The Return Of Saturday Night’s Main Event

On Saturday Night, March 18, it returns.  For the first time in 14 years there will be a Saturday’s Night Main Event broadcast on NBC.  It’s an unusual development considering how unnecessary it is to bring back this once great wrestling series.  More on that in a moment.  First, let’s go back in time.
 
Shortly after the first Wrestlemania in 1985, Vince McMahon Jr. called a press conference, along with NBC, to announce a new joint venture.  The then-World Wrestling Federation (originally an NWA territory called the World Wide Wrestling Federation) was planning some special late night wrestling shows for certain Saturdays every month or two during regular TV seasons.  Rather than air yet another Saturday Night Live rerun, the WWF would supply a 90-minute wrestling show, far different from their regular programming.
 
Back in the 80s, most of the matches you saw on TV were “squash matches”.  This means that a name wrestler would battle a “jobber”.  The name wrestler is paid to win.  The jobber is paid to lose.  There was almost no suspense as to who would win these matches.  For instance, if King Kong Bundy was set to battle Jim Powers, it was a foregone conclusion who the winner was going to be.  Even in handicap matches where one giant wrestler battled more than one opponent, you knew the result.  (Andre The Giant, King Kong Bundy and Big John Studd wrestled in these contests all the time and always won no matter which jobbers they faced.)
 
Occasionally, there would be an important match on these shows like a title match or perhaps something that would push along a storyline.  But for the most part, the squash matches were the norm.  They were short and the big names almost always won.  Saturday’s Night Main Event changed all that.
 
The first show (taped at the Nassau Coliseum, one of the sites for Wrestlemania 2) aired May 11, 1985.  Then-WWF champion Hulk Hogan faced off against Rowdy Roddy Piper’s bodyguard, Cowboy Bob Orton and retained his belt.  (2 years later, they squared off on TV again for a pre-taped match on either Wrestling Superstars or Wrestling Challenge (I can’t remember now) which aired during the Memorial Day weekend.  Same result.  Hogan remained champion.) 
 
The more important match that night was a 6-man tag team match.  The former WWF tag team champions, Barry Windham and Mike Rotundo (the USA Express) and Ricky Steamboat (before he was The Dragon) battled the then-current tag champs, the Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff (who beat them at Wrestlemania), and their partner, George The Animal Steele.  I was not yet a wrestling fan when this first SNME aired, (I started getting into it around the summer) so I don’t know exactly what happened.  All I know is after the match (which the USA Express and Steamboat won), Sheik, Volkoff and their manager, the much-missed Fred Blassie, turned on The Animal who, in turn, was rescued by the opposite team and by their manager, Captain Lou Albano.  As a result, for the first time in his career, I believe, George Steele became a fan favourite.  Albano became his manager and The Animal would stick with the company for the next 3 years.  He never did change his wrestling approach, though.  (He still cheated and loved the stuffing from the turnbuckles.)
 
The show returned that October.  Hogan defended his title against Nikolai Volkoff (no longer a co-holder of the tag team title) and won.  Later on, Hogan interfered in the tag team match between Studd & Bundy and Andre The Giant and Mr. USA Tony Atlas.  That set up a tag team confrontation between Studd & Bundy and Andre & Hogan on the next SNME which aired in November. (Studd & Bundy won by DQ in the match with Atlas and Andre, and lost to Andre & Hogan in the follow-up encounter.)
 
It was pretty clear this was a fabulous idea.  Although there were squash matches sprinkled occasionally throughout the show’s 7-year run, the vast majority of matches were big names going against big names.  Titles changed hands occasionally, bad guys became good guys and vice versa and there was even a spin-off, The Main Event.  That show was even more important than SNME.  Airing from 8 to 9 p.m. on one Friday night every February between 1988 and 1992, it marked professional wrestling’s return to prime time television.  According to an A&E documentary about wrestling, this was the first time wrestling had aired in that slot in 30 years.  Not since the early days of TV when networks filled their line-ups with wrestling programming had this happened.  (Important storylines involving Hulk Hogan, Andre The Giant and Randy Savage got major injections of drama thanks to these prime-time specials.)
 
And now, the show is back, airing, this time, at 8 p.m. on Saturday, March 18. 
 
After SNME and TME were over, Vince McMahon Jr. started doing live, weekly prime-time wrestling shows.  First, in 1993, there was Raw; then later, Smackdown.  After the WCW (another former NWA territory-turned-independent-company) scrapped squash matches altogether during its Monday Night Nitro program in 1996, the then-WWF soon followed suit.  No more Steve Lombardi, Johnny K-9, AJ Petruzzi or any of the other memorable losers who would agree to be beaten by the biggest names in the business. 
 
WWE Wrestling shows are now 2 hours long, live and feature nothing but superstars.  Why the need to bring back SNME?  I can think of only one reason:  money.  The show was very successful for both NBC and the then-WWF and it beautifully sold storylines to the public.  But with Raw and Smackdown and all those pay-per-view events, where’s the need?
 
For me, one of the biggest fans at that time, those Saturday night programs were fantastic.  I would always be far too tired to stay up to watch them so my dad, also a fan, would tape them for me as he watched them air and I would watch them the next day.  If my memory is good, I only missed the first show during its entire run.
 
Since the WWE became the only game in town, apparently its ratings are in decline.  It’s also toned down its act a bit which, from a business standpoint, is probably a mistake considering how it allowed the company to break from its rather restrictive family-oriented formula to expand into the future. 
 
Wrestling started to fall from grace for me sometime in the early 90s, right around the time I got into the idea of being a movie critic.  I kept watching on TV and video but I stopped going to the live shows in Hamilton.  I stopped being fanatical as the decade wore on.  (No more t-shirts, fake championship belts or magazine collecting for me.)  So, the return of SNME, from my perspective, is merely a cash-in for nostalgia sake and I’m not sure it’s going to make a whiff of difference in the long run. 
 
Wrestling hasn’t been the same for me since the Steroid scandal rocked it in the early 90s.  It also didn’t help that I was hopelessly naive about wrestling in general.  I can’t tell you how many arguments I got into about whether wrestling was real or not.  By the end of the 80s I accepted it for what it was: fantastic, athletic theatre.  But it was certainly much more exciting to believe it was real, that there wasn’t any show business going on.  (I should mention that I also believed in the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus up to age 12.  See what I mean about being hopelessly naive?)  I loved wrestling so much as a kid (it was an absolute passion of mine), but as we all learn in life, sometimes the strongest passions die, never to be reignited in quite the same way again.  Somewhere in the mid-to-late 90s, wrestling was over for me.  Now, I’m interested in its history, the behind-the-scenes stuff.  Expect more of that on here in the future.
 
Maybe the whole point of this Saturday Night Renaissance is to create new shows for a future DVD release.  During the Coliseum Video days, there were numerous best of SNME tapes.  It’s about time the company put out a complete DVD box set of every broadcast including all The Main Event prime time specials and any “dark matches” that took place off-camera during the SNME tapings.  They’ve done it with their Wrestlemania spectaculars.  Perhaps they’ll do it with SNME as well.
 
Check out wwe.com/shows/snme for information on Saturday’s Night Main Event’s upcoming return and for results from past shows.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, March 10, 2006
5:21 p.m.
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Published in: on March 10, 2006 at 5:50 pm  Leave a Comment  

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