“A celebrity is any well-known TV or movie star who looks like he spends more than two hours working on his hair.” (Steve Martin).
Wrestling has always held out a slightly moist hand to any passing celebrity. It adds light to the product. It creates legitimacy. It also brings in dollar bills. Whether it’s the obvious Wrestlemania cameos or the, thankfully now defunct, Guest Hosts of Raw, there will always be a certain calibre of celebrity wanting to appear in the squared circle. Often, they just get in the way of the wrestling as they smile and wave, not quite sure what sort of program they’re on. On occasion, it just, well, works. There is often no rhyme and reason for it but often it’s because the celebrity goes into their contractual agreement with such gusto, it’s hard not to like them.
When it comes to the Raw guest hosts, we can blame one man, primarily because Vince likes shifting the ‘storyline’ blame – Donald Trump. In 2009 it was announced that Trump had bought the Raw franchise and, although that particular story was short-lived, his announcement that there would be a guest host every week wasn’t. Initially, it seemed like an interesting idea. The host would have the power of the Raw General Manager and, in the first fortnight when the hosts were Batista and Ted DiBiase, it seemed like a good way to move storylines forward. It was a dupe though. The celebrity hosts began appearing with the introduction of Seth Green.
Now, for me, Green was a prime example of when a host ‘works’. He was a fan and he was likeable. He wrestled in the main event that evening and got a great ovation and chant from the crowd after his team (Triple H and Cena) defeated Legacy. When you see him smile as he sits aloft on HHH’s shoulder, he’s like a kid again (of course, it helps that he’s looks like a little child when compared to the wrestlers). The audience got it.
From there, within a few weeks, we got the other end of the spectrum. Jeremy Piven.
They gave him a fun entrance, pyro and all. They also gave us the man who ruins every film he’s in, Ken Jeong. Seriously. In an industry that has given us leprechauns, bogeymen and wrestling zombies, ‘Dr’ Ken is the lowest of the low as he runs around the ring barking and talking crap. It was also here that it became obvious that most of the celebrities would be there to promote something. In essence, that was obvious and had to be accepted. When it’s Jeremy Piven crow-barring in the name of his new film (“I can tell that every single person in here has ‘The Goods’. Oh yeah.”) it becomes very annoying very quickly. Even Cena gets in on the act (“The world will go and see Jeremy Piven play the most successful used car salesman on the planet” – I mean, is that even a thing?). I think the name of the film is mentioned about fifteen times. It also gave us the unintentionally hilarious ‘Summerfest’ and Piven being used as a battering ram. Although it was all about an awful film, interestingly, Piven did have a character arc and turned heel at the end of the night. Oh, and ‘Dr’ Ken smacked his head off the floor proving, whatever it means, he didn’t have ‘the goods’ (but we saw that in ‘The Hangover Part II’ anyway).
From there it also became clear that the celebrities were a varied bunch that also included sportsmen, reality stars and quiz show hosts. Also, on weeks when they couldn’t find anyone (I’ll pessimistically assume) WWE legends would take on the responsibility. Now, Vince clearly loves all of this. All you have to do is look at the ‘Top 100 Moments of Raw’ DVD to know that. The celebrities often brought in viewing figures so, if it helps the product we all love, then maybe it’s a pill we have to swallow. All too often though, it is totally at the detriment of the product. Yes, the ‘E’ in WWE is for ‘Entertainment’ but, by that rationale, make it entertaining. So, for every Seth Green we’d get a, clearly confused, Dennis Miller. For every Shaquille O’Neal, you’d get a Mark Cuban. Without going into too much detail, the 2009 viewing figures fluctuated like almost no other year. After the initial build to Wrestlemania and interest in the Trump storyline, by and large, viewership began to decrease, particularly after ‘Summerfest’. Here are the numbers –
2009 Monthly Raw TV averages
Jan: 3.59 rating and 5.29 million viewers
Feb: 3.81 rating and 5.61 million viewers
Mar: 3.63 rating and 5.32 million viewers
Apr: 3.77 rating and 5.52 million viewers
May: 3.35 rating and 4.78 million viewers
June: 3.87 rating and 5.77 million viewers (The start of the Guest Host format)
July: 3.66 rating and 5.32 million viewers
Aug: 3.74 rating and 5.42 million viewers
Sept: 3.47 rating and 4.97 million viewers
Oct: 3.42 rating and 4.92 million viewers
Nov: 3.34 rating and 4.85 million viewers
Dec: 3.39 rating and 5.01 million viewers
2009 Average: 3.59 rating and 5.23 million viewers
The usual winter slump wasn’t stopped by the inclusion of Verne Troyer and Timbaland?! What a surprise. The guest host idea did bring some interesting, historic moments. On January 4th 2010, Bret Hart returned for one of the most famous promos of the past few years and an emotional interaction with Shawn Michaels. These were the ‘wrestling celebrities’ which people would happily watch because they were from the history of the business.
The use of celebrities here was hit and miss. Yes, it’s obvious in hindsight, but the celebrity has to want to do it because they know the product and, at the very least, like it. Now, this is the most recent example of ‘celebrity’ in wrestling which is why I started with it. Wrestlemania is an altogether different prospect. It is there not only as the pinnacle of the product, where it all begins again, but also the biggest moment of the year to get mainstream attention and focus. Where celebrities want to be seen at the charity balls and pro-am golf tournaments. Where the WWE can get come good column inches and hopefully gain some new fans. It’s a four hour show that loves highlighting celebrities in the front row and on the stage singing ‘America the Beautiful’. From the off, Wrestlemania was built as much round the celebrities as it was the wrestlers. Cyndi Lauper, Mr T, Muhammad Ali and Liberace all played a role at the inaugural event. Again, it made the event feel special. Like a party that even celebrities, those people we could never hope to be, wanted to attend. Since then, they’ve continued this interaction. Mickey Rourke punching out Chris Jericho, Floyd Mayweather Jr. in a match against The Big Show and Donald Trump (yes, him again) at ringside for a ‘hair versus hair’ match. That’s not even mentioning the obligatory ‘concert’ every year (covered rather brilliantly by Heather Hickey here). It’s all about getting PPV buys in and mainstream attention. Again, it is sometimes annoying but if it keeps the industry we love going, then so be it.
For me, it’s about how open the celebrity is to wanting to get involved. I’ll get told off if I don’t at least mention this, but the David Arquette debacle was a disgrace. Giving the WCW title to him for the promotion of a terrible film was a low the company never recovered from. He was a fan though. He did want to do it. If the WWE went up to anyone of us and said, ‘we want you to hold the title’ who would really say no? So, and wow I’m going to get crucified for this, my problem is not with David Arquette holding the title, but with WCW management for letting him hold it. So, in a way, Mr ex-Courtney Cox, is the middle ground between a Seth Green (fan) and Jeremy Piven (walking, talking film trailer).
Sometimes, the use of celebrity is quite exciting. One of my favourite Hollywood stars is Hugh Jackman. I love the fact that he can go from appearing in ‘Oklahoma!’ in London to various ‘Wolverine’ movies, the Oscar-nominated turns to, well, appearing on Raw. Now, I know he was there to promote ‘Real Steel’ so you can bash me for not including him in the Jeremy Piven stable of celebs. It’s primarily because he clearly loved being there. He does the obligatory ‘Cleveland!!!’ pop, promotes his film and then, he’s right into the Ziggler/Ryder plot.
It also gave us a cracking punch which, for storyline purposes, broke Ziggler’s jaw.
Dare I say, I was also a particular fan of The Muppets Halloween episode. Again, yes, they were there to promote their new film but it was also genuinely fun. The wrestlers clearly enjoyed it and any episode that gives us Sheamus and Beaker as family relations gets my vote. Seriously, this is one of the more realistic things in the history of wrestling (Hornswoggle again anyone?). For The Muppets, some time obviously went into the backstage segments. It also provided my current favourite wrestler with my favourite ever Muppet, Animal, and his cousin The Goatface.
Celebrities and wrestling are permanently entwined. They’re there to help each. By and large, both have a product to sell from Bob Baker’s dog neutering programme to Liberace’s promotion of, well, Liberace. If it gives more money in the coffers to the WWE then it’s worked. Of course, there are ups and downs and the Guest Host experiment to keep viewership up during the traditional post-Summerslam slump, didn’t work, but interesting moments came out of it. By and large I don’t mind the use of celebrities as long as they want to be there. They’re celebrities but it also helps it they’re fans too. Enjoy it. Be a fan. Be a star.
Ta ta for now and hopefully see you next week.