WWE Network – even more reason for wrestling nerds to stay inside

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 14th January 2014.

Last Thursday, at a glitzy press conference in Las Vegas, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) Chairman Vince McMahon announced the creation of the WWE Network. Widely expected to be a new premium sports channel to be carried via traditional US cable TV distributors, WWE pulled a pro wrestling storyline swerve by revealing that the fledgling network will be internet based, and most importantly, available in Australia.

WWE Network will consist of a live feed plus on demand programming. I have no doubt that die hard fans will be able to stay glued to their screens 24/7 but is there enough footage of men pretending to fight in their undies for a whole network?

On their way to becoming the dominant wrestling promotion in the USA and by default, the planet, WWE have swallowed up almost every tape library going so their archive of over 100,000 hours of bouts and footage from the 1940’s to now will be a major drawcard for enthusiasts of the square circle.

WWE is also promising original programming such as Wrestlemania Rewind which will examine some of the greatest match-ups in history, the stories behind them and talk to the participants, assuming they haven’t died in a steroid or drug related incident. Another documentary style show, The Monday Night War, will spotlight the infamous mid-90’s battle for ratings between WWE and World Championship Wrestling (WCW). Of course, history is written by the victors so don’t expect a balanced perspective. For the record, my friends and I were huge WCW fans at the time. With hindsight, WCW was pretty terrible. Our preference for it may have had more to do with Australian pay TV’s decision to drop WWE programming at the time.

I’m most excited about WWE Legends House, a reality show which sees “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan and other stars from the eighties with inverted commas in their names live under the same roof. I’m looking forward to enjoying the antics of the legends. By legends, I mean a bunch of unhinged old grapplers who have been dropped on their heads a few too many times.

For most fans, the biggest attraction will be the monthly pay per view events such as Wrestlemania. Currently priced at $35 a pop via Australian pay TV channel Main Event, the pay per views will be part of the network lineup. With the introductory price point for the WWE Network being set at US$9.99 per month, with a minimum six month subscription, the online channel represents great value for fans and appears to be another sign that tradition TV distribution is on the wane.

The best news for Aussie wrestling fans is that WWE Network will become available for us in late 2015 or early 2015. The lag is presumably to allow WWE to renegotiate its arrangements with local distributors such as Foxtel.

WWE Network premieres in the US only on February 24. In the words of the late “Macho Man” Randy Savage, “Oooooh yeeeah!”


Saving Your Favourite TV Shows: Too late for Terra Nova?

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 13th March 2012.

Fans of the Network Ten family sci-fi series, Terra Nova, were disappointed to hear last week that the dino-drama had been cancelled after one season. Filmed in Queensland, the show was more expensive than your usual one hour drama with an average episode budget of US$4 million. Despite having Steven Spielberg, who mined similar storyline ground in Jurassic Park, attached as Executive Producer, Terra Nova drew ordinary ratings.

A campaign to save the show was launched in December by its small but loyal fan base, spurred on by the series’ lead actor, Jason O’Mara. Fans were encouraged to send plastic toy dinosaurs to FOX Entertainment President, Kevin Reilly. Unfortunately, this was not enough to save Terra Nova, however, there is a slim chance that the show may be picked up by another network or distributor. The current internet rumour is that Netflix, a major player in the US on-demand streaming and DVD rental by mail industry, may give the show a reprieve.

There are still a couple of episodes yet to air in Australia. Considering the axe has fallen (for now), expect to see them late at night between Proactiv ads and Flavorwave infomercials.

This isn’t the first time that fans have banded together to try to save their favourite shows from cancellation. Here are my favourite success stories.

Way back in 2000, the success of The X-Files resulted in several short lived shows involving aliens. Roswell, a teen drama revolving around a trio of stranded alien siblings, was facing the chop after its first low rating season. Starring Katherine Heigl, before she became really annoying, Roswell was granted a second and third season after fans banded together to send 3000 bottles of Tabasco sauce to WB Network executives. This was the first time that the internet had brought fans together to save a TV show.

A few years later, a post-apocalyptic action drama series entitled Jericho premiered in 2007. Starring Skeet Ulrich of Scream fame, the show focuses on the township of Jericho, Kansas following a nuclear attack on the US. Low ratings led to the series’ cancellation after one season but outraged fans had different plans. Inspired by a line of dialogue from the final episode where a character repeats a famous quote from a military general in the Battle of the Bulge (“Nuts!), fans rallied online and sent over 20 tonnes of nuts to the offices of CBS.

Jericho was miraculously renewed for a second season, however, the show’s ratings continued to be peanuts, so to speak, and it limped on for another seven episodes before being put out of its misery. A third season appeared in comic book form.

Before the internet and email, people used to write on pieces of paper and physically send them to each other as “letters”. As crazy as that sounds, a letter writing campaign by fans saved a little known science fiction series known as Star Trek.

After two seasons of exploring the universe in a starship made of plywood, Kirk and Spock were about to be cut loose to go where many failed shows had gone before. A fervent letter writing campaign convinced NBC to green light a third series, albeit with a lower budget. This third season of Star Trek ultimately failed in the ratings and led to its cancellation, however, it also brought the total number of episodes to 79, which allowed the series to be syndicated. It was the continuous repeats of Star Trek in syndication which led to its immense popularity amongst nerds everywhere.

Terra Nova may be dead as a dinosaur but fans of Ringer, Gossip Girl, The Mentalist and all three CSI incarnations should start planning their internet campaigns now. Ratings for these shows are down and the axe is being sharpened. Start looking for quirky things to post to your friendly TV network executives today.

Published in: on March 26, 2012 at 07:42  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

TV Review: The New “It’s A Knockout” Sucks

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 29th November 2011.

On Sunday night, one of my favourite eighties TV shows was resurrected. With minimal fanfare, It’s a Knockout returned after a twenty four year absence.

Originally airing from 1985 – 1987, It’s a Knockout was hosted by Fiona McDonald and Billy J Smith. At the beginning of each episode they would enter the stadium in a golf cart and introduce a series of ridiculous challenges which pitted teams representing four Australian states against each other.

A guest referee would oversee the proceedings. Minor celebrities at the time filled this role, including Grant Kenny, Ricky May and Jon English, as well as Network Ten contracted talent such as Jason Donovan and Cameron Daddo.

The program was recorded just up the road from my childhood home, at Englefield Soccer Stadium in Dural. Surprisingly, I never attended a taping but remember being amazed by the stories from my school friends who went along. I recall being outraged at the time that audience members were split into groups and forced to barrack onscreen for a particular state.

I was particularly impressed that one of my next door neighbours was a cheerleader for the show. I ran into her several years ago. She is now the nursing manager for the intensive care unit of a major Sydney hospital. I bet she doesn’t have the It’s a Knockout gig on her CV.

The latest incarnation of It’s a Knockout is hosted by HG Nelson, Brad McEwan and Charli Robinson. The latter’s job is to interview the contestants and generally make everything seem so much more fun and hilarious than it actually is. Nelson and McEwan have a reasonable chemistry but their banter seems quite disconnected from the rest of the show, as if their segments were shot on a different day to the competition.

This is reminiscent of the similarly themed Wipeout show, which also featured two wise cracking hosts who were very obviously standing in front of a green screen in a studio far away from the stadium.

Both Wipeout and It’s a Knockout are filmed offshore, allegedly to take advantage of less stringent insurance regulations and contain costs. Wipeout and its various international editions, including Wipeout Australia, are shot in Argentina. Kuala Lumpur is home to the new It’s a Knockout, which is interesting, because when I think of whacky game shows, I definitely do not think of Malaysia.

The rebooted It’s a Knockout focuses less on the contestants and more on the action than the original incarnation. For me, this is counterproductive as it’s the human element which draws you in. Without some level of connection to the teams, the players just become Japanese game show cannon fodder for trips, spills and falls.

Gone also is the live audience split into four state groups. In its place is a small but excitable audience in a tiny grandstand. Presumably tourists who don’t care about whether NSW wins or not, the audience claps and cheers at the right times but based on the wide shots of the stadium, anyone in the grandstand would probably not be able to see the majority of the events. It is quite possible that the audience wasn’t even there for the games. With some clever editing, you would just need to shoot a couple of minutes of crowd reactions and send them home.

The continuous spruiking of a certain fast food brand was also annoying. Call me old fashioned but I prefer my ads in the ad breaks.

I know that It’s a Knockout is just another zany TV show but I’m being particularly critical because this one was a childhood favourite. The failed resurrection of Hey, Hey It’s Saturday last year and the imminent relaunch of Young Talent Time in 2012 prove that the TV networks are desperately running out of new ideas.

The problem with brushing the dust off old eighties programming such as It’s a Knockout is that its intended audience, nostalgic Gen Xers such as me, may have adored the show twenty five years ago but have now grown up. I’m no longer interested in Plucka Duck, precocious kids lip synching badly and people dressed up in ostrich costumes riding bikes. If the networks must go back to the eighties well, bring back the original shows as late night reruns.

Published in: on December 20, 2011 at 09:16  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,