The first season of "The Ultimate Fighter" on FX, and the series' 15th overall, concludes Friday night, and in every MMA circle, someone has something to say about this season.
Most of those somethings skew negative. UFC president Dana White has said repeatedly in the past few weeks that they will make the necessary changes to "TUF Live" in the following season. What those changes are, well, he's not saying. No one is.
But those involved agree that changes need to be made. The ratings bear that out.
"There's one goal for 'The Ultimate Fighter,' and it's to attract new fans," Fox Sports Media Group co-president and chief operating officer Eric Shanks told Newsday recently.
Based on the ratings, which hit an all-time low for the series on May 18, that's not happening.
Here are the ratings for this season:
Episode 1, March 9: 1.3 million viewers
Episode 2, March 16: 1.1 million
Episode 3, March 23: 1.2 million
Episode 4, March 30: 1.1 million
Episode 5, April 6: 947,000
Episode 6, April 13: 1 million
Episode 7, April 20: 1 million
Episode 8, April 27: 929,000
Episode 9, May 4: 954,000
Episode 10, May 11: 948,000
Episode 11, May 18: 821,000
Episode 12, May 25: 875,000
Switching networks contributes a bit to the ratings dip. Maybe the live fighting and absence of the reality hijinks did, too. But the biggest killer this season has been time slot: Friday night at 10 p.m.
The target demographic - males 18-34 - have dozens of other ways to spend their Friday nights. That time slot needs to change for Season 2, which is about as eye-opening a statement as saying the inside of a jelly doughnut is populated by jelly.
While the response to the live fights has been positive, Shanks said there's something missing from a production standpoint. Since all of the "reality" part of the show is taped that week, it becomes difficult to cultivate story arcs for the fighters. There aren't piles of footage to pluck something from one week and something from another week and edit it to create a character or storyline. That is a staple of pretty much every reality show.
So with the stipulation that changing time slots is crucial (UFC and Fox officials both agree and have stated as such), here are a few other suggestions that might prove interesting when discussing how to alter the next season of "The Ultimate Fighter."
1) Keep the live fights
The appeal of a fight show is exactly that: fights. Continue to air live fights each week. It makes it worth watching, be it live or within 24 hours on DVR. There's an aura around a live fight that's not there with taped events. With a taped season, not only do you know it already happened, but you feel like it already happened, too. That lowers that must-watch quotient.
2) Get a crowd
If the folks at Fox think the first episode of "TUF Live" where 32 guys fought to get into the house was bad television, then change the atmosphere. Empty warehouses with an octagon, some chairs and bleachers makes it look like the same old thing. The MMA viewing audience is accustomed to seats all around the cage and having people in those seats. They are also accustomed to announcers announcing, not fighters saying "Oh man" and other excited utterances. Give us Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan in an arena. Or Jay Glazer, Jon Anik and Kenny Florian. Or any other combination of broadcasters to do play-by-play and color commentary. It's a fight night, an event. Broadcast it as such.
3) Shoulder programming
How about a 30-minute show on Fuel during the week that focuses more in depth on a particular fighter? It could focus on those fighting later that week, or not. But what it does is give the production team a chance to piece together a story line based on multiple weeks of footage. Other possible programming could focus on the coaches, their staffs and the actual coaching they do. Show me Kru Phil Nurse teaching Muay Thai, not who rigged the kitchen sink hose to spray when the faucet was turned on.
4) Coach's corner
Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber were scheduled to fight at the end of "TUF Live," which aired, um, live, which means Faber and Cruz had to be training for their fight at the same time (prior to Cruz's knee injury, which, incidentally, occurred while training for the fight). Show us some of that, not just a minute of Faber and Team Alpha Male sweating it up in Team Cruz's locker room.
5) Make fighters accessible during the week
If the show is produced and edited in real time now instead of six weeks to shoot and months to edit, there's far less of a need for non-disclosure and protecting the integrity of who won which fight. Let them tweet on their own, set up live chats, conduct conference calls, put them on "UFC Tonight." In other words, use the fighters to promote the fights just as is done for pay-per-view and other UFC cards.