few years.
As a result of the sale by Dorothy Brunson to Trinity Broadcasting Network, WWE will lose its home for WWE syndicated shows. NWA-Wildside and TNA will also lose their home in the Philadelphia market.
Other promotions to air their shows on WGTW had included Combat Zone Wrestling, which pulled its TV from the station recently in a dispute over content; Ring of Honor, and the Pennsylvania-based PWF (run Steve Corino and Rob Dimension), as well as ECW, which made its last home in the Philadelphia area on WGTW Channel 48, after previously airing on SportsChannel Philadelphia, then WPPX 61 (which was also converted by owners Paxson Communications to a "family friendly" quasi-Christian PAX TV format).
Those from the promotions that have lost their TV may well have been caught flatfooted. WWE Vice President Gary Davis indicated that "we are in the process of formulating our plans."
NWA-Wildside's Bill Behrens stated that the programming will be "missing from the market except for a small station in Hammonton, NJ Channel 8, which runs the Urban American Television feed of the show".
As for TNA, TNA's Bob Ryder sent this statement:
"We're working on improving time slots for Xplosion, not just in Philadelphia...but in other markets around the country. We'll make Philadelphia a priority, though, and will try to have something in place in time to replace the existing time slot when it is pulled."
This situation has to be especially painful for TNA, as it loses one of its two television slots in one of the major markets for independent wrestling in the United States at a time when it is moving to compete with WWE in the monthly PPV market.
NWA-Wildside announcer Dan Wilson shared the following thoughts with fans on CZWfans.com:
"I just wanted to say thanks for all the support you guys have given Wildside over the last few years. I'd say Philly was by far the town we had the most fan feedback from, and I know it's the area we sold the most home videos to.
The area was oversaturated with great wrestling, but you guys still managed to show some support for our little backwoods engine that could.
Please stay in touch with us via www.nwa-wildside.com, and hopefully our new affiliation with Smart Mark video will keep more people in the loop on Wildside than ever.
As the hand of God destroys that demon Rasslin' and Pat Robertson can all ask you to "pay the lord" and remind us all how we're burning in a fiery abyss, please think of Wildside and all the other great wrestling programming that has graced WGTW over the years. "
To conclude...before I get a batch of e-mails explaining how the statements made in this column show that I hate religion...let's be clear on something.
I've worked for Catholic church-run entities in the past. So I don't hate religion.
Further, one of the sites on which this column is posted....Gerweck.net is run by Steve Gerweck, who is heavily involved in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, which many view as a conservative Christian denomination. I make a point of watching my language in columns in respect to Steve's wishes.
So for religion...to each their own.
But it's useful for readers to find out when diversity on television is being snuffed out one more time by someone who has VERY big pockets (made even bigger by sincerely believing people)...especially when some of that diversity includes the independent wrestling that many of you enjoy, and that I believe in pushing heavily as an alternative to what WWE is offering.
Until next time... (Thanks to the Los Angeles Times, the Orange County Register, and Alternet for information on Trinity Broadcasting Network)
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