WWE Friday Night SmackDown has always been a bit of an otherworldly experience, so maybe moving it to Syfy isn't as odd a decision as it seems. But SmackDown's 8 p.m. Friday debut on Syfy wasn't really prompted by a desire for a time slot between space aliens and apartment-building-sized sharks. WWE saw the move as a killer promotional opportunity.
"When our previous deal [with MyNetwork TV] was up, we asked the question, 'What's the best home for us?'" says Michelle Wilson, WWE's executive vice president for marketing. ""And when we evaluated all the potential partners, being able to promote our show and our brand across all NBC platforms -- that's just a no-brianer for us."
NBC, which owns Syfy, is able to cross-promote SmackDown not only on its other cable networks but even on TV screens in taxis and at gas pumps, through its NBC Everywhere marketing arm. Language frontiers will be crossed with promos on NBC's Spanish-language channels Telemundo and mun2, and political frontiers with the screening of SmackDown videos on Virgin Air flights. When I jokingly asked Wilson if we could expect to see WWE stars showing up on Syfy shows like Warehouse 13, she promptly informed they already have: Cody Rhodes had a role in the show in August. (And my parents said being a smart-ass would never get me anywhere.)
In fact, SmackDown has even taken over the gift shop at NBC's 30 Rockefeller Plaza headquarters in New York, with a window display so striking that tourists are flocking to be photographed next to it. "It's non-traditional marketing, and it's great," says Wilson.
Ordinarily, switching networks is risky business for an established programming franchise. But SmackDown has already moved around a good bit in broadcast television, appearing on UPN, The CW and MyNetwork TV and establishing itself as a ratings leader every time. Moreover, asking wrestling fans to switch to Syfy is not exactly the same as trying to entice them to, say, CSPAN; Syfy has already played host to other WWE shows, including NXT and ECW.
Even so, WWE is taking no chances. Friday's debut will air live rather than on tape and feature an all-star cast including Rey Mysterio, Big Show, Kane, Kofi Kingston, CM Punk, Jack Swagger, Cody Rhodes, Michelle McCool, Kelly Kelly, Layla, and everybody's fave, Undertaker. That's him up above. By the way, he's taking over as manager of the Changing Channels Reader Complaint Department. Be sure to include your address with any whiny notes, so he can attend to you personally.