Hello everyone. This is a two parter, and be forewarned the first part is very heavy on information. In taking a look at the history of televised wrestling, and how Impact Wrestling fits in and goes forward I decided to go all the way back to the beginning. Thus, part one is the history of televised professional wrestling leading up till today, part two will be the elements of what makes a successful TV show and how TNA is beginning to take advantage as proven by their rising numbers. I learned a lot, and hope you will too.
Nowadays, if you want to be taken as a serious competitor you need a television program. But the history of televised wrestling goes all the way back to the beginning of TV itself, and as we look at the evolution of the rise of two industries linked together, we can see where TNA is headed today.
The television set as we know it was invented by DuMont Laboratories in 1931. Dr. Allen B. Dumont, with 1000 dollars and a basement laboratory built the first consumer all-electronic television set in 1938 which spread across America. 16 years later the first televised wrestling event was presented on July 10, 1946, on Channel 4 WBKB from Chicago’s Rainbo Arena, promoted by Fred Kohler, he saw his gates begin to double and attributed it to televised wrestling. WBKB started “Kohler’s Monday Midway Arena” program, and because there were so few other programs available on the new medium, wrestling was seen as a cost effective way to provide amusing content. Fans loved the stories and colorful characters, combined with a competitive physical match.
But it was the DuMont Network that went all-in on the latest fad and became the most popular network for televised professional wrestling. On September 17, 1949, the inaugural show, aired at the Marigold Gardens emanated across America via the DuMont Network. These weekly live shows were hosted by legendary sportscaster Jack Brickhouse, who was the voice of Chicago’s Cubs, White Sox, and Bears. Future “60 Minutes” Journalist Mike Wallace and future “Price is Right” host Dennis James with his trademark “Okay Mother!” also worked the broadcast booth. Televised wrestling however, became oversaturated on the major networks towards the end of the 1950s.
Enter Ted Turner. In the 1970s, against most sane advice, Turner traded $2.5 million of his own company’s stock for the title to the Atlanta UHF station. Following World War II, the FCC had many applications for new channels. They made it a law that television sets had to carry the UHF frequency as well as the VHF frequency the networks used. So Turner saw his opportunity. Now the failing TV station in Atlanta, WJRJ Channel 17 was losing about $600,000 a year. Ted Turner added to his new channel reruns of classic sitcoms like “Green Acres” and “The Andy Griffith Show”, and a new pro wrestling program called “Georgia Championship Wrestling.” Fans enjoyed the likes of Ric Flair, Dusty Rhodes, Ole Anderson and the voice of Gordon Solie, and real classic, southern style old school pro wrestling became popular once again.
With major league baseball games available across the nation instead of the former regional restrictions, the seeds for Superstation TBS were sewn. Ted Turner became the television authority for all things wrestling, and would even support a young and upcoming federation known then as the WWWF.
The WWF was coming into prominence and Turner sold Vince McMahon the Saturday Night primetime slot that had previously carried GCW and Mid-South. Without warning, the fans lost their favorites and saw Hulk Hogan, Big John Studd, Andre the Giant with Vince and Gorilla Monsoon on commentary. However, this wasn’t the wrestling they were used to, and it was the birth of sports entertainment on a national televised stage. Ratings tanked as the fans were confused and dismayed, and ratings dropped.
So Turner added timeslots for wrestling to help the ratings. He brought back Mid-South Wrestling promoted by Bill Watts, and Georgia Championship Wrestling had its Saturday Morning time slot. Vince McMahon didn’t want rival companies on his channel, but the fans were simply not tuning in. The next April, he sold the timeslot to Jim Crockett Promotions. What this led to, was Vince having USA network promote in the mid-1980 Tuesday Night Titans. And on January 11, 1993, “WWE Raw” debuted on the USA Network.
September 4th, 1995 saw the brainchild of Eric Bischoff debut, “Monday Nitro” from the Mall of America. The defection of Lex Luger began the Monday Night Wars. Nitro would be expanded to a three-hour show, starting from the January 26, 1998 edition, a first for televised wrestling programming. RAW was moved to TNN in September, 2000 and which became Spike TV in August of 2003. Nitro beat Raw for 84 consecutive weeks, but WWE countered with a youth movement and the arrival of the Attitude Era and overcame the war as Vince McMahon bought out WCW in March of 2001 following the merger of AOL Time Warner. WCW’s sharp decline in revenue and ratings led to Time Warner’s sale of selected assets such as the WCW name, tapes, and contracts to the WWF in March 2001. The final edition of Nitro aired on March 26, 2001.
On March 10, 2005, Viacom and WWE decided not to go on with the agreement with Spike TV, effectively ending Raw and other WWE programs’ tenure on the network when their deal expired in September 2005. On October 3, 2005 WWE Raw returned to NBC Universal’s USA, with two primetime specials on NBC a year and RAW also airing on Telemundo en espanol.
Spike TV, after becoming home to ECW and Monday Night Raw for a time, decided it did not want to get out of the wrestling business once the WWE went back to NBC Universal’s USA Network. TNA’s contract with Fox Sports Net had ended in 2004 and TNA was broadcasting from their website. October 1st, 2005 saw the debut of “TNA iMPACT!” on the Spike TV Network.
And now we have “Impact Wrestling” at the 9pm Timeslot, every Thursday Night thanks to TNA Wrestling and Viacom. Ratings peaked in 2006, and in 2013 Impact Wrestling did a 0.99 average Nielsen rating average for the entire year. This is 0.99 of 114.2 million television households in the United States that tune in every week to see Impact on Thursday nights. However, the month of December has not an episode that went under a 1.0. The first month since February of last year that any month had scored a cumulative 1.0 and above rating for each week. For the month of January alone, Impact averaged a 1.108 rating and has already risen to 1.24 in the first week of February. Impact Wrestling is one of the highest rated shows on SpikeTV. In comparison, during the last 3 months of 2013 alone, SpikeTV averaged only 890,000 viewers with their other programming. The new direction of television has a lot to do with the rise in numbers, and TNA’s worth as they look to add more programming in the future.
Now that we know our history, next time we look into the future of televised wrestling, and the exact reasons as to why TNA is beginning to rise in ratings once again, as they continue to establish their place in TV history. Join me for part 2 as we look at the key elements of what has made the most successful television shows in history, and how TNA has only just begun to apply those to their programming today. Thanks for reading, let me know what you think and as always, enjoy the show.