The program began on April 29, 1999 as a one-shot special on UPN, and joined that network’s lineup on August 26, 1999. Smackdown originally aired on Thursday nights, but moved to Fridays in September 2005, and renamed Friday Night Smackdown. The show moved to CW in 2006, created after UPN and the WB shut down.
While the program performed decently in the ratings, Smackdown stood out as a sore thumb on the female-targeted network, and was unable to achieve revenue levels as other shows on the network, including America’s Next Top Model.
Smackdown is the last wrestling show on national broadcast television, as the WWE has long moved its other programming to cable.
The WWE is expected to find a new home for Smackdown, with USA Network and My Network TV in the running.
Analysis: The move by CW and the WWE isn’t actually bad strategically (well, don’t tell that to CW affiliate WLMT in Memphis – Smackdown is constantly the station’s highest rated show). But it was clear that Smackdown did not fit with the rest of the network’s young female lineup.
Advertisers and media buyers often complained about the lack of audience flow on CW, as well as Smackdown’s former UPN home. Despite good ratings, wrestling’s controversial content (especially WWE programming) isn’t exactly advertiser-friendly. Ask those stations that aired Jerry Springer ten years ago and scored high ratings – only to be limited in the revenue department because of the program’s chair-tossing, hair-pulling brawls.
A move to Fox’s My Network TV would make sense, since it already has some male-skewing programs on the network, instituted after its female-targeted telenovela format imploded last year. But a downside is it could be subject to sports pre-emptions, especially in New York and Los Angeles, where both WWOR and KCOP hold over-the-air broadcast rights to the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim games, respectively. A move to NBC is not likely.
But a move to USA (where Raw already resides) or SciFi (the home of ECW) would also be possible, and if that happens, for the first time in over 25 years, there would be no regularly scheduled wrestling program on over-the-air television. Chalk it up to changing times in the television business. Twenty years ago, the WWE had as many as four weekly shows in broadcast syndication, including Superstars of Wrestling and Wrestling Challenge.
Meanwhile, CW could move its comedy block to Fridays this fall. The family-friendly Everybody Loves Chris and Aliens in America would fit well on this night. On the other hand, two other family-friendly shows – Malcolm in the Middle and The Bernie Mac Show – tanked on this night for Fox in the fall of 2005. Both were canceled shortly thereafter, falling victim to the Friday Night Death Slot. Comedy has worked for the WB on the night before with Reba, albeit modestly. Giving it another try wouldn’t be a bad idea, considering Friday is a low HUT night.