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NBCUniversal’s USA Network and sports entertainment powerhouse World Wrestling Entertainment said Wednesday that they will air weekly wrestling show Smackdown live beginning in July.
Currently taped on Tuesdays and airing on Thursdays, the show will as of July 19 air live on Tuesdays in the 8 p.m.-10 p.m. ET/PT time slot.
The change means USA will now air five hours of live WWE programming a week. It already shows Monday Night Raw live in the 8 p.m.-11 p.m. slot.
USA also said that WWE will return to a so-called brand split approach, which will see separate groups of talent and storylines for Raw and Smackdown.
“The fan base for our WWE shows is one of the most passionate and engaged audiences in all of entertainment,” Chris McCumber, president, entertainment networks at NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment, said in a statement. “There is a huge appetite among our viewers for live programming, and the ability to move Smackdown to a live format brings a new level of excitement and helps truly eventize this every week.”
Said WWE chairman and CEO Vince McMahon: “WWE’s flagship programs will both leverage the incredible depth of our talent roster, distinct storylines and the unpredictable nature of live TV. This move will undoubtedly build more excitement and deepen engagement with our fans around the world.”
The live format of Raw has allowed the show to surprise fans with storyline twists and the return of big-name talents. In the case of Smackdown, match results and surprises have in the digital age been covered, and therefore spoiled for fans, on wrestling news sites and social media by attendees of the tapings.
With 874 original episodes, Smackdown is the second longest-running weekly episodic program in U.S. TV history, according to the companies, behind Raw, which just aired its 1,200th episode.
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