As Fox assembles the pieces of its post-merger schedule, a big piece has fallen in place. Beginning in October 2019, the broadcast network will air World Wrestling Entertainment’s SmackDown Live, which has been on USA Network.
Terms were not disclosed. Fox and the WWE both declined comment.
News of the deal, which was first signaled as being imminent last week, sent WWE shares up 12% to $57.57. Over the past week, they have risen more than 30%.
On Tuesday nights, the show has averaged 2.59 million viewers per week in 2018, a bit less than WWE’s other weekly show, Raw, at about 3 million. Since 2016, Raw has also aired on USA, and it has been in the NBCUniversal cable fold — with promotional presence on USA — since the start of the decade.
During Fox’s upfronts presentation a week ago, TV Group co-chairs Gary Newman and Dana Walden outlined their vision of “New Fox.” After the presumed acquisition of studio and network assets by Disney (though Comcast is also in the hunt), the remainder of 21st Century Fox will primarily consist of the broadcast network, a fortified group of local stations, and Fox News. Without an in-house studio capable of supplying programming, the strategy will be to lean on live events and sports even more than before. A deal for NFL Thursday Night Football closed earlier this year, providing a key fall programming element. While pro wrestling doesn’t quite fall into the sports or unscripted categories, it fits the bill in terms of providing another weekly tentpole.
While the 2019-20 season is quite a ways away, it is worth thinking about what is currently on Fox’s Tuesday night schedule and what will need to make room for SmackDown. As part of its upfronts announcements, the network ended eight years of single-camera comedies on Tuesdays, positioning instead hour-long series The Gifted and Lethal Weapon on the night. It is also possible, of course, for the network and WWE to agree on a new night aside from Tuesday.
The Hollywood Reporter had the first report on late-stage deal talks last week.