Pro wrestling’s return to prime time television



By Dylan Lazaga, CONTRIBUTOR

Professional wrestling has been a staple in the sports world for a long time. The sports genre is now about to take its next big step with wrestling companies World Wrestling Entertainment and All Elite Wrestling by taking the national television stage. Whether professional wrestling is ready for “prime time” is a question that needs to be answered.
The WWE, the professional wrestling company spearheaded by Vincent Kennedy McMahon, has entertained a wide variety of audiences with a number of great matches, larger-than-life characters, and compelling stories one would normally see in a movie for over fifty years. Other than the wrestling Super Bowl event known as WrestleMania, never before have they done an event of this scale in front of a television audience of this size.
For the majority of its lifetime, WWE has aired on cable television on the USA Network, which is owned by NBCUniversal. In order to watch WWE programming, a person would need a cable provider, such as Comcast.
Things will be drastically different because WWE will be airing one of their flagship programs “Friday Night Smackdown” on a national, broadcast network on FOX on Oct. 4. The partnership between WWE and FOX has already been treated as a big deal to some degree in order to entice non-wrestling fans.
Regardless of how fans feel about the current WWE product, many FOX Sports outlets have heavily promoted Smackdown on several of their programs, including National Football League broadcasts.
The other wrestling elephant in the room also needs addressing. All Elite Wrestling is an upstart wrestling company jointly headed by wrestlers Cody and Brandi Rhodes, Kenny Omega and tag team The Young Bucks, with financial support from Jacksonville Jaguars co-owner Tony Khan. AEW plans to establish themselves in the sports world by having a win-loss system, time limits, and establishing new wrestlers. Having only been in existence for eight months, AEW has already received a television deal with Turner Network Television, a channel owned by WarnerMedia Entertainment which is known for airing many NBA games on the cable network. The show, AEW Dynamite, premiered on Oct. 2.
Both AEW and WWE will be placing heavy emphasis on giving an actual sports feel to wrestling. Professional wrestling has long been frowned upon as unrealistic by many. Yet, wrestlers still must polish their moves both inside and outside the ring. Professional wrestlers are also tasked with going through the motions expected of them and providing the best match possible for live audiences.
Injuries are also part of wrestling, just like any sport. One bad move and a wrestler can be sidelined. Both AEW and WWE will be monitoring the health of their wrestlers in their moves to prime-time television.
Another aspect of trying to give wrestling a sports-feel is longevity. All Elite Wrestling has already established the impact of wins and losses. While such ranking system in AEW affects the wrestler’s status, it gives importance to both a match and a wrestler. WWE, on the other hand, has suffered consistency issues in attaching any meaning to both its wrestlers and matches.
Another major factor, which has been an active issue with WWE, is not just competition between the two wrestling companies but from the other major sports for ratings. Both WWE and AEW will face increased competition from the likes of the National Football League and National Basketball Association in October alone.
The last time professional wrestling aired on national television was in 2001, when World Championship Wrestling’s Monday Nitro also aired on TNT before being purchased by its biggest competitor WWE. While WWE knows how to compete and has several popular wrestlers, it will be a bigger fight to maintain an audience on national television. Meanwhile, AEW will need to entice all kinds of viewers from the start, especially when a majority of its roster are wrestlers from the independent wrestling circuit.
WWE and All Elite Wrestling will certainly feel like they are ready for the “prime time” lights given to them respectively on FOX and TNT. Whether or not viewers will be given quality weekly, professional wrestling remains to be seen.