Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Best of Saturday Night's Main Event

The new WWE DVD The Best of Saturday Night's Main Event not only puts some luster on a vintage gem but it provides fans with a fun-filled ride back to the WWE's glory days of the 1980's and early 90's. This three-disc set is full of excellent matches as well as some of the biggest angles from the Rock and Wrestling Era and a great primer on one of the most important wrestling shows of all time.

Looking at today's lineup of weekly wrestling television, it's difficult for many to appreciate the importance of Saturday's Night Main Event (SNME). With the WWE featuring five hours of prime-time wrestling, a ninety minute special probably doesn't seem all that special. This point was hammered home mercilessly when the WWE brought SNME out of mothballs a couple years back only for the show to tank in the ratings. The show that had once set ratings records on Saturday nights was now competing with the XFL for the title of "NBC's worst rated Saturday show".

Once upon a time, weekly wrestling shows usually were made up of top stars battling the lowest of the lows. Whether you call them jobbers, preliminary wrestlers, or enhancement talent, these opponents were little more than human punching bags that provided the top stars a chance to show off their talent. This was back when promoters stuck to the idea that TV shows were the sizzle to the house shows' steak. If you wanted to see the big boys versus the big boys, you laid down your money for a ticket to a house show.

This was also a time when promotions typically ran one, sometimes two hours of programming a week so not only were you deprived of seeing the top stars against each other, but your wrestling fix was very limited (although by the early 1980's, cable television was bringing fans more wrestling than they were used to). Unlike fans of baseball, football, and basketball, wrestling fans got very little wrestling every week.

That changed in 1985 when NBC's Dick Ebersol saw the phenomenal success of Vince McMahon's Wrestlemania. Ebersol, the producer of Saturday Night Live, took a chance on wrestling and brought it back to network television after an absence of about thirty years. Like McMahon's Wrestlemania, SNME was a huge gamble on Ebersol's part and like Wrestlemania, the risk would pay off with SNME achieving ratings success that eclipsed the regular programming of SNL.

While more recent fans probably treat SNME as little more than a curiousity, long-time WWE fans have cherished memories of the program. This three-disc set does a phenomenal job of bringing these memories back, featuring not only the matches that made SNME so special but the skits and interviews which typified the WWE at the time. SNME featured a lot of good matches but it also featured a lot of the cartoonish skits that some traditionalists abhorred in the WWE product during the Rock and Wrestling Era (1983-1989). Some of them were really bad but the WWE has some of the better ones here (including "Mean" Gene Okerlund tracking down George "The Animal" Steele in a zoo and a Halloween party attended by WWE Superstars), leaving the bad ones for fans to track down on YouTube. Rounding things out are pre-match interviews which give fans the sense that they are watching SNME broadcasts again. About the only thing missing from this set is Animotion's Obsession, A-Ha's Take on Me, and Phil Collins' Take Me Home, songs used as SNME's respective opener, bumpers, and closing theme .

The Best of Saturday Night's Main Event is hosted by "Mean" Gene Okerlund. Okerlund introduces some of the segments with current WWE stars such as Ted DiBiase, CM Punk, and Matt Striker sharing their recollections on the matches. This not only gives viewers a connection with the contemporary product but it shows how many current Superstars began as fans. "Mean Gene" does a good job hosting the DVD and it's nice to see one of SNME's key out-of-the-ring players emceeing the program.

As fun as the nostalgia is, the DVD's selling point has got to be the matches. Watching many of the matches, it's amazing just how many good matches were that aired on free TV. While the WWE wasn't known for its workrate during this time, these matches show that the product wasn't as bad as some have made it out to be. After watching the work of Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat, Randy "Macho Man" Savage, "Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase, Bret "The Hitman" Hart, and Jake "The Snake" Roberts, you'll be reminded that while Hulk Hogan plodded through the main event during this era, the WWE's undercard was second to none.

An added bonus to this set is the inclusion of two matches from the WWE's two NBC prime-time specials, The Main Event. The Main Event was a companion show to SNME that not only saw wrestling on network TV but on prime-time network TV. The first two show's main events are shown here and help round out the match inclusion. Even better, they feature two of the biggest angles from this time-Andre the Giant winning the WWF Championship and the night the MegaPowers exploded.

Although SNME returned to NBC a couple years back, the majority of the matches here are from the show's initial run. Wrestling fans will get to see the show in all its glory rather than in its ill-fated return. Completists will be happy to know that Jesse "The Body" Ventura's commentary is included on this set. While Jesse is best remembered for his work with Gorilla Monsoon, his work with Vince McMahon was excellent and he provided a humorous and insightful foil to Vince McMahon's over-the-top match-calling.

With the WWE cranking out DVD's faster than future endeavor notices, The Best of Saturday Night's Main Event stands out from the pack. This is a must-have DVD for old school fans as well as an entertaining journey for contemporary fans wishing to see the best from the WWE's Rock and Wrestling Era. This DVD delivers from start to finish and I can't recommend it enough. This is one "Best of" DVD that truly features "The Best of".

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