With Major League Wrestling making its debut tonight on Reelz, the ad-supported cable channel hopes to recreate the impossible. Launched in 2006 as Reelz Channel, then best known as home to Leonard Maltin’s “Maltin on Movies” and hosting the Visual Effects Society Awards, it went through many iterations — until recently, none terribly successful. A year ago, it ranked a dim 51 in cable primetime among its key demo for advertising, adults 25-54.
And then, a miracle. On July 22, 2022, Reelz premiered “On Patrol Live,” its revival of the format behind canceled A&E hit “Live P.D.” Today, Reelz is No. 19 and its year-to-year ratings rose a whopping 274 percent
“We thought it would do well… it just blew everything out of the water,” Steve Cheskin, SVP of programming at Reelz, told IndieWire. “And it’s pulling everything up with it.”
Wisely, Cheskin will not refer to “On Patrol Live” as the return of “Live P.D.” For starters, “On Patrol Live” is a new program that has just enough differences to keep an arm’s length from “Live P.D.” And… there is an ongoing lawsuit between Big Fish (which produced both programs) and A&E.
A&E canceled “Live P.D.” in June 2020 amid ongoing protests surrounding the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police office Derek Chauvin in May. Around the same time, the Austin-American Statesman published a report that “Live P.D.” producers destroyed footage of a man being arrested and dying in custody in March 2019. (“Live P.D.” producer Big Fish said it shared the never-aired footage with investigators and then destroyed it, per studio protocol.) A&E ratings have yet to recover.
Courtesy of Reelz
“Clearly, ‘On Patrol Live’ has set us in a different direction,” said Cheskin, who also invented Shark Week for the Discovery Channel. A different direction indeed. The channel (tagline: “Stories about the famous and infamous.”) now leans almost exclusively into crime programming with key shows that include “COPS” (Paramount Network canceled the show around the same time A&E ended “Live P.D.”), “Jail,” and its No. 1 program before the “On Patrol Live” days, “Autopsy.”
Some of the most successful “Autopsy” episodes focused on professional wrestlers and the revamped Reelz research department found it “amazing how many of the viewers of ‘On Patrol Live’ love wrestling,” Cheskin said.
Among them is Court Bauer, founder and CEO of MLW and an “On Patrol Live” fan. Crossing over even more directly is Biff Lawson, who produces both Major League Wrestling and “On Patrol Live.”
“Over the course of the 10 years I’ve been here, a lot of different wrestling leagues have come through and pitched that they want to be on our network,” said Cheskin. “And I’ve got to say, these guys at MLW, they were just persistent.”
Plus, “they’re fans of Reelz — like, they really knew our shows,” he continued. “It’s nice when somebody who wants their show to be on your network knows your programming almost as well as I do.”
Courtesy of MLW
Bauer told IndieWire he had “discussions with three Top 25 networks,” including Reelz, about a potential TV deal.
“Ultimately, it came down to Reelz believing in MLW and recognizing the power of pro wrestling grabbing eyes,” he said. “We were impressed with what the network had done, not just in terms of content but look at how they have performed as a whole.”
Both Reelz and MLW declined to disclose to IndieWire if their agreement includes a rights fee, and if the deal spans multiple years.
Reelz is available in more than 40 million homes via cable and satellite subscriptions; its library programing is available in more than 30 million additional homes via streaming.
MLW was founded by Bauer in 2002. The current roster features former WWE wrestlers “The Certified G” Real1 (fka Enzo Amore), John Hennigan (fka John Morrison), MLW World Champion Alex Hammerstone, Women’s Featherweight Champion Taya Valkyrie, and Jacob Fatu.
“MLW Underground Wrestling” airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT on Reelz. The pre-taped action will be followed by classic MLW matches at 11.
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