by Ivan Trembow – MMAWeekly.com
Full-Blown Monday Night War on the Verge of Breaking Out?
by Ivan Trembow
The face of Monday nights may be on the verge of changing once again, with a full-blown Monday Night War having the potential to break out sometime in the next six months. Information obtained by MMAWeekly indicates that some or all of the following things may be on the verge of happening: A) Spike TV continuing to air UFC Unleashed in the Monday at 10:00 PM timeslot for considerably longer than the network originally anticipated, B) Spike TV continuing to air UFC programming in the Monday at 11:00 PM timeslot even after the second season of The Ultimate Fighter concludes, and C) Spike TV giving the “TNA Impact” pro wrestling show a new timeslot of Monday nights at 9:00 PM, head-to-head with the first hour of WWE Raw.
If all of those things happened, it would be a full-blown revival of the famed Monday Night Wars. Instead of WCW Nitro on TNT providing the head-to-head competition for WWE, it would be a combination of TNA and UFC programming serving as Spike TV’s weapons against WWE Raw on USA Network. As was the case with the October 3rd one-night showdown, nobody on the Spike/UFC/TNA side is delusional enough to have the goal of outright beating WWE Raw in the ratings. Instead, the goal would simply be to draw away a significant portion of the young male demographic that often watches WWE Raw on Monday nights.
Spike TV first dipped its toes in the proverbial “Going Head-to-Head with WWE Raw” water by scheduling a live UFC special to run head-to-head with WWE’s return to USA Network on October 3rd, a move that caused Vince McMahon to go into full-fledged “War Mode,” complete with all of the consequences that pro wrestling promoters have been all-too-familiar with since the 1980’s.
Spike also decided to continue airing new episodes of The Ultimate Fighter every week in the Mondays at 11:00 PM timeslot, instead of moving the new airings of TUF to Saturdays at 9:00 PM as originally planned. Finally, in news that was broken exclusively on MMAWeekly in late September, Spike decided that UFC programming would be matched up against WWE programming on a weekly basis, with new episodes of UFC Unleashed airing every Monday night at 10:00 PM starting on October 10th.
Why Spike TV is Strongly Considering These Additional Moves
These moves are being strongly considered by Spike TV management due to a variety of factors. First of all, there’s the fact that the Monday night airings of UFC Unleashed have done fairly well in the ratings when you consider their conspicuous lack of promotion, and more importantly these airings have significantly cut into the second-hour ratings growth that WWE Raw typically experiences.
Last week’s episode of UFC Unleashed drew a 1.2 overall rating, the show’s highest yet in the Monday at 10:00 PM timeslot, and it also drew a 2.2 rating in the advertiser-coveted 18-to-34-year-old male demographic. It seems likely that the ratings for UFC Unleashed are going to continue to grow as more people figure out that it’s on the air every Monday at 10:00 PM.
There is also the fact that WWE is very vulnerable right now, and Spike TV smells blood to a certain extent because of WWE’s ratings collapse since its first show on USA Network. The first episode of WWE Raw back on USA Network drew an overall rating of 4.4. The next week, Raw’s overall rating was down drastically to 4.0. The week after that, Raw’s overall rating was down drastically again to 3.6. The rating was 3.9 last week, but the normally large second-hour ratings growth was non-existent (the first hour drew a 3.9 rating, and the second hour stayed at 3.9).
At the same time, WWE Raw has devolved creatively over the past few weeks into an outlet for the McMahon family to get its jollies on national television, and the numbers would seem to indicate that I’m not the only person who has that opinion. (The latest example would be Vince McMahon making fun of long-time employee Jim Ross’ real-life cancer scare in a seven-minute-long skit on this week’s Raw.) The amount of people who have been turned off of the WWE product in the past few weeks, as reflected in the ratings and the huge backlash to various offensive things that have been done, is a blow to WWE while at the same time representing a huge opportunity for Spike TV.
The final factor that has Spike TV on the verge of making a major commitment to Monday nights is the fact that the first four episodes of the TNA Impact pro wrestling show on Spike TV have performed very well in the ratings.
(Even though it’s pro wrestling and not MMA, it’s important to talk about TNA in this case, because any potential Monday Night War would not be UFC vs. WWE; it would be the combination of TNA and UFC vs. WWE.)
Airing in the less-than-ideal Saturday at 11:00 PM timeslot, the first four episodes of TNA Impact have drawn overall ratings of 0.8, 0.8, 0.8, and 0.9. That is considered a big success for a product that had never previously been on national cable television other than a mid-2004 to mid-2005 run on Fox Sports Net, which is more of a collection of regional FSN affiliates than it is a legitimately “national” cable network.
As a result of all these factors, Spike TV has given TNA Impact a huge test by scheduling a two-hour primetime special that will air on Thursday, November 3rd from 9:00 PM to 11:00 PM (followed by UFC Unleashed at 11:00 PM on that date).
If TNA’s primetime special performs exceptionally well in the ratings, and if TNA Impact continues to experience ratings growth in its latenight timeslot on Saturday nights, sources have told MMAWeekly that it would become very likely that TNA Impact would be moved to Monday nights at 9:00 PM, possibly as soon as a few months from now.
Additionally, sources tell MMAWeekly that if TNA Impact does indeed get the coveted Monday night at 9:00 PM timeslot up against WWE Raw, it would also be likely that a two-hour block of UFC programming on Monday nights (from 10:00 PM to 12:00 AM) would become a long-term fixture on Spike TV, all of which would combine to mean that another “Monday Night War” would be on in full force.
Repeats of UFC Unleashed could air on Monday nights at 11:00 PM when The Ultimate Fighter is not in season, and in general UFC Unleashed is a show that is produced with a large number of repeat airings intended for every episode. However, as I have written before, Spike TV would need to actually start promoting UFC Unleashed at some point, and the UFC would need to incorporate a lot more behind-the-scenes training footage and interviews to go along with the old fight footage, if UFC Unleashed is to be successful over the long run.
Primetime Specials on Spike TV
If TNA does not impress Spike TV with its primetime ratings on November 3rd, it would still appear to be very likely that the coveted February 13th, 2006 slot on Spike TV will still be going to TNA instead of the UFC. Much to WWE’s chagrin, WWE Raw will be preempted on February 13th due to USA Network’s coverage of the Westminster Dog Show. This represents an excellent opportunity for Spike TV to put either a TNA special or a UFC special in that timeslot, and right now it appears that Spike TV is much more interested in giving that spot to TNA (which may already have that timeslot on a weekly basis by the time February rolls around).
On the other hand, when WWE Raw is preempted for two weeks in the late summer due to USA Network’s coverage of the US Open tennis tournament, the UFC would be much more likely to get a primetime special on either one of those two dates (August 28th, 2006 or September 4th, 2006). Those two dates would be prime real estate for a UFC live fight special on Spike TV because WWE Raw will not be airing on those dates, and the people who normally watch Raw would probably be more interested in watching UFC programming on Spike TV than they would be in watching the US Open on USA Network.
Regardless of what happens with the long-term timeslots of UFC and TNA programming on Spike TV, the UFC has secured the timeslot for another head-to-head ratings battle with WWE and USA Network on January 16th, 2006 (as first reported by MMAWeekly last week). A live UFC fight special is scheduled to air on Spike TV head-to-head with WWE Raw on that date.
There should be absolutely no doubt in anyone’s mind that this will be seen by Vince McMahon as another “act of war,” so don’t be surprised if you see WWE magically decide to make the January 16th, 2006 episode of WWE Raw one of its biggest shows of the year, just as it did with the October 3rd show.
Additionally, there will be two occasions over the next couple of weeks on which repeat UFC programming will be airing head-to-head with WWE programming. First, the 11th and 12th episodes of The Ultimate Fighter 2 will be re-airing on Spike TV on Friday, September 4th from 9:00 PM to 11:00 PM. The first hour of that block will be going head-to-head with WWE Smackdown on UPN, which has been drawing overall ratings in the 2.5 range in its new timeslot of Friday nights from 8:00 PM to 10:00 PM.
Finally, one of the scheduled replays for “The Ultimate Finale” of TUF’s second season will be airing head-to-head with WWE Raw. After its first airing at 9:00 PM on November 5th, the three-hour “Ultimate Finale” telecast will be re-aired at midnight that same night; then again at midnight on Sunday night, November 6th; and finally once more at 10:00 PM on Monday night, November 7th, head-to-head with WWE Raw. You can bet that all parties involved will be watching very closely to see what affect, if any, the Ultimate Finale airing will have on Raw’s second-hour ratings growth.