NBC Explores Airing Martial Arts Shows

NBC has become the latest network to hold talks about airing mixed martial arts programming early next year, if the "Hollywood" writers' strike continues. A source said the network may link with one of the many operators of MMA events to air either prime-time specials or slot the few-holds-barred programming in late-night.

The reality programming, of course, would not require any members of the writers' union for production. NBC did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

The interest in MMA programming is coming from NBC's entertainment division and would seem to fit with Ben Silverman's (the network's new entertainment head) penchant for high-concept reality series. MMA --where contestants can use a range of techniques from kicking to punching and beyond, which some consider a sport, others entertainment--is booming amid a young male audience.

MMA, however, contradict NBC's carefully cultivated image as the network with high-quality programming targeted at upscale urban audiences. A previous effort in the pugilistic area, "The Contender," proved to be a flop.



Then again, throughout the 1980s, NBC aired "Saturday Night's Main Event," a late-night wrestling series produced by what's now known as the WWE. In 2006, the network resuscitated the franchise for two prime-time specials. This summer, NBC ran two more in the series' old "Saturday Night Live" spot. "SNL" has been in repeats since the strike began, so an MMA special could offer an alternative.

It's not clear which MMA operator NBC would ultimately cut a deal with. Possibilities run the gamut from brands such as newly formed M-1 Global to K-1 to the International Fight League (which airs on FSN and MyNetworkTV). On Nov. 3, MyNetworkTV aired a live IFL event; its deal is not believed to be exclusive to MNTV.

One thing appears clear: NBC won't be airing the most popular MMA events, which come from the Ultimate Fighting Championship. The UFC is in advanced negotiations to air specials on CBS in the first quarter if the strike continues, the source said--adding that a deal could close as soon as this week, facilitated by Viacom network Spike, which holds UFC cable rights.

UFC President Dana White seems eager to take advantage of the writers' strike to offer his programming on a broadcast network. "We're talking to a lot of different networks right now," he says. UFC did not provide further comment.

UFC on CBS would be a curious fit, since MMA appeals to a younger and male audience; CBS tends to skew more to the 25-to-54 demo. Word of the negotiations between CBS and UFC was first reported by the Los Angeles Times. CBS declined comment.

Besides FSN, a slew of cable networks from Versus to Showtime to HD Net offer MMA programming.

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