- THE TUF SLIDE AND UFC ON WEEKLY TV

October 22, 2005
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Editorial by Ivan Trembow
Possible Reasons for TUF’s Ratings Decline, and the UFC’s Long-Term TV Future

Editorial by Ivan Trembow

As documented in my article earlier this week about The Ultimate Fighter’s ratings, the show’s viewership has been on a steady decline throughout the course of its second season.

The first three weeks of Season Two averaged a 1.7 overall rating, the next three weeks averaged a 1.4 rating, and the most recent three weeks averaged a 1.2 rating. Not only that, but the ratings for this past Monday’s show fell all the way down to 1.1, despite the fact that the show was facing significantly weaker head-to-head sports competition on network TV than it faced the previous week.

All of this should send a message loud and clear to Spike TV and Zuffa: The head-to-head sports competition is not the only thing that is severely hurting TUF’s ratings.

If the producers are searching for possible reasons that the show itself might be turning off viewers in droves, one possible reason could be that the first season heavily pushed the concept that “only two fighters” would get UFC contracts, and it may have killed the credibility of the show in many viewers’ eyes when it turned out that nine of those fighters got UFC contracts. Still, that doesn’t explain why the second season started off so well in the ratings and has subsequently turned off so many viewers.

The following is just one of many theories that could be a valid explanation for why TUF 2 has turned off so many viewers. What do Mike Whitehead, Dan Christison, Rob MacDonald, Tom Murphy, Kenny Stevens, and Eli Joslin have in common? If you answered, “They were all treated like a piece of crap and a bum when they were eliminated on the show,” you answered correctly.

Besides the fact that those individual fighters don’t deserve to be portrayed that way from a personal standpoint, it’s also bad for business. A character-driven reality show, especially one based on the concept of fighting, needs to build up its characters (like season one did) rather than constantly burying them.

It would not have severely hurt the show if Kenny Stevens and Eli Joslin were the only characters to be “buried” on the air in the way that they were, but it does hurt the show when it becomes an almost weekly occurrence, with Mike Whitehead being the most recent example.

In many cases, the on-air burial of these fighters was unnecessary and only served to hurt the show as a whole. I don’t know what the deal was with Eli Joslin, but I can’t be the only person wondering why a fighter with an MMA record of 1-0 was on the show in the first place. As for the other fighters, is it not true that amateur wrestlers have died while trying to do the extreme weight-cutting that Kenny Stevens was trying to do before he ultimately quit? Is it not true that Tom Murphy was completely gassed out in his fight with Rashad Evans and also had a torn knee ligament, which might explain why he “did nothing” in the final round?

Is it not true that Rob MacDonald had a torn labrum (which is a severe shoulder injury) going into a fight that he should have realistically never even been allowed to fight? Is it not true that Mike Whitehead and Dan Christison didn’t make some kind of willful choice to stand around and do nothing just to annoy everyone, but instead they just completely gassed out in fights where they had done their best to win up to that point? What kind of cardio do you expect fighters to have at the end of three five-minute rounds when they only have a few days or a few weeks to “peak” for a fight in training, instead of months?

Though Spike TV and/or Zuffa may or may not be under the impression that it makes for compelling television, the fact is that the unnecessary burial of a half-dozen fighters during the course of one season is only going to hurt the show. When a viewer is watching a reality show, he or she generally wants to get attached to certain characters and root for them… and there’s nothing that discourages viewers from getting attached to characters than the constant threat that their chosen character(s) could be buried at any time and unfairly portrayed as a bum.

The UFC’s Long-Term Future on Weekly TV

Reality shows tend to burn out over time in terms of viewer interest, and it’s only going to happen sooner in TUF’s case if Season Three suffers from the same creative problems that have plagued the second season. As a result, the long-term future of the UFC on television from a week-to-week standpoint, beyond the occasional live fight specials, is more than likely going to be UFC Unleashed (or a similar show with a different name).

There are just two problems with this: A) Your local dry-cleaner has probably gotten more of an advertising commitment than Spike TV has given UFC Unleashed, and B) The format of any given episode of UFC Unleashed seems to be nothing more than throwing a few old fights together, and linking them together with five minutes or less of Mike Goldberg talking about the fighters. A better format would be an innovative mixture of old fights, training footage, behind-the-scenes documentary-type pieces, in-depth interviews, and other content.

The long-term future of the UFC on a week-to-week basis on Spike TV will ultimately depend on UFC Unleashed, and I certainly hope that Spike and Zuffa have realized that by now.

Whenever they do come to that realization, both sides will need to pick up the slack. Spike TV will need to to start marketing the damn show instead of acting like its new timeslot is supposed to be a big secret, and the UFC will need to start putting together the innovative weekly TV series that they are fully capable of producing.

(The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of MMAWeekly.com)

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