For a prime-time television show to last five seasons (and that’s with re-runs) is an accomplishment. To do it 19 (with no re-runs), forget about it.
With so many unforgettable moments, Raw did it, and WWE celebrates those memories during Raw’s 1,000th episode on Monday, July 23 at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis. The historic show debuts Raw’s three-hour format on the USA Network, beginning at 8 p.m. EST.
Of those 1,000 shows, spanning 19 seasons, Jerry The King Lawler worked more than 900, maybe closer to 950, according to him.
“It’s been quite a ride,” Lawler, 62, said.
The King has wrestled, announced and even hosted a segment on Raw called The King’s Court. A first of its kind spot on Raw, The King’s Court served as a springboard to such recurring skits like The Love Shack, The Cutting Edge, The V.I.P. Lounge and The Highlight Reel. Piper’s Pit and The Brother Love Show preceded it but not on Raw.
“I do look back sometimes and think about some of the things that I helped get started,” Lawler said. “Don’t give me personally any credit for that. It was something they came to me and said we have this idea. I think they wanted to capitalize on the fact that at that time — and probably still today — I was better known for my talking abilities and interviews more so than my wrestling abilities.
“I think they just thought, ‘Let’s not waste this. We’ve got this opportunity. We’ve got a guy who can talk and interact with people.’ So they came up with the idea of The King’s Court, and I just ran with it.
“We had some great ones on there. I’ll never forget people like Tiny Tim and busting poor Tiny Tim’s ukulele during a King’s Court or having William Shatner on. I actually got the alien monkey flip from William Shatner on live television. There were some great King’s Courts.”
During his high-profile feud with Bret The Hitman Hart, many times Lawler angered fans and others by making Hart’s parents, Stu and Helen Hart, the butt of his jokes.
“They were such great material for me,” Lawler chuckled. “Bless their hearts. They were so kind and so gracious. Honestly, I feel their son, Bret, really got offended several times, but Stu and Helen never did. They had a great attitude. They loved to be mentioned in any capacity on the show.”
• The King’s favorite Stu and Helen Hart joke.
Lawler thought a few seconds and answered: “[Because they had so many kids] I said one time, ‘Stu and Helen Hart produced more tragedies than Shakespeare.’”
During the Attitude Era, Lawler became synonymous with the word puppies, when describing a diva’s upper body part.
“I actually got to give credit to a guy who I think will be returning on the 1,000th episode,” Lawler said. “It was a member of DX, Road Dogg [Jesse] James. I believe he was talking to Sable at the time. DX was in the ring, and Sable was in the ring, and somehow I believe Road Dogg said, ‘Hey, show us your puppies.’ It kind of floated by. No big deal at that point and time, but then I started using the word a couple of weeks later, and it just stuck.
“The Attitude Era has been over for quite a while, but not a week goes by where some fan will come up to me and say, ‘Hey King, say puppies.’”
Lawler, an accomplished wrestler with a quick wit, made a smooth transition to the announce table while still wrestling. During the Monday Night Wars, Macho Man Randy Savage played an integral part in Lawler’s announcing role.
“When the Monday Night Wars really got started, I was already there basically as a wrestler,” Lawler said. “Macho Man Randy Savage was doing the color commentating with Vince McMahon, and I was doing the wrestling on Raw.
“In the midst of the Monday Night Wars, several guys jumped ship and left WWE without notice and showed up down in Atlanta for WCW, and Macho Man Randy Savage was one of them.
“I’ll never forget we were about an hour away from going on the air live, and at that time WCW went on the air an hour before us. I remember Vince was looking around, ‘We need to find Randy. We’re going to go over what we’re going to have on the show.’ Suddenly somebody came in and said, ‘Vince, you need to turn on your TV,’ and he looked, and there was Macho Man Randy Savage, walking onto WCW. He left, jumped ship, without telling anyone.
“So Vince came to me and said, ‘King, can you help me out and do color commentary tonight, and by next week I’ll find somebody else to do it full time.’ So I agreed, and I’ve been there ever since.”
The Monday Night Wars produced an interesting time in the business. WCW beat WWE in the ratings, but then WWE turned things around, not only winning the battle but also the war, eventually ending WCW.
How pressure filled was it during the Monday Night Wars?
“There was a lot of pressure, but to me, and I think to everybody in the WWE, that made it even more fun,” Lawler said. “The rivalry that we had. We not only had the rivalry in ring in our own company, but then there was that extra pressure of real-life rivalry going on between two companies. There was a lot of professional pride involved. Every week you wanted to do your best to try to beat them in the ratings. It was touch and go there for a while, but when DX arrived on the scene, we finally got the upper hand and never looked back.”
• The King’s favorite Raw moment.
“Oh gosh. When you’re talking about almost 1,000 Raw episodes, that is tough,” Lawler said. “There was a time I had been out of WWE. I had quit in a little dispute I had with Vince McMahon, and I was gone for several months.
“During the time I was gone, they hired Paul Heyman to take my place to work with good ole JR at the announce table, and he was such an obnoxious jerk and still is to this day.
“When we finally reached an agreement for me to come back, the night I made my triumphant return to Monday Night Raw, they actually had to drag Paul Heyman away kicking and screaming from the announce table.
“As I passed him, it was like passing the torch reluctantly. [Lawler chuckled] So as I passed him going down to the announce table to resume my duties of commentating on Monday Night Raw and as they dragged him to the back and out of the building, that was, to me personally, probably my all-time favorite Raw moment.”
WWF Monday Night Raw debuted as a one-hour show on Jan. 11, 1993 on the USA Network.
Raw broke new ground in televised professional wrestling. Traditionally, wrestling shows were taped on soundstages with small audiences or at large arena shows.
The Raw formula was very different than its predecessor, Prime Time Wrestling. Instead of taped matches, with studio voice-overs and taped chat, Raw was a show shot to a live audience with angles as they happened.
“Before I got into WWE, I had my first wrestling match in Memphis, Tennessee in 1970,” said Lawler, who’s basically worked every job in the business — in front of the camera and backstage.
“So I’d been around and already a grizzled veteran by the time Monday Night Raw started.
“When I was in Tennessee, we had live events in Memphis, and we had them on a weekly basis on Monday nights at the Mid-South Coliseum. We would regularly draw sellout crowds of 12,000 people every Monday night. So I knew people wanted to be entertained, and wrestling could fly on Monday nights. I knew that from 20 years of experience in Memphis.
“When Raw came on TV on Monday nights, I just had a gut feeling that it was gonna fly. Honestly, I never dreamed it would be as big or fly like it did. Just the fact we’re having out 1,000th episode is a testament to that.”
• The King’s favorite bath: beer truck or milk truck
He answered: “Beer truck bath”
WrestleMania became a catalyst to the growth and success of WWE as did the innovative Raw.
“Any time you’ve got the longest running weekly episodic television show in the history of television, there’s never been and probably never will be anything to equal it, that’s something you can not under-estimate the importance of it,” Lawler said. “When you have those kind of bragging rights to talk about and the rating success from that show, it’s huge, and especially when you’re hoping to get your fans to purchase a pay-per-view every month. That’s not going to happen unless they’re faithfully following Monday Night Raw.
“The success of Monday Night probably is the driving force behind our whole company.”
Another driving force, the most significant, is WWE CEO and Chairman Vince McMahon. He is the one constant in 1,000 Raw episodes — whether it was calling the action as an announcer, portraying the infamous Mr. McMahon character or just working extremely hard behind the scenes.
Talent notes Mr. McMahon wouldn’t ask you to do something that he wouldn’t do himself, and in some instances, he did do it himself on screen.
The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels wrestled on episode 1, a one-hour show emanating from the Grand Ballroom at Manhattan Center Studios, a small New York City theater. Both are expected to be involved in episode 1,000.
“It goes without saying,” Lawler said. “Undertaker is literally a piece of work. This guy is amazing. There’s never been anyone like him and probably never will be again.
“So many words come to mind — dedication, perseverance and a love for this business. You really have to have those kind of things to last anywhere near as long as the Undertaker has lasted and to still be on top and relevant in this business today after 1,000 episodes of a weekly TV show is hard to imagine.”
Lawler continued: “When DX invaded WCW, that was not only unheard of, it was almost unthinkable to do something like that. To have the nerve and the intestinal fortitude to show up at your opposition’s live TV show in battle gear, no less, and actually try to force a confrontation, that was just something that had never been done before.
“I think that really was a turning point in the Monday Night Wars. That made people realize that our catch phrase about Monday Night Raw was really true, and that was anything can happen on Monday Night Raw.”
• The King’s favorite Raw guest host
“We had so many good raw guest hosts,” Lawler said. “The Price is Right, Bob Barker was fantastic. We had so many. The Muppets. Sometimes, on paper, I would hear somebody’s going to be a guest host. I’d go, ‘What? I don’t know how that gonna be,’ but then they turn out to be fantastic. Bob Barker was one of those. He turned out to be fantastic.
“William Shatner was one of my favorites also, when he sang Shawn Michaels’ entrance song. I would have to say for me it’s a toss up between Bob Barker and William Shatner.”
• About The King
A professional wrestler, wrestling commentator, booker, promoter, musician, businessman, commercial artist, author and film actor, WWE Hall of Famer Jerry The King Lawler is working on WWE’s Raw brand as the color commentator and occasional wrestler.
He also wrestles and occasionally commentates for the Memphis Wrestling promotion.
Lawler, a Memphis native, began working with Vince McMahon at the broadcast table on Monday Night Raw. Lawler also called matches with Jonathan Coachman, Michael Cole, Kevin Kelly, Josh Matthews, CM Punk, Joey Styles, Booker T and WWE Hall of Famer Jim Ross.
Lawler’s won 168 championships throughout a career that spans five decades. He’s held more championships than any current WWE performer, though he has never won any WWE championships since joining the company in 1992.
He is a Coca-Cola collector.
• About Raw
WWF Monday Night Raw debuted as a one-hour show on Jan. 11, 1993 on the USA Network.
The inaugural episode featured Yokozuna defeating Koko B. Ware, The Steiner Brothers defeating The Executioners, WWF Intercontinental champ Shawn Michaels defeating Max Moon, and The Undertaker defeating Damien Demento. The show also featured an interview with Razor Ramon and an appearance by Doink The Clown.
Raw originated from the Grand Ballroom at Manhattan Center Studios, a small New York City theater, and aired live each week.
• Raw by the numbers
With the amount of channels available on cable television and the various types of channel viewing available, that has certainly changed how, when, what and where we can watch. The advances in technology and the number of programming options make ratings harder to establish.
There’s not just ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS and local independent channels. There are hundreds of channels, including those specializing in certain subject matter. The ratings across the board are lower for most programming which means the expectations of what number is succesful are lower.
WWE Raw is still one of the highest rated weekly shows on cable, does very good in the male demographic and is one of the top rated shows on the USA Network.
• Raw on television
USA Network 1993-2000
TNN/Spike TV 2000-2005
USA Network 2005-present
• WWE Raw celebrates its 1,000th episode (#RAW1000) at 8 p.m. [EST] Monday, July 23. The historic show will debut Raw’s three-hour format. The Rock, DX, The Undertaker, Mick Foley, Brock Lesnar and more.