The final bell for World Championship Wrestling may ring as early as next
Turner Broadcasting System Inc. put the grappling organization on hiatus as a
deal to sell the beleaguered company to Fusient Media Ventures broke down.
Newly appointed Turner Broadcasting System Inc. chairman and CEO Jamie
Kellner may have dealt the deal's fatal blow by indicating that he had no
interest in securing a primetime cable slot for the struggling wrestling
organization, industry sources said.
Turner and Fusient, headed by former Classic Sports Network president Brian
Bedol, initially announced a tentative pact in mid-January. At the time, Fusient
agreed to purchase a majority interest in WCW in a deal worth about $75 million.
Turner would have retained a minority interest in the company.
The agreement also included a multiyear television agreement under which
Turner Network Television and TBS Superstation would carry WCW programming.
Former WCW president Eric Bischoff was expected to return to oversee the
day-to-day operations and storylines for the grappling group.
Fusient had expected to complete the deal within 45 to 60 days.
But sources said Fusient began to re-evaluate its position after taking a
closer look at WCW's financial ledgers. Despite a successful run against World
Wrestling Federation Entertainment Inc. in the mid- to late 1990s, WCW has been
mired in red ink. Industry observers estimated that it lost $50 million to $70
million in 2000 alone.
The two parties continued to negotiate through March, but the deal breaker
apparently came when Kellner -- whom AOL Time Warner Inc. named two weeks ago to
oversee a new TV-networks group that includes TNT and TBS -- nixed the
'Kellner decided that he wasn't enamored with wrestling, and without
distribution, the asset had no value,' said the source.
Representatives from Fusient could not be reached for comment at press time.
A Turner spokesman, however, labeled the reports as 'speculation,' and cited
company policy in declining comment.
The Turner spokesman confirmed that the company did send out an internal memo
Friday that said WCW programming would go on an unspecified
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R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.