Thursday, February 25, 2010

WWE, TV-PG, and TV-14

Quite frankly (as Vince McMahon is so fond of prefacing his oily monologues), I had no intention of making whatever is risqué or questionable about World Wrestling Federation television content a centerpiece of my critique of Linda McMahon’s Senate candidacy.

And I still don’t. The story here is that people are dying by the bushel, needlessly, for uninterrupted junk entertainment that has lined Linda’s pockets with centimillions – which in turn are bankrolling a self-funded, improbable, and mendacious “outsider” race for high public office.

But yesterday a source inside the wrestling industry, who I consider unimpeachable on this type of information, tipped me in an email: “It may be of interest to you to note with the McMahon campaign and all the things WWE says, they’ve quietly re-rated the Tuesday night show TV-14 instead of TV-PG.”

When I pressed for details, the source added, “It changed last night with the debut of NXT.”

As WWE acknowledged yesterday in its statement about a “miscommunication between Syfy and programming guides,” NXT was indeed listed as TV-14 in cable and programming guides – though not onscreen Tuesday night, I’m told by some readers who watched it.

Fair enough: a miscommunication. But from there we get deep into inside-wrestling territory. It naturally raises eyebrows for this miscommunication to have occurred with the launch of a brand-new show. Does that make the miscommunication more explainable – or less?

Now along comes a story today by wrestling journalist Mike Aldren, on the site SLAM! Wrestling, headlined “’We’re not PG,’ says Cryme Tyme’s Shad.” The story’s lead sentence is, “Shad Gaspard of Cryme Tyme has blown WWE’s claim of being PG-rated out the water.” Read on at

(Disclosure: I have written a number of pieces for SLAM!, whose producer, Greg Oliver, also was one of my three co-authors of the 2007 ECW Press book BENOIT: Wrestling with the Horror That Destroyed a Family and Crippled a Sport.)

Presumably, WWE will say that Gaspard spoke out of turn – as wrestlers and others often also do, for example, on their personal Twitter feeds – and reinforce that the company is PG across the board, no matter what he said.

The last thing a general reader needs to know is that ECW, the brand NXT is replacing, had roots as the edgiest and most risk-taking wrestling promotion in the world, before its founder, Paul Heyman, sold it to WWE. Indeed, the original Philadelphia-based ECW stood for “Extreme Championship Wrestling.” (To make things even more confusing, ECW has nothing to do with my publisher, ECW Press, which got its name decades ago for even more obscure reasons.)

ECW, and now NXT, is WWE’s third-tier and least-watched brand. So if WWE indeed was floating a trial balloon with a one-shot listing of one of its programs as TV-14 – which could, if necessary, be withdrawn and ascribed to a “miscommunication” – NXT would be the place to do it.

To quote what guest host Walter Matthau once said on Saturday Night Live after cast member Garrett Morris did a segment singing an opera aria, “Now let’s get back to the rest of the crap.”

Irv Muchnick

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