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WWE acquired the Extreme Championship Wrestling name and video library in 2003 and later began reintroducing ECW through a series of DVDs and books. The most notable example is The Rise and Fall of ECW, a documentary (and later a book) of the promotion's history. The enormous popularity of this and other ECW merchandise; along with a suggestion from Rob Van Dam prompted WWE to organize an ECW "reunion show" pay-per-view in 2005 dubbed ECW One Night Stand. The financial and critical success of the show motivated WWE to organize a second One Night Stand the following year. With rejuvenated interest in ECW, WWE began exploring the possibility of reviving the promotion full-time.
On May 26, 2006, WWE announced the relaunch of ECW as a stand-alone brand that would complement WWE's RAW and SmackDown! brands and emanate weekly on the Sci Fi Channel. Despite initial concerns that professional wrestling would not be accepted by Sci Fi Channel's demographic, network President Bonnie Hammer believed that ECW would fit the channel's theme of stretching the imagination. Sci Fi Channel is owned by NBC Universal, parent company of USA Network and exclusive cable broadcaster of WWE programming.
To boost success of the new brand, ECW was cross-promoted on WWE programming in the weeks leading up to One Night Stand 2006. A prime time special called WWE vs. ECW Head to Head was aired on USA Network as part of the promotion.
The ECW brand initially attempted to differentiate itself from WWE's other brands. The hard cameras were placed in a different location and the ring mat had an "ECW" logo on it. The male performers were also referred to as "Extremists" as opposed to Superstars, and female performers were called "Vixens" instead of Divas. Eventually, all of these features were dropped.
The ECW brand was initially headlined by original ECW performers such as Rob Van Dam, Sabu, Tommy Dreamer, Balls Mahoney, Al Snow and The Sandman, and new ECW "rebels" like Kurt Angle and The Big Show rounding out the roster. Former ECW owner Paul Heyman was entrusted with booking the brand. However, following the second episode, Heyman's role was somewhat reduced. According to an interview in the UK newspaper The Sun, Heyman wrote the brand's weekly scripts and submitted them to writers for possible changes, and then Vince McMahon for final approval. Following the 2006 December to Dismember pay-per-view event Heyman was relieved from both his on and off air duties with World Wrestling Entertainment. The WWE website cited "slumping television ratings and a disgruntled talent roster" as the reasons for his dismissal. Behind the scenes, Dave Lagana, former head booker of SmackDown!, replaced Heyman as head booker of the ECW brand.
Changes were made to the brand that differentiated it from the original ECW promotion, including changing the original promotion's rules - where weapons were legal in all matches and there were almost never count outs or disqualifications. WWE classifies such matches as "Extreme Rules" bouts, and they are only fought on occasion. By default, all matches on ECW cards are now fought under standard rules unless specified otherwise.
ECW was featured as part of WWE's "Big Four" cross-branded pay-per-view events: Survivor Series, Royal Rumble, SummerSlam and WrestleMania. The first pay-per-view event hosted by the ECW brand since its launch was December to Dismember. On March 14, 2007, WWE announced that all future PPV's would feature all three brands. With this announcement, some brand-exclusive PPV's, including December to Dismember, were cut.
ECW on Sci Fi
ECW's weekly series was originally given a run of a thirteen episode "summer series" by the Sci Fi Channel. Because of good ratings, it was granted an extended run through the end of 2007. The premiere of ECW's weekly show on the Sci Fi Channel received a 2.79 rating, making it the highest rated show on cable in its time slot.
While the show started out a ratings success for both Sci Fi Channel and WWE, it began drawing criticism from fans of the original ECW early on. This was most evident by the negative crowd reaction "old school" fans gave the main event of Batista vs. The Big Show at the August 1st, 2006 show from the Hammerstein Ballroom.
Unlike the original promotion which primarily ran television tapings in smaller arenas, ECW shows were held in larger arenas as a part of SmackDown!'s Tuesday night taping schedule. ECW usually aired live on Tuesdays directly after SmackDown! was taped, however, it would occasionally be taped before SmackDown!, and placed on a tape delay until later in the night depending on what circumstances dictated. When touring the west coast, which is in the Pacific time zone, ECW shows were broadcast live before the SmackDown! event was taped.
To compliment the weekly television program, WWE.com introduced an online streaming video site called Hardcore Hangover that allows fans to stream on-demand video footage of the weekly show.
In addition to wrestling matches and backstage vignettes, ECW, like RAW and SmackDown!, had recurring weekly segments.
The earliest segment, which began on the first episode (albeit unnamed) was Kelly's Exposé, and featured exhibitionist character Kelly Kelly performing a striptease for the crowd. Kelly's Exposé took a hiatus when Kelly took a leave in December of 2006, and upon her return in January of 2007, she was joined by fellow divas Layla El and Brooke Adams to form Extreme Exposé, a three person dance troupe. Extreme Exposé performed weekly, utilizing a different song and costume each week. This lasted until late Summer of 2007, when The Miz had ownership of Extreme Exposé and started a feud over Kelly Kelly with Balls Mahoney. Brooke Adams would soon be released from WWE, and The Miz would soon begin teaming with John Morrison.
Another recurring segment, which was only used on occasion, was Striker's Classroom. This segment was hosted by Matt Striker, who portrayed a teacher (his former real-life profession) and featured Striker insulting the audience's intellectual capacity. It was also sometimes utilized as a simple promo device, and other times as an interview segment. Arguably the most memorable moment involving Striker's Classroom was the segment featuring Striker's then-rival The Boogeyman. Striker brought out his new right-hand man, Big Daddy V.