WWF Trial Set to Open

Barring a settlement, USA Cable's trial against World Wrestling Federation Entertainment Inc., Viacom Inc. and CBS Corp. is scheduled to begin today (June 12).

Late last week, three sources close to the case said the parties showed no signs of reaching an out-of-court settlement.

The dispute began after Viacom and CBS signed an agreement for a broad "strategic alliance" with WWFE April 3.

In addition to moving four World Wrestling Federation shows from USA Network to Viacom's The Nashville Network and MTV: Music Television, Viacom and CBS offered carriage of WWFE's planned XFL football league, a movie-development deal and other side ventures.

USA sued, arguing that it shouldn't have to offer perks like radio deals or XFL distribution.

Details of closed-door negotiations involving WWFE, CBS, Viacom, NBC and Fox Entertainment for WWF television rights could come to light this week in a Wilmington, Del., courtroom.

World Championship Wrestling parent Time Warner Inc. may have held talks with WWFE executives about acquiring WWF programming or merging the rival outfits.

USA subpoenaed Time Warner to turn over "any and all documents that.relate to any plans or proposals to merge or otherwise enter into a business combination affecting the World Wrestling Federation and World Championship Wrestling," according to court records.

In addition to pulling Time Warner into its war over the WWF, in recent weeks, USA Cable subpoenaed documents and took depositions from other media players, including Fox and NBC.

USA told both Fox and NBC to turn over documents that refer to talks between the companies and WWFE concerning distribution of the four WWF series currently on USA-Raw Is War, WWF LiveWire, WWF Superstars and Sunday Night Heat-according to records.

USA also deposed Bear Stearns & Co., which helped to underwrite WWFE's initial public offering last year, and Hollywood talent firm Endeavor Agency, which represents the WWF. The depositions were filed under seal.

And USA subpoenaed documents from HHG Corp., parent company of WWF competitor Extreme Championship Wrestling. USA told ECW to turn over documents relating to whether or not ECW met ratings and financial-performance targets in TNN's deal with ECW.

If WWFE prevails, the wrestling-on-TV landscape will see huge changes. Raw Is War, the highest-rated show on basic cable, would move to TNN on Mondays. Sunday Night Heat would run on MTV, and TNN would carry WWF Superstars on the weekends.

The loss would hurt USA, which surpassed Turner Network Television in recent years as the No. 1 basic-cable network thanks to the WWF's explosive ratings growth.

Meanwhile, ECW's television future remains uncertain. The Viacom-CBS proposal states that Viacom would not run programming from any WWF competitors.

Officials from Bear Stearns, Endeavor, NBC Sports, Fox Sports, Time Warner, USA, Viacom and WWFE declined to comment.