AS I SEE IT
by: Bob Magee
ECW, TNN Near Deal
May 12, Nashville, Tenn. -- The pay-per-view fortunes of upstart pro-wrestling outfit Extreme Championship Wrestling should benefit greatly from an expected distribution deal with The Nashville Network.
ECW -- which offers a more "extreme" wrestling experience than the World Wrestling Federation and World Championship Wrestling -- is close to reaching an agreement with 72 million-subscriber TNN to have its product distributed on a weekly basis, according to sources close to the situation.
An announcement could come during ECW's May 16 PPV event, sources said. ECW representatives could not be reached for comment, while TNN officials declined comment.
ECW's events, which currently run on alternating months, generate "steady" buy-rates, but they fall way short of those from the more established WCW and WWF. However, this could change with TNN's basic-cable exposure.
So it's apparently going to happen. ECW may well achieve its million-to-one shot of securing a national TV outlet with the anticipated TV announcement; as soon as this weekend of an agreement to air ECW on TNN, formerly known as The Nashville Network.
Before ECW fans start celebrating, they should ask themselves some questions.
First, what kind of product will they actually see?
I've followed the promotion since 1992, and since that first TV show aired in March 1993, when 60 people gathered at Cabrini College in suburban Philadelphia on the night before a snowstorm that left three feet of snow in Philadelphia.
I saw Eddie Gilbert, Terry Funk, and Paul Heyman provide instant credibility to a TV show seen only on SportsChannel Philadelphia, a small part-time cable station airing in the Philadelphia area viewed by hundreds, then thousands as ECW TV became a cult attraction in the Philadelphia region.
ECW aired in the Philadelphia area on SportsChannel Philadelphia for five years until last year when SportsChannel went out of business. It then moved to WPPX Channel 61, before it and all other Paxson stations changed to the "family-oriented" format of PAX TV. ECW's Philadelphia TV then moved to its current Philadelphia home, WGTW, Channel 48. In the Philadelphia market, ECW's TV shows have remained largely unedited and uncensored.
But many other markets haven't had that luxury. New York City has run ECW on MSG Network, and briefly on a broadcast channel. While on MSG Network, ECW's TV has on occasion been edited, and in some cases outright censored.
The shows has been censored for content on Sunshine Network in Florida and several broadcast stations. It has also been dropped in some markets for this content.
ECW fans need to consider two possible directions that this step can take...first, censorship to a degree that the ECW that airs won't resemble the ECW long-time observers have watched for six years.
Second, if business issues, ratings, or other issues cause the ECW TV show on TNN to go off the air...has ECW put all of its eggs in one basket and guaranteed the company's demise?
Remember that pay-per-view was supposed to be the savior of ECW's fortunes. It's become quite clear that this was far from the truth. Pay-per-view, and the financial burdens upon the undercapitalized company have brought ECW to the brink of bankruptcy.
The news of countless bounced paychecks, bounced checks to TV outlets in Atlanta, Boston, Pittsburgh, and several other markets are hardly any secret. Tommy Loughlin even publicly acknowledged the company's financial problems live from the ring at a recent ECW Arena show.
Jim Fullington, Scott Bigelow, and now Troy (Shane Douglas) Martin are just a few of a list of names that have left the company because they couldn't turn down a paycheck that wouldn't bounce any longer.
ECW obviously believes that the agreement with TNN is the only way to to stop the flow of talent to WCW and the WWF; and more importantly, to ensure the company's continued existence.
Now, who deserves the credit for this apparent achievement?
There is a small group of people called STRICTLY ECW. They're volunteers. They run a website based out of New York City, and initially helped in getting ECW on the air, then back on the air, in the New York market on MSG Network. For want of a better phrase, they're a "lobby" of sorts for the promotion.
STRICTLY ECW believed that ECW needed a national TV outlet, and first proposed that ECW attempt to gain an agreement with the Showtime pay-cable network. Later, STRICTLY ECW began the push to see that ECW gained a slot on TNN, after they sought a wrestling program owing to the explosive growth of TV ratings for wrestling. STRICTLY ECW did the kind of work that what one could laughably call "the office" of ECW should have been doing years before.
Instead, certain individuals in the ECW office spent their time persecuting fellow employees, and engaging in ego-driven exercises of self-congratulation. They didn't give a damn about ECW, about the wrestling business, or anyone but themselves...just that they were in a privileged position that fed their egos and their wallets. It should be noted that one of those individuals recently lost his job with ECW (a fact that was reported in the Wrestling Observer, as a reason that Shane Douglas has begun negotiating with the WWF). It seems this office employee's behavior was too over the top, even by recent ECW standards.
Another office employee, whose personal and professional conduct has been often noted in this column (and even in the Wrestling Lariat) still remains with the company. One wonders about her place with the company, now that ECW's agreement with TNN guarantees that the company will have to become a business, not a haven for those with personal relationships with the promoter.
Any ECW fans reading this column ought to e-mail the STRICTLY ECW people and thank them for their efforts. For that matter, so should Paul Heyman and Steve Karel. These volunteers may well have helped to save the promotion and so many others care so much about. STRICTLY ECW can be reached by e-mail at StrictlyECW@excite.com.
As for those other working for ECW, thank God that their actions didn't cost you the company you and many care about so much.
As for the future of ECW, we'll all see together what happens beginning very soon.
Until next time....
If you have comments or questions, I can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org