‘Big Four’ network brings original programming to Saturday nights, chasing MMA’s upscale, young audience.

Image from a mixed martial arts match 

CBS Television is bring mixed martial arts to primetime, according to TV Week.

Mixed martial arts is the form of fighting that includes punching, kicking, and grappling, basicaly allowing all skilled, non-weapons forms of martial art, outlawing only non-skill actions such as eye-gouging, hitting in the groin, etc. The fights usually include significantly more action than a boxing match, while the danger of serious injury or brain damage is greatly diminished because there is less hitting to the head.

Last year the small broadcast network MyNetwork TV showed some International Fight League events. CBS will broadcast four live, two-hour programs of Pro Elite matches per year on Saturday nights, signing a multiyear deal with the organization. The cable channel Showtime, a subsidiary of CBS, showed Pro Elite matches last year. Now it moves to TV’s most popular broadcast network.

This is interesting for two reasons. One is that mixed martial arts is clearly overtaking boxing in popularity, and that is a good thing. It’s safer for the contestants, and the emphasis on honor and social inclusiveness are in great contrast to the deteriorating image of boxing in recent years.

The other interesting thing is that CBS is hereby taking a chance on providing original programming on Saturday nights. For several years, Saturday night has been a desert for network TV, with programming consisting nearly entirely of reruns of shows seen earlier in the week, with only Fox’s Cops and ABC’s college football broadcasts being major exceptions.

Ratings have thus been even lower on Saturday nights than they would be if the networks assumed that viewers would show up if the broadcasters offered something worth watching. In scheduling original mixed martial arts matches, CBS, the TV network with the oldest overall audience demographics, is making an effort to chase the sport’s younger, upscale, followers.

CBS’s experiment with original programming on Saturday nights thus bears watching in that regard, as success could bring more variety to Saturday night network programming.