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!”


WWE Films: now with extra cheese

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This column was originaly published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 15th March 2011.

I have a confession to make. I don’t mind watching a little bit of wrestling. Don’t tell my mum.

It has always irritated me when people say that it isn’t real. Of course it’s real. When you see a wrestler fly across the ring, he’s actually doing that. When he jumps off the top rope, that’s what is really happening. The notion that you are watching a legitimate fight is what is not real.

The outcome of the matches may be pre-determined and the storylines may be put together by a team of writers but why should that diminish my enjoyment? I know that Home and Away, Neighbours, House, Doctor Who and A Current Affair are completely fictional and I’m sure that it doesn’t stop anyone from watching them.

What I will concede, though, is that the ability to act is not necessarily a prerequisite to be a WWE Superstar. I would suggest big muscles and the ability to look good in lycra trunks is far more important. Subtlety is not really essential in the larger than life soap opera for (mostly) men that is professional wrestling.

So I find it extremely interesting that World Wrestling Entertainment has set up its own film studio to produce motion pictures vehicles for its biggest stars.

WWE was formally the World Wrestling Federation or WWF until a court case brought by the World Wildlife Fund in 2000 determined that the general public might get confused between bodyslams and pandas. I know I often do.

To date, WWE Studios has produced or co-produced ten feature films to variable box office takings and mixed reviews. There are another five on the way.

The Rock, or as he would prefer to be known now, Dwayne Johnson, starred in the first three, and most successful, WWE Studios productions. The Scorpion King (2002), Welcome to the Jungle (2003) and Walking Tall (2004) were all box office hits and cemented Johnson’s place as a legitimate breakout star. His charisma in the ring carried over to the big screen and although he did not become the Schwarzenegger of the noughties as was expected, he is certainly now a big name Hollywood actor.

The depth of the talent pool became somewhat shallower with the departure of The Rock as he retired his trunks and pursued acting fulltime. Next in line in terms of wrestling stardom was “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. Arguably the biggest star since Hulk Hogan and responsible for reversing the fortunes of an ailing WWE throughout the nineties, Austin’s vehicle The Condemned (2007), a knockoff of The Running Man (2007) and co-starring Vinnie Jones, was a flop at the box office. Austin has gone on to several direct-to-DVD films as well as appearing as a henchman in Sylvester Stallone’s The Expendables (2010)  although he is yet to expand his acting range beyond looking menacing and punching things.

With the relative failure of current Superstar John Cena’s two movies, The Marine (2006) and 12 Rounds (2009), WWE Studios changed tactics and chose to focus their productions on the direct-to-DVD market, with most films having a very short cinema engagement before hitting the shelves soon after. There also appears to be a trend of not stretching the limited acting abilities of the wrestlers by ensuring that the roles they play are not far from the grappling world. John Cena plays a former high school wrestling champion in Legendary (2010) and “The Big Show” Paul Wight portrays a dim witted cage fighter in last year’s Knucklehead.

With over six hours of WWE programming a week on pay TV, it could be argued that fans are unlikely to spend money seeing wrestlers in films when they can watch them for next to nothing on the box. However, there may still be some money to be made with low budget movies starring contracted wrestlers and B grade actors.

I suppose the lack of acting ability has never really stopped anyone from making it to the big screen. Just ask Britney Spears, Mariah Carey and Jessica Simpson.