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USA and WWE, a Tag Team Again

By Lisa de Moraes
Tuesday, April 5, 2005; Page C07

World Wrestling Entertainment kissed and made up with USA Network and is moving back in, a sadder but wiser girl.

WWE has signed a three-year deal to bring "WWE Raw" back to USA in October, both sides announced yesterday.

WWE had been looking for a new TV home since mid-March, when Spike TV announced it would end its relationship with the franchise at the end of its current contract in September.

Much has changed since the '90s, when WWE wrestling was last in a relationship with USA Network.

Back then, WWE had the studlier name of World Wrestling Federation. That ended in 2002 when WWF got smacked down in court by the panda huggers at the World Wildlife Fund.

Also back in those days, USA Network was owned in large measure by a liquor company. Good times. Now it's owned by General Electric, parent of NBC Universal, which runs USA Network, among others.

USA introduced Monday night's "Raw" in 1993. A match made in heaven, it gave birth to cable ratings records and produced the top series on ad-based cable.

But, as so often happens in seemingly idyllic relationships, along came Another Media Conglom and broke up this perfect union.

That was Viacom, which had gotten into bed with WWF in summer '99, when its UPN network began broadcasting "WWF Smackdown!"

USA sued to try to save the relationship, but in June 2000 a Delaware court ruled that WWF could leave for Viacom, which put most of the wrestling fare on the Nashville Network.

WWE stuck with that network during its brief "The National Network" phase, stayed the course when it tried to pass itself off as TNN, and stood by it when it came out as Spike TV.

But since Doug Herzog took responsibility for Spike TV early this year, he has said in interviews that his top priority is producing high-quality scripted shows to complement the network's "CSI" repeats.

Ratings for WWE programming on cable are not what they were in the franchise's heyday; still, WWE's Monday "Raw" programming is usually the most-watched of any show on ad-supported cable.

On the other hand, wrestling is not a fave with Madison Avenue.

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