After 18 years, TNT is ready to get back in the wrestling ring.
The network will begin airing weekly matches from new professional wrestling league All Elite Wrestling (AEW) on Oct. 2, it announced today at the Television Critics Association’s summer press tour in L.A.
The upstart AEW will make its TNT debut just two days before WWE SmackDown Live, which had been a staple on rival network USA but will be moving to Fox, its new home for the next five years, this fall. Matches will also stream on B/R Live, WarnerMedia’s OTT sports streaming service.
“Some of the more graphic content” and matches will air only on B/R Live and won’t appear on the weekly TNT series, said Cody Rhodes, a wrestler and evp of AEW.
This is the first time TNT will air professional wrestling since 2001, when the network pulled the plug on its World Championship Wrestling partnership.
“We want to set a new standard for all of pro wrestling,” said Brett Weitz, general manager of TNT, TBS and truTV, who touted the league’s “inclusive sporting community,” including transgender female wrestler Nyla Rose. The AEW roster also includes the late Luke Perry’s son, Jack, who wrestles under the name Jungle Boy.
The weekly TNT series still lacks a title, which Weitz said is coming “in the next week or two.”
AEW focuses on “pro wrestling,” while WWE—the dominant pro wrestling league—positions itself more as “sports entertainment,” Rhodes said. “This is a wrestling show brought to you by wrestlers, for wrestling fans,” and not a corporation, he added.
AEW is making its TNT debut as part of WarnerMedia’s plans, unveiled at its May upfront presentation, to begin blurring the branding of its biggest networks.
“We’re in the midst of a transformation at WarnerMedia,” said Kevin Reilly, president of TBS and TNT and chief creative officer, WarnerMedia direct-to-consumer, during his company’s upfront event. “Part of this transformation is how we think about networks. We’re going to be more flexible in our programming strategy and go where the audience is and use every programming tool and asset we have to maximize delivery and connection.”
Reilly added, “TBS, TNT and truTV are stronger if we’re less bound by a single brand position or genre.”