NOTE: We’ve been looking at the legacy of Hulk Hogan over the last few weeks and no review of the Hulkster’s career would be complete without at least a brief look at the show which helped the Hulkster reach a new audience. Don’t think of this as a detour in our look at the enduring legacy of Hulkamania but us taking the scenic route.
After the success of WrestleMania, both Vince McMahon and Hulk Hogan were sitting in the catbird seat. For McMahon, WrestleMania had transformed his regional promotion into a national one. For Hogan, he was now a household name. When the general public thought of professional wrestling, Hulk Hogan was the name they associated it with.
Having achieved so much with WrestleMania, it might seem that the WWF had achieved everything it possibly could. To some observers, it might even be thought that there was no place to go but down. After all, how could the WWF top WrestleMania?
The great French author Alexandre Dumas is said to have quipped, “Nothing succeeds like success.” As we saw earlier, the success of the two MTV wrestling special made WrestleMania possible. These two specials and the star power of Hulk Hogan (and to be honest, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper as Hogan’s foil) made wrestling cool. Not only did the specials attract the attention of non-fans but they caught the attention of NBC network executive Dick Ebersol.
Ebersol, the executive producer of Saturday Night Live saw a chance to cash in on the success of wrestling and fill time normally taken up by SNL reruns. The concept of Saturday Night’s Main Event (SNME) was developed, a ninety minute showcase of WWF Superstars in matches that fans would normally not see for free on television (this in the time when syndicated WWF shows consisted largely of squash matches). The program would be a special, airing only once in a while.
While the WWF was already airing nationally due to syndication and weekly appearances on cable, Vince McMahon had to be happy with the idea of getting national exposure on the NBC network. This was the big time, not a case of WWF TV airing on UHF stations across the country or on cable TV i.e. the USA Network.
Dick Ebersol worked closely with the WWF in order to bring the WWF’s video and sound up to network standards. As discussed in the book Sex, Lies, and Headlocks, Ebersol had seen the production values of Wrestlemania and WWF TV and he knew that there was room for improvement if the WWF was going to showcase its top stars on network television. There is no evidence of Vince McMahon being taking aback and it’s likely that he welcomed the chance to improve his product.
The end result was a slick professional looking show that would help distinguish the WWF from its wrestling competitors. With SNME, the WWF had production values on par with competing entertainment options. Wrestlemania had thrust the WWF into the national spotlight while SNME gave it the production values that were expected with a product airing on network television.
What made Saturday Night’s Main Event a must-see show was the wrestling matches. Fans could tune in to the show and see (as the show’s title implied) main event matches. The WWF could use these matches to advance angles, entertain fans, and attract new fans. Vince McMahon undoubtedly knew that he had to shoot for the moon with SNME and he loaded up the show with talent. A look at the inaugural SNME demonstrates this:
WWF Championship Match
Hulk Hogan (champion) w. Mr. T defeated Cowboy Bob Orton w. “Rowdy” Roddy Piper
Women's Championship Match
Wendi Richter (champion) w. Cyndi Lauper defeated the Fabulous Moolah
Junkyard Dog defeated Pete Dougherty (this was the only squash match of the evening)
The U.S. Express (Barry Windham & Mike Rotunda) & Ricky Steamboat def. The Iron Sheik, Nikolai Volkoff & George Steele
From what I remember (which is always a big if), the show also featured an edition of “Piper’s Pit” in which Piper interviewed his Wrestlemania tag team partner Paul “Mr. Wonderful” Orndorff. This angle cemented Orndorff’s face turn.
Hulk Hogan was the star that Planet WWF circled around and nowhere was this as clear as on SNME. Hogan rarely appeared on weekly WWF television but fans could count on him appearing on SNME. The Hulkster’s appearance on SNME made it must-see TV for wrestling fans and many non-fans who tuned in caught the Hulkamania bug.
SNME was a ratings success and would air on NBC from 1985 until 1991. Declining ratings would see NBC drop the show and FOX pick it up for two episodes before SNME disappeared from the air. The show returned to NBC from 2006 to 2008 but its glory days were behind it. Wrestling had changed from the days of the original SNME when fans rarely got to see top caliber matches for free. Now, the WWE aired hours and hours of the same types of matches that fans could see on SNME.
Unlike its glory days, SNME just wasn’t all that special anymore.