PASADENA, California—Mark Burnett has produced some of television’s biggest series, including Survivor, The Voice, The Apprentice, and Shark Tank. Now, “I’m at the point in my career where I can try anything,” he says.
It might be one of his boldest moves yet: bringing lucha libre wrestling—the second most popular sport in Mexico (after soccer), featuring acrobatic wrestlers in colorful masks—to the US with a new league and a new TV series.
Burnett detailed his plans at the Television Critics Association’s winter press tour. They include a show debuting in the second half of 2014 on El Rey Network, the just-launched cable network from Sin City and From Dusk Till Dawn director Robert Rodriguez. It is targeted at Latino men (but airs entirely in English).
Burnett’s One Three Media production company is teaming up with Lucha Libre AAA, Mexico’s top lucha libre league filled with hundreds of heroes and villains, to develop both the series and the league. There will be monthly and quarterly specials on El Rey, as well as live, pay-per-view events. In the series, five stars from Lucha Libre AA are “exiled” to America and will look to recruit new stars.
“This is a long-term, big play for us,” says Burnett. “I loved lucha libre for ages. The chance that we can bring lucha libre and build a massive franchise together was too big to miss out.”
If things go as Burnett hopes, he can tap into the US’s billion-dollar wrestling industry—so lucrative that World Wrestling Entertainment just announced the February launch of its own WWE Network, a 24/7 online streaming service offering access to past wrestling shows and all of its upcoming WWE pay-per-view events.
Lucha libre is a relatively unexplored sport for Americans (other than Jack Black’s 2006 comedy Nacho Libre, which had a mixed reception).
Burnett’s starpower should also give a jolt to the upstart El Rey Network, which is hoping to attract audiences with an eclectic mix of series like From Dusk Till Dawn, based on Rodriguez’s films (debuting March 11) and Matador (airing this summer), about a soccer player by day and spy by night. Because of the channel’s lower profile, he should also have the patience that he didn’t have with his boxing-themed reality competition The Contender, which debuted on NBC in 2005 but whose soft ratings resulted in subsequent seasons airing instead on ESPN and ultimately Versus (now known as NBC Sports Network).
Promises Burnett: “It’s going to be epic.”