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April 11, 2005 Observer Newsletter: Details on WWE's return to NBC Universal, WrestleMania 21 review

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When they have the saying about good news and bad news, the WWE's new cable television deal with the USA Network and parent company NBC Universal fits that bill and then some. The deal contains some good news, some very good news, and some very bad news.

The good news is obvious. Besides a deal for two hours of Raw every week on the USA Network, which is a significantly stronger network, as in nearly double the average audience in prime time, than Spike, it features the return of NBC Saturday Night's Main Event. There is little question that one of the main reasons so many of the 80s wrestlers had longer shelf lives and were considered bigger stars than those who came a few years later (even before the steroid scandal put a damper on business) was the gigantic exposure on NBC. While the cable ratings during the peak of the Steve Austin era were more than 50% higher (and total audience was four times as large due to cable growth), there was nothing in the current era that could match the numbers put on for SNME. The shows in the 80s frequently topped an 8.0 rating, peaking with an 11.6, still the highest rated show in history of that time slot in recorded U.S. television history, for a 1987 show during the Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant build-up. Due to the fragmenting of audiences due to the cable explosion, numbers like that aren't possible today. But even a poorly rated show in that time slot is going to do far more viewers than a highly rated Raw or Smackdown.

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