Saturday Night Jive.
Mr. T and Hulk Hogan--the giant blond heavyweight wrestling champion representing the World Wrestling Federation--were all over TV in recent days. They were everywhere, from morning network news shows to cable’s rocking socking MTV.
The scowling Mr. T and ranting Hulkster screamed at the camera, taunting their opponents in a coming tag team match, riotously Rowdy Roddy Piper and Paul “Mr. Wonderful” Orndorf. Ooooooh, it was terrible.
The earth shook.
Mr. T and Hulk even turned up last week on the Lifetime cable show “Hot Properties,” where the 6-foot-9 Hulkster demonstrated his sleeper hold on host Richard Belzer, apparently injuring him so badly that he had to be hospitalized.
Belzer was said to be upset by the incident, but not so much so that he wasn’t prepared to exploit it with a program asking call-in replies to the question: “Is professional wrestling sleaze or sport?”
Or just plain fun?
The traveling sideshow of Mr. T and the Hulkster returned Saturday to New York where the two were guest hosts on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live.”
What panache! What chutzpah! What salesmanship!
The means were bizarre. The Hulkster and Mr. T--who usually does his scowling on NBC’s “The A-Team"--are TV’s newest odd couple.
But the intent--exploiting TV programs for hype--was as traditional as charades. These two superbly straight-faced con men were promoting “Wrestlemania,” their Sunday tag team match against Rowdy Roddy and “Mr. Wonderful” in Madison Square Garden.
Furthermore--and here’s where the real bucks came in--their wrestling burlesque would be available nationally via closed-circuit TV.
The trumpets had been sounding for weeks after an earlier comedy: Mr. T’s carefully planned spontaneous surprise emergence from a sold-out Madison Square Garden crowd to confront those FOOLS Orndorf and Piper during Piper’s championship match with the Hulkster.
That shrewdly conceived spontaneous event was shown on MTV. The next, more-profitable step was to pair Mr. T and the Hulkster against the two villains and sell tickets for closed-circuit TV. And for an added bit of hokum, that fearsome man of steel, Liberace, would be the timekeeper.
Serious business. Serious enough for Mr. T and Hulk Hogan to substitute on “Saturday Night Live” for another comedian, Steve Landesberg, who was said to have withdrawn as host because of his mother’s serious illness.
Disguised as that famed interviewer Fernando of “Fernando’s Hideway,” Billy Crystal asked Mr. T and the Hulkster about their plans after the match. “Then you lie low? What are your Passover plans?”
Crystal is very funny. But who should show up later but someone even funnier, the ever-angry Rowdy Roddy himself. He said:
“That Mr. T’s sayin’ all kinds of stuff. . . . Who do you think you are, Superfly Snuka, huh? You think you’re somebody who’ll hop in there and be able to fly . . . cause you walk around with all those pretty gold chains trying to impress somebody? Is that what you’re tryin’ to do?”
Rowdy Roddy was getting rowdier.
“AND NOW YOU THINK YOU’RE A BIG SHOT ‘CAUSE YOU’RE WITH THE WORLD’S HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION, HULK HOGAN. YOU SHOULD BE LUCKY, BROTHER, TO SAY, ‘HI, I’M MR. T, ALIVE ON “SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE” ’!!!”
Flash to Mr. T:
“I ain’t got nuthin’ to say but a couple a things. And that’s Madison Square Garden is sold out. Wrestlemania, March 31. Hulk Hogan and Mr. T gonna demolish Rowdy Roddy Piper and whoever else . . . Paul Orndorf or whatever. I’m just tellin’ you one thing. Ain’t nuthin’ left. All the tickets is gone. You better get to your closed-circuit TV and be there!”
Quite a rebuttal.
The resurgence of professional wrestling, led by the World Wrestling Federation headed by Vince McMahon, is genuine. On syndicated wrestling shows and a bizarre USA cable talk-and-rant series hosted by McMahon and called “Wrestling TNT,” the new generation of professional wrestlers is proving to a regular howl, easily the best comedic talent on TV.
And they are so hot at the box office that NBC is planning a May 11 special tentatively called “Saturday Nights/ Main Event” that, if successful, may evolve into a monthly series alternating with “Saturday Night Live” during the summer.
“Vince McMahon and I are putting this together,” said Dick Ebersol, executive producer of “Saturday Night Live,” by phone from New York. “We would do it in 15,000-seat arenas. We would set up a talk-show area for McMahon and a place in the ring for Piper’s Pit (Rowdy Roddy’s format for conducting his own irrational interviews).”
On a recent “20/20" segment, reporter John Stossel was decked twice by the unpredictable Dr. D after asking the wrestler if the action in the ring was fake.
“I got real mad at the Stossel thing,” Ebersol said. “Is it fake? That’s like asking if there are prostitutes on Sunset Blvd.”
Or jive on “Saturday Night Live.”