The unique spectacle of Pro Wrestling first hit TV sets in the 1940’s, broadcasting the likes of Gorgeous George on local stations in hope that some extra fans would turn up to watch the matches live. It was far from glamorous and certainly wasn’t a goldmine. By the 60’s most worthwhile promotions had some kind of TV timeslot, but it wasn’t until the late 70’s when Vince McMahon got wrestling syndicated that people stood up and took notice.
The rest is history, Vince crippled the territory system, Wrestlemania was born and the Monday night Wars dominated wrestling on primetime television. The sport had gone from carnival tents to a worldwide audience and by the 1980’s mega stars like Hulk Hogan erupted not only in wrestling but in Hollywood as well. The wrestler/celebrity crossover became ever present.
Wrestlemania 1 from Madison Square Garden was an event which could never be replicated by the smaller territories. It was cross promoted with MTV and several stars appeared on the show, including Muhammad Ali, Liberace and Cyndi Lauper. Since that day a whole host of celebrities have appeared in the WWE. Mike Tyson, Kid Rock, Pamela Anderson, Donald Trump, Arnold schwarzenegger, Ice T, Kevin Federline and Aretha Franklin are just the tip of the iceberg.
Pro Wrestlers themselves are not strangers to trying their hand at other celebrity dominated fields. We all know The Rock (now billed by his real name Dwayne Johnson) is now an actor on the verge of high acclaim, and who can forget Hulk Hogan’s string of lowly critiqued movie roles; not mentioning his hit reality show on VH1. John Cena broke in to the Hip-Hop charts and Chris Jericho has performed his form of Glam Rock to many non wrestling fans. These are the obvious choices when we think of wrestling/celebrity crossovers but did you forget about Andre The Giant in the “Princess Bride,” or even the Jerry Lawler, Andy Kaufman feud? What about “Ready To Rumble” or Goldberg in that Christmas movie? I could go on forever listing what wrestlers had been in what films, but by now it is quite obvious that wrestling is intertwined with other forms of entertainment.
Over the years the format and production of a typical wrestling show has evolved more than the human race. From slow one hour matches only seen by live fans, to fast paced tv soap operas watched by millions. TV was the first major step in the production values of Pro Wrestling. You could now see close up shots of wrestler’s reactions and stories began to be told through interviews and backstage segments. This was then taken to a new level as marriages would take place in the ring and cameras filmed segments live in the homes of the wrestlers. It had gone from a sport, to what would later be coined as Sports Entertainment. Hell WCW used to have credits at one time.
ECW had its own Extreme version of Pro Wrestling production with a grungy, dark and “real” perspective; this seemed to retract from the direction of Hollywood but had such a testosterone filled uniqueness that it changed the wrestling world forever. They had a certain underground charm, but ironically were at the cutting edge with real entrance themes and long running storylines.
Since WWE monopolized the wrestling industry the typical narrative and production of pro wrestling TV shows have remained the same. Segments, interviews and matches, with the odd Hollywood stunt like the Vince McMahon limo incident. One group that challenged this with laughable results was Wrestling Society X, which has since been axed by MTV. The less than one hour show was produced in a deliberately cheap looking set, that although looked quite cool was obviously fake and didn’t really capture the grunge it wanted to from the old ECW. The crowd were actors, the weapons were fake and you would often see post produced layered effects like explosions and ring shaking. The concept was a high paced extreme adrenaline rush, coupled with music acts from MTV. Don’t get me wrong it was watchable and fresh but it just seemed too contrived. We know wrestling is fake but don’t make it obvious.
This leads me on to a question that has been contemplated many times I’m sure. Where does wrestling go next in terms of production (and no I don’t mean HD). It seems odd to me that a company like WWE with gazillions of dollars haven’t tried a few Hollywood-esque techniques. We are quite happy to watch a film with choreographed acted fighting and heavily produced high speed car chases, so why doesn’t WWE do a similar thing?
Wrestling has always been about not hurting each other but it generally ends up in hurting each other. Weapons are real, they really bleed by blading and it always has a live feel to it. Why not drop the old timers code and film the whole show like a movie or TV series. The Sopranos is fake but I get more of a thrill when Pauly Wallnuts beats the shizzle out of someone in a club than Triple H blading after being hit with a folding chair. OK maybe the idea is a bit far fetched and we have live audiences to cater to, but you can see where I’m coming from.
I guess wrestling is like watching a play or stage production. So how far do you think a wrestling related TV series or movie would go? Will wrestling ever be a Hollywood Blockbuster?