1,000 Smackdowns and Counting
WWE chairman Vince McMahon hits a milestone as his "Raw" series employs Charlie Sheen, adds interactivity and boasts "we can pretty much make TV networks."
Vince McMahon is not your typical entertainment mogul. The chairman and CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, whose wife, Linda, is running for the U.S. Senate from Connecticut, has been laid out by his son-in-law on TV, and his larger-than-life persona Mr. McMahon dispatches rivals with steel chairs. Now McMahon, 66, is preparing for the 1,000th episode of USA flagship live show Raw, the longest-running episodic primetime program in the U.S. Raw, which reaches more than 600 million homes worldwide and contributed mightily to the network's $340 million in revenue from live and televised entertainment in 2011, is adding a third hour and becoming the most interactive show in the business. (Charlie Sheen is scheduled to serve as the "social media ambassador" for the July 23 episode, but his recent Twitter exodus may leave his 7.5 million followers missing out.)
THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: You started on USA, moved to another network and then returned to USA …
Vince McMahon: We became the No. 1 show on USA. And they wouldn't be No. 1 right now in primetime if not for Raw. We switched one time to what became the Spike network and became the No. 1 show there. We have proved that we can pretty much make TV networks.
THR: WWE and your performers have started using Twitter more.
McMahon: Back in the early days, our performers elicited a response -- a boo or a cheer. Today, we use all this social media. We are going to do Tout, in which the WWE just invested. With that, you get a 15-second video shout-out that goes straight to our TV programs. Beginning with the 1,000th show, people can participate in terms of the types of matches and what actually happens on air. It will be the most interactive TV programming in the world.
THR: Over the years, you had ups and downs. You had the Monday night ratings wars with WCW, for example.
McMahon: Ted Turner was a bit of a battle [when he bought the World Championship Wrestling circuit]. Ted was part of Time Warner; that was difficult to compete with. But perseverance is extremely important in life and in business. The other guys got tired of traveling each and every week to do TV. They just didn't have the same passion we do. They were working for a paycheck. It was only a matter of time until they burned out.
THR: Why has so much of your talent, like The Rock, gone on to film careers?
McMahon: Our talent is taught not to be prima donnas, to be on time and know their lines. And quite frankly, people in Hollywood, once they see what we do, they are amazed. Our talent doesn't demand the biggest trailer or a certain amount of grape juice or whatever the hell it is. Our talent is extremely flexible and knows how to act, so it's a logical extension for them.
THR: UFC gets big pay-per-view numbers.How do you stack up against them?
McMahon: We're in show business, they are a sport. Their ratings are abysmal. They are in the pay-per-view business, and they do reasonably well there. We just set a record for WrestleMania. We had 1.3 million buys for this year's WrestleMania, and our pay-per-view numbers for our shows have been up 30 percent since then. So, we are looking pretty good.
THR: Are you going to watch the Olympics?
McMahon: I consider our business the Olympics, and it doesn't just happen every few years, but every night. My favorite part will be the closing ceremonies. That means the Olympics are over, and everyone will settle down and Raw, Smackdown! [on Syfy] and WWE will have more prominence.
- Dwayne Johnson/The Rock: The third-generation wrestler began his film career with The Mummy Returns. Next: G.I. Joe: Retaliation, The Fast and the Furious 6.
- Stacy Keibler: Keibler wrestled and managed WWE stars, then placed third on Dancing With the Stars. And, oh yeah, she's been dating George Clooney since 2011.
- "Stone Cold" Steve Austin: McMahon's beer-swilling adversary appeared in The Expendables.
- Hulk Hogan: He's acted in Rocky III, starred on his own reality show and done voice acting for Robot Chicken.
- Freddie Prinze Jr.: The She's All That star and WWE fan was hired to help create Raw storylines in 2008. He has guest-hosted on the show as well.