In the same year that Raw celebrated its 25th anniversary, SmackDown is also approaching a milestone of its own. Tonight the show will air its 1,000th episode and former WWE producer Bruce Prichard recently reflected back on the very first episode of SmackDown which aired in 1999.
The first seven years of SmackDown aired on UPN, and Prichard says that using that network didn’t come by accident.
“It was a big conglomeration with a lot of different things coming together at the same time, it was a perfect storm in a lot of ways,” Prichard says on Something to Wrestle With. “Part of the UPN deal also had to do with the XFL. The XFL was going to be debuting the next year, and Vince [McMahon] was getting out beyond that NBC bubble and was looking for different broadcast partners.
When SmackDown debuted on UPN, it became WWE’s first show on a broadcast network since Saturday Night’s Main Event ended it’s original run on NBC in 1992.
“The other thing was that UPN was a broadcast network,” stated Prichard. “It wasn’t cable cast. I don’t want to say that they were in dire straights at the time, but they were No. 5 of the 5 networks. It wasn’t like we were going to the strongest of networks, but they were looking for something to build them up. UPN-Viacom had seen what we had done for the USA Network and they felt that by bringing it onto a broadcast and putting it into a primetime slot it could be their signature show.
“We were reaching out and looking for partners for the XFL. Vince McMahon looks at all of the [UPN] programming and thought, what about pro wrestling? What about doing something else? Vince McMahon always wanted that broadcast spot; that primetime broadcast spot and when it became available he jumped at it.”
Prichard also talked about the possibility of making SmackDown an all-women’s show nearly 20 years before WWE Evolution became a reality.
“We definitely discussed it,” admitted Prichard. “We looked at it, but we just didn’t have the depth to do it on a consistent basis week after week. We really didn’t have enough talent to do that, and in addition to that, if you were going to do that maybe not do it on the broadcast show because Vince McMahon was looking at that the more eyeballs maybe if this broadcast show takes off to possibly make Raw an all-women’s show, but we definitely discussed that many times throughout the years.”
SmackDown stated on UPN and is currently on USA Network, but it also aired on four different networks in between. The show will then move to Fox in October 2019 and Prichard says many networks showed interest in becoming the home of SmackDown.
“We were talking to Viacom. We were talking to CBS, and talking to CBS and Viacom was when we came to terms with UPN,” Prichard revealed. “We were the prettiest girl in that dance. Here we are at UPN because they wanted us due to the fact that they knew what we could provide for their station, which we did. We were the #1 show on their station, and brought eyeballs to UPN and were able to help them with lead ins. If you wanted to do a new show on UPN you advertise on SmackDown; that was just the way it was.”