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© St. Petersburg Times, published March 11, 2001
The XFL is in trouble, which means we may finally have identified some hucksters capable of going broke by underestimating the intelligence of the American people.
We never expected better of Vince McMahon Jr., impresario of the World Wrestling Federation and founder of the XFL -- although it has become painfully obvious that the WWF's fixed wrestling matches are far more entertaining than the XFL's unfixed football games.
But we had foolishly thought that top television executives had some standards. Sure, they kept lowering the bar with various Who Wants to Marry the Big Brother of the Millionaire Survivor of Temptation Island spinoffs. Still, we never dreamed that one of the major networks (not counting Fox, of course) would be desperate enough to devote its Saturday prime-time programming to this unholy marriage of third-rate football and soft-core porn.
NBC executives may secretly be ashamed of themselves for doing business with McMahon, but they chortled all the way to the credit union after the XFL's opening weekend, which pulled great ratings and made advertisers happy. But the audience at home didn't like what it saw. Ratings fell by 50 percent the second week, and by another 50 percent the next.
So it appears that we have finally plumbed the depths beyond which the networks cannot profitably sink. The vast wasteland may have a solid floor after all.
Or maybe not. NBC thinks it will increase this weekend's XFL ratings by giving viewers a semi-candid sneak peek inside the cheerleaders' locker rooms.
That may lift NBC's numbers, but it won't lift the network's spirits. "I watched for five minutes," WFLA-TV news anchor Bob Hite said after the XFL's debut. "Dreadful. I'm sorry it's on Channel 8." We're on your side, Bob.