In anticipation of the launch of the WWE Network (WWEN), Andrew Riche and Todd Gessling wax poetic on days of Pay-Per-Views past, the WWEN’s original programming lineup and thoughts on the Network’s future. Enjoy a trip down memory lane, enjoying some of wrestling’s best, worst and most what-the-hell-were-they-thinking moments in anticipation of February 24th’s launch.
Todd: We’ve been hearing about the WWE Network for a few years now. Longer than that if you’ve really stayed in the loop, since the idea of a network solely dedicated to WWE programming has been around in some shape or form for over a decade. The WWE On-Demand service was the first step, but I think the WWE Network is the company’s attempt at a haymaker response to the boom in wrestling content floating around for free on the internet. It’s gotten to the point where people are putting up everything from re-runs of Livewire to full years of Raw for free on the net at a pace that even WWE’s aggressive legal team can’t keep up with. I don’t know about you, Andrew, but I’m the kind of guy that will gladly pay the price for the convenience of having it all in front of me, from the source, in excellent quality as opposed to sniffing around the web for hours on end. There will still be a use for my Chromecast, but being able to browse so much of the WWE’s tape library on my own is a dream come true. The price up front for the Network is an absolutely amazing deal, I can’t help but feel WWE threw fans a bone when there’s a lot of us, like me, that would have probably bit the bullet even at a steeper price for what they’re offering (and hopefully they don’t take that for granted once they spike the price after six months).
Andrew: About a month ago when the WWE Network was originally announced in Las Vegas, I wrote my two cents detailing my forward-looking joy and historical reservations when it came to such a brave new venture for WWE. The company has now perfectly etched a safe haven for its universe of fans to migrate to on late nights, lazy weekends, or even while they’re bored at work with a limitless supply of programming from not only Vince’s company but from WCW, ECW, and other long-gone territories. I remember the Classics On Demand service at its infancy when it simply called WWE 24/7 on Cox Cable, and although the content was updated weekly to monthly and there were always some nicely themed vintage matches along with the highly entertaining Legends of Wrestling roundtables, the service was pretty primal and maddening when it came to proper playback and digitization. This is obviously in the much safer and more capable hands that created Major League Baseball’s digital network, so let us all hope that the glitches on this first model will be fixed quickly over time.
It already seems for me, as a DISH Network subscriber, that my days of watching WWE on pay-per-view (albeit I did not order that many shows anyway) are officially over. It’s not a devastating event in my life today, but I can remember some great moments as a young fanboy marking out for Superstars and Stripes Forever after my mom returned from duty in Saudi Arabia for Operation Desert Storm. I can also remember later that year when my brother and I drove my dad insane because we forgot to mention to him that This Tuesday in Texas was airing, well, that Tuesday night in 1991. Our PPV channel was basically a local ad channel unless you ordered the feed beforehand, and my dad (bless his heart) called the cable company in a hurry to get the show so as to calm down his two sniveling kids. The show came on our television set right before Hulk Hogan wrestled The Undertaker, and all was right again. Todd, do you have any specific memories when it comes to pay-per-view events, whether it be something slightly humiliating as a kid, staring at scramble vision in high school, or something even more out of the box?
Todd: Had no idea you were a military brat, Andrew. I’m a military child as well and was living on a base in Germany during the Gulf War. Unfortunately, we only had one American channel at the time, so I couldn’t watch Hulk destroy Sgt. Slaughter and General Adnan in the name of the USA until a tape delay. Either way, that’s one of the first real memories I have of pro wrestling and, considering I was four, one of the first memories I really have period. Perhaps this explains my love of pro wrestling. It’s been there in some shape or form during every stage of my life. The first WWF PPV I actually ordered through cable was the 1998 Royal Rumble. I had just moved to Savannah and could finally actually watch WWF television outside of Superstars and Livewire or Shotgun Saturday Night (for whatever reason), which was all we got on TV in Germany (in English) through the Armed Forces Network (the military’s channel for American TV). I actually had a VHS tape that was the best of the Free-For-All matches (why that was even an idea, I don’t know) and remember being disappointed that the WWF had long stopped actually airing Free-For-Alls. I think by then, they had some sort of interview and promo deal with Dok Hendrix mostly to hawk merchandise.
Another early memory I have of PPVs is perhaps more a sign of the times, I could never get the damn things to actually come on my TV. Where I was living digital boxes had just become a thing and were still new technology, so we all still had to either call or go to the physical office and order the PPV. I did my due diligence and had my mom order Survivor Series 1998 well in advance which, of course, meant by the time the actual PPV aired I could, in theory, just sit back and relax. As was a recurring sick, cruel joke with my cable provider, despite already having paid for the PPV my TV would go black, without fail, for every freaking WWF PPV I ordered well into 2000. I’d get to join the shows in progress after waiting on hold with the cable company for an hour. Their lines were probably full of other 12 year olds ready to deliver a couple of stunners to their front office. The product was SO IMPORTANT to me at the time it made my blood boil to have to miss the opening rounds of the “Deadly Games” tournament. You also had to love the fact that the shows were at 8:00 on a Sunday night, so getting a hold of someone who could actually fix your problem was a real pain in the ass. I’m getting mad just thinking about it, so let’s move on.
What’s your first pick of the Network’s PPV lineup?
Todd: We’ll have to add a caveat that this article is running under the assumption and hopes that the launch of the WWE Network doesn’t involve me submitting my AMEX number 6 times and sitting on a buffering screen for eight hours and we’re allowed to pick whatever we want with no technical difficulties (wishful thinking, I’m sure). I’m fairly certain the original programming is going to be background noise for a little while, which is probably par for the course on a new network. And considering my first brush with what’s actually going to be original programming (aside from Legends House) is what I just Googled, I’ll stick to the PPV library being the real meat and potatoes of what most fans are waiting for once they can boot the app up. So, Andrew, I’ll ask you the important question, what’s the first thing you’re planning on watching, and why?
Andrew: As a wrestling fan, although I share many of the sentiments that most other fans do, I like to go the contrarian route at times and go against the grain, whether it be tastes or even chronology. With that said, the first thing I am going to do when I get my WWE Network app (whether it be on zero dime thanks to a free weeklong trial or on just $10 per month) is find the WCW queue, swipe that bad boy all the way to end, and watch the very last pay-per-view event that WCW ever put on: Greed 2001 in Jacksonville, FL. The show sticks out for so many reasons over time. The first was how ironic the title was, given that what killed WCW was put right on the marquee for us to see as it was sold to Vince McMahon. The second is the fact that there was only one show called Greed in the WCW canon, just like the January 2001 PPV Sin. And last, but not least, IT WAS A GOOD SHOW! WCW at the time was renowned for spewing out one dog turd of a show after the next, even when Vince Russo was supposed to reinvigorate the product and merely turned the company into an even bigger mess. But as the clock was striking closer to midnight for WCW’s talents and bookers and the desperation began to reek, it started to show in the ring thanks to a motivated but mediocre roster, and this show was the company at its in-ring best.
The cruiserweight tag team titles match that opens the show is a fantastic harbinger of what we later knew as TNA’s X Division. Lance Storm continues his great Team Canada run while feuding with the psychotic Hugh Morrus. Lex Luger and Buff Bagwell get squashed for not being team players. Ric Flair kisses a donkey’s ass in a fun tag match involving him and Jeff Jarrett against Dusty and Dustin Rhodes. Then Scott Steiner, in his prime as a character, has a fun slugfest with Diamond Dallas Page for the WCW World Title. It is not The Great American Bash 1989, but it might be the best show WCW had done in a couple of years and a lot better than anything Eric Bischoff or Vince Russo could have thought up with the same talent. The kids WERE alright, for just a little while. So while many are going to binge watch WCW or ECW from beginning to end, how about we go the other way around? (I also have to admit that I stole this idea from the great Ben Morse, who wrote about the dying days of WCW late last year, so love must be shared and so it shall!)
Todd: Quite a unique choice, I actually ran through the dying days of WCW not too long ago, but one of the biggest advantages of the Network, again, is the ability to watch something like this that despite being so recent, is pretty tough to find. I don’t even think Greed saw a VHS release, did it? For me this is a pretty tough decision, considering how much there is to choose from. We’re talking everything here. I didn’t want to just go the easy route and give what we think are the “best” PPVs ever made by the big three, but instead, something that sticks out to us personally. And, my original choice was In Your House 16: Canadian Stampede, because 1997 might just be my favorite year of wrestling, period, and this might be my personal favorite PPV. But, we’re given the Attitude Era over and over and over and over from the WWE at a rate that can’t be healthy for human digestion. For that reason, I’ll say screw my gut feeling and go with King of the Ring 1993, one of the first VHS tapes I personally bought as a child (and still own, somewhere in my basement) and one of the penultimate events of my upbringing: THE END OF HULKAMANIA. God, I hated Yokozuna. That was a really awful match, by the way, but the show is worth it for a couple of great Bret matches against Mr. Perfect and Bam Bam. Of course, I think I fast forwarded through those as a kid. Maybe a great way to kick off the Network is a chance to repent for my childhood sins. This time I’ll put the odds of me throwing something at the TV and crying in my bed all night afterwards under 50%.