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After 25 Years, Taking A Look At The Impact Of 'Raw' on WWE

Jan 24, 2018
Originally published on March 28, 2018 3:20 pm
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

OK, unless you are a diehard professional wrestling fan, you might have missed a very special TV milestone this week.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "WWE MONDAY NIGHT RAW")

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: Hello, again, everybody, and welcome to the 25th anniversary of "Monday Night Raw."

CHANG: You heard it. The WWE celebrated the 25th anniversary of its flagship show "Monday Night Raw." That is a quarter century of trash talk, absurd plotlines, bizarro characters and of course those fan-pleasing moments of scripted violence.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "WWE MONDAY NIGHT RAW")

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #2: It may be the night. It may be the biggest night. Get up, Taker. Get up. He's still got that damn chair.

(CHEERING)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #2: Oh, God almighty - a knockout shot, a knockout shot.

CHANG: It was a big moment for the WWE. But what is next for "Raw"? For that, we are turning to David Shoemaker from The Ringer. Welcome, David.

DAVID SHOEMAKER: Thanks so much for having me.

CHANG: So I learned something new this week. The WWE says "Raw" is the longest-running weekly TV show in history. Is that correct?

SHOEMAKER: Weekly episodic TV show - I think that's the key word. As far as, like, a scripted, you know, non-news show goes, there's nothing that even comes close to it.

CHANG: What's the secret? I mean, what is it about professional wrestling that speaks to us so deeply?

SHOEMAKER: I mean, the excitement building - leading up to it was just...

CHANG: Yeah.

SHOEMAKER: ...Unbelievable, and that was largely because WWE just has a lock on a group of fans that have - I mean, if I'm any example - been watching wrestling for as long as we can remember. And you know, when they launched "Monday Night Raw" 25 years ago, it was risky. It was a shock to the system of the pro wrestling world for sure. Nobody would have guessed that it would have become the institution in the business, but they've become just the seat of power in the pro wrestling world.

CHANG: Well, "Raw's" contract with the USA Network is up next year after being with the network for 25 years. Is "Raw" going to stay with USA, or what's with these rumors that Facebook might be in the mix now?

SHOEMAKER: Well, for WWE, you know, I mean, they're really coming up at a crossroads. You said - like you said, they've been with the USA Network for a long time. They're incredibly valuable to USA just because of the number of eyeballs they get. USA can sell ads on other shows by saying, we're the most-watched cable network. And a lot of that is due to WWE programming.

But you know, the last time their contract came up, WWE was hoping for a much bigger number than NBCUniversal ended up giving them, and they sort of decided to stand pat for the time being. New media is a real interesting platform for WWE not just because they have an endless amount of potential programming. And you know, there's a lot of viewers that will jump around to find it.

CHANG: If "Raw" ends up on Facebook, would that change who's traditionally been watching professional wrestling, you think?

SHOEMAKER: Well, I have a hard time imagining "Raw" is going to end up on Facebook or, if it were to end up on Facebook, that there wouldn't still be another anchor program on a network because they want to have representation on every broadcast avenue.

CHANG: Yeah.

SHOEMAKER: The reason why Facebook is really interesting in the pro wrestling world is because professional wrestling has always been at the forefront of every technological shift. When national television first started with the DuMont network back in the '40s, pro wrestling was one of the first things that was on because it was already there, already being taped. And it was easy to see from your couch on a tiny TV screen. They were the first - you know, they were one of the first big forces on cable television when they took over. I think that running a important weekly show on Facebook, you know, might be the next big thing.

CHANG: All right, David Shoemaker of The Ringer. He is also the co-host of The Masked Man podcast. Thanks very much.

SHOEMAKER: Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF QUIET RIOT SONG, "METAL HEALTH") [POST BROADCAST CORRECTION: In an earlier version of this report, we mistakenly said that “Raw” was on USA Network for the past 25 years. In fact, it was on TNN/Spike TV from 2000 to 2005 before returning to the USA Network.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.