michael dworkis looks back at monday night raw…leading up to tonight’s 1000th episode…
I was there for the first one. Hell, I was there before it was even called Monday Night Raw. I recall the good ol’ days of WWF (yes, I said it, sue me) Prime Time Wrestling. It featured a roundtable hosted by Vince McMahon, long before his days of being a corporate character on television, as featured legends such as Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Macho Man Randy Savage, Hillbilly Jim, Bobby Heenan, Mr. Perfect, and Jerry Lawler around the table, discussing current events in the WWF and of course, guys like Hillbilly Jim and Hacksaw were the standard good guys, while Heenan and Lawler would favor the more hated wrestlers of the time. Watching taped matches from various arenas, mostly at the Nassau Coliseum, were shown on Prime Time Wrestling, as well as a few matches taped exclusively for the show.
It was a fun show to watch. To be honest, it reminds me of a time of lighthearted programming, as opposed to the aggressive, gritty element which has become the norm in sports-entertainment.
Soon, it evolved into what became the standard for wrestling programming. WWF Prime Time Wrestling became WWF Monday Night Raw. “Uncut, Uncensored, and Uncooked” was the tag-line kicking off this new format. Instead of tapes matches from various events, the whole show was broadcast and taped in front of a live audience in the Grand Ballroom at the Manhattan Center Studio. This smaller, intimate venue brought a new element to wrestling programming. While acting a bit more on the tougher side, the WWF still maintained a high level of colorful and cartoony gimmicks, as evidenced by the main event of The Undertaker defeating Damien Demento in the main event of the first show.
This began the transition into the show we know and love today, WWE Raw. In the mid-nineties, darker and characters with tougher attitudes began to flood in, in order to combat the dominating WCW Monday Nitro program. Even ECW wrestlers were brought in to showcase the change in McMahon’s wrestling programming. For a time, many thought the days of Vince and his WWE were numbered, as WCW crushed them in the ratings week after week, with their nWo faction and their own brand of revolution and subsequent evolution in wrestling. If not for WCW and their pushing the boundaries, we would have never have seen the emergence of DX and their envelope pushing tactics, which soon became the norm for Monday Night Raw. The Attitude Era was in full swing, and stars like Mick Foley, Triple H, The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin would become the main attraction on a show which also featured controversial characters such as Val Venis, Goldust, and The Undertaker with his Ministry of Darkness.
Eventually that era of attitude calmed down, and in the early-to-mid-2000’s, The Rock was dethroned as Undisputed Champion by The Next Big Thing, Brock Lesnar. Soon, submission and mat-based wrestling dominated the programming. Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho, Kurt Angle, Eddie Guerrero, and others kept Monday night wrestling exciting, and with WCW and ECW both bought out and merged with WWE, there was nothing to stop Raw. Somehow, it became fun again. The dark, gritty, angry type of programming faded and these stars made wrestling exciting again with crowds chanting for “tap out” and erupting every time Benoit or Angle starting throwing superstars around with suplex after suplex. Years later, with the emergence of Hogan-backed Total Nonstop Action (TNA) wrestling, their attempt at a Monday night rivalry was crushed in a matter of weeks, forcing the upstart promotion to remain on Thursday nights, leaving Raw as the dominating Monday night show.
Here we are. What began on January 11, 1993 has now reached a huge milestone of its 1000th episode, tonight, on July 23rd, 2012.
I want to say how happy I am to see WWE reach this milestone. With its humble start long before the true birth of sports-entertainment, I was drawn to the WWF and their Sunday shows such as “All-American Wrestling” which aired on USA, or WWF Superstars which aired on Fox. During my childhood, Monday night was the only night I could stay up late to watch WWE Prime Time Wrestling, and then Monday Night Raw. While I firmly believe wrestling is not what it once was, I have the hope that current stars like CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, Chris Jericho, Alberto del Rio, The Miz, Damien Sandow, Ryback, and future champion Dolph Ziggler will usher in an era similar to that of the most recent time when wrestling felt fun. I feel there is a good balance in development. You have the angry intensity of John Cena and Randy Orton, the wrestling prowess of Ziggler, Jericho, del Rio, CM Punk, and Daniel Bryan, and the comedy routines from The Great Khali, Zack Ryder, and Santino Marella.
Congratulations to you WWE Monday Night Raw, on 1000 episodes which throughout the years have provided some great moments, unparalleled entertainment, and a television program which none can compare to. Here is to 1000 more!