Pasadena, Calif. -- Officials from the World Wrestling
Federation and World Championship Wrestling tried to win over their critics here recently
-- television critics, that is. But it was tough going.
With wrestling being one of cable's biggest ratings
draws these days, USA Network and Turner Network Television -- along with TNT's
sister network, TBS Superstation -- had officials from their respective leagues and some
of their star wrestlers appear at the Television Critics Association winter tour here last
The message that both camps tried to convey was the same:
Wrestling is meant to be entertainment, not sports, making the question of whether or not
it is "fake" irrelevant.
USA's session started out cordial, with Vince McMahon
-- chairman of TitanSports Inc., which owns the WWF -- trying to explain what makes
wrestling click with viewers.
"The World Wrestling Federation is not about
wrestling," he said. "It is action-adventure. It's a soap opera. There are
elements of sitcom in the WWF."
McMahon -- sharing a stage with WWF wrestlers "The
Rock," "The Undertaker" and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin -- went on
to say that the WWF combines Hollywood, Broadway, "maybe a little dash of [The
Jerry] Springer [Show] thrown in there, with maybe some spare parts from
[Looney Tunes'] 'RoadRunner.'"
At the TCA, the WWF also ran a tape of the commercial that
it was set to run on the Fox Network during the third quarter of this past Sunday's
Super Bowl game, depicting mayhem at WWF headquarters in a tongue-in-cheek self-parody.
During halftime of the actual game, USA counterprogrammed
by televising WWF Halftime Heat, a championship match.
WCW made its own pitch to the critics during TNT's
presentation. WCW president Eric Bischoff -- on a panel with wrestlers "Sting"
and Bill Goldberg -- told the TV writers, "One of the things that I've tried to
get people within our industry to understand is that we're not fake sports --
we're real entertainment."
Added Goldberg, "I'm here to tell you that
there's nothing about this sport that is fake. Predetermined, yes, Fake, no."
But like Gary Hart inviting reporters to trail him -- to
his later chagrin -- the WWF seemed to have committed a gaffe when it told writers not to
hold back and "to smack us right between the eyes " with questions.
When one critic asked the wrestlers if they had ever used
"performance-enhancing drugs," things got testy.
Austin snapped back, "Whether I have or I
haven't, I really don't see what difference it makes." Then McMahon chimed
in and told the critic, "And probably none of your business, quite frankly."
To which the writer said, "So much for 'between