Tuesday, February 2, 2016

A Modern Classic (?): Prime Time Wrestling (1985)

As he expanded the then-World Wrestling Federation (now WWE) into a national, then global, promotion, Vince McMahon was no longer content with two hours of syndicated fare on the weekends to attract fans to regional house shows. He struck a deal with USA Network to produce some additional weekly programming. We previously discussed his parody of talk shows, Tuesday Night Titans, and I use the word "parody" for a reason.

Mondays on USA used to mean broadcasts of live cards from either Madison Square Garden in New York, the Boston Garden (now the TD Garden), the Capital Centre in Landover, MD (now the Verizon Center), and the Spectrum in Philadelphia, where McMahon actually hired boxing announcer Ed Darien to do ring announcing at least once or twice.

In 1985, that all changed with the launch of Prime Time Wrestling. Former IWA announcer Jack Reynolds was host, paired with newly retired Jesse Ventura, but in short order, Reynolds was gone, replaced by Gorilla Monsoon. Ventura would give way to heel manager Bobby Heenan as "The Body" went to Hollywood to film "Predator", the first of three films where he'd appear with Arnold Schwarzenegger ("The Running Man" & "Batman & Robin" are the others). Heenan & Monsoon were already calling the matches on Wrestling Challenge, so the chemistry was already there. While the show was taped at the promotion's Connecticut studio, they often went on the road to remote locations, such as Churchill Downs in Louisville.

The format was simple. Syndicated weekend matches, plus "exclusive" house show bouts from the above mentioned cities, plus Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens, filled out the two hours. In 1989, Heenan was spun off into a short-lived talk show, another parody of the genre, and this one had a shorter shelf life than Titans did.

In 1991, the studio format was tweaked by adding a studio audience, and McMahon decided he wanted to parody Johnny Carson again, albeit without the monologues. Well, maybe he was aping Merv Griffin, since Lord Alfred Hays was the closest thing to Arthur Treacher that McMahon had. But in the summer of '91, McMahon stepped aside, and Sean Mooney (now a sports anchor, last seen in Arizona) took his place. Before long, however, they went to a roundtable format and ditched the audience. Monsoon returned as part of the panel, along with Hays and Heenan, among others, and this was the way it'd be until the show ended in January 1993, giving way to Monday Night Raw.

Let's take a step back in time to October 1989. Monsoon & Heenan are now joined by Roddy Piper, who had filled Heenan's chair that summer. It's the Halloween edition. Monsoon is dressed as Brother Love, while the real deal (Bruce Prichard) shows up, only to run into Piper. No matches are shown, just the studio banter between the three hosts and the ersatz evil evangelist. Heenan is dressed as The Genius (Lanny Poffo's character at the time).

Watching this footage again for the first time in over 25 years was hysterical, thanks mostly to the comic genius of Piper, whom we lost last year. This was "Hot Rod" at his best. It wasn't until he left for WCW, and the advent of the nWo in the late 90's, before Heenan finally became a fan favorite.

Rating: A.

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