Ratings Down, Wrestling Tests Limits

TNN: The National Network's weekly WWE Raw
series has lost some of its ratings luster, but producers at World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. continue to push the envelope with some salacious content.

WWE took some heat from TNN officials after viewers complained about last Monday's Raw, which featured two scantily clad female wrestlers taking a beating from a men's tag team.

The problem began when new Raw
general manager Eric Bischoff brought two women into the ring — Jenny and Tanya — and told the crowd to get ready for "hot lesbian action."

Bischoff proceeded to have Jenny and Tanya remove most of their clothes and kiss, before arranging the women wrestlers in a provocative position on the canvas. Two male wrestlers then entered the ring and beat up Jenny and Tanya, who were taken away in stretchers.

WWE's stunt resulted in the lowest Raw
rating since the program moved from USA Network to TNN two years ago, and also drew objections from TNN executives.

"We had concerns about the segment, and we spoke to WWE that [Tuesday] morning," said TNN executive vice president and general manger Diane Robina. "They were extremely responsive."

In another controversial program Thursday night, on UPN's WWE Smackdown!, Bischoff presided as minister during the same-sex marriage of two other wrestlers — Billy and Chuck. But before they could tie the knot, the wrestlers told viewers the move was a publicity stunt, and a brawl ensued.


WWE's edgier content comes as ratings for the company's TV shows have declined. Last Monday's Raw
episode drew a 3.4 Nielsen Media Research rating and 2.9 million households. In TNN's core 18 to 49 demo, it generated a 2.7 rating and 2.7 million households.

For the third quarter, Raw
ratings are down 11 percent from the same period last year, with a 3.8 rating and 3.3 million households.

WWE officials said last week that the company isn't presenting more salacious content in response to declining ratings. WWE executive vice president and chief marketing officer Julie Hoffman said Raw's controversial "HLA" segment was part of a larger script.

"When we're doing something that might seem salacious or over the top, it is with the goal of creating a character, or clearly communicating what that character was about," Hoffman added.

One of they key factors affecting WWE ratings is a lack of star power. Former champion Steve Austin has resigned, and Dwayne Johnson, better known as The Rock, has been pursuing a movie career. Hulk Hogan, another crowd favorite, has also left.

"The depth of talent is not there as in years past," said Dave Meltzer, publisher of industry newsletter The Wrestling Observer. "They're paying the price for Austin leaving," he added.

Hoffman said WWE is focusing more on developing new talent. She also said wrestling tends to be a cyclical business, and that she expects the ratings to rebound.