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Hollywood gets RAW

Hollywood turns to WWE to attract new, wider audience.

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Hollywood turns to WWE to attract new, wider audience.


Orig. published in New York Times, used with permission.

(New York, NY) - When Ashton Kutcher was looking to promote the forthcoming action-comedy “Killers,” he made an early visit not to Jay Leno or David Letterman, but a live prime-time program with an audience bigger than that of either of their shows, as well as “The View” and “Ellen.”

The show is “WWE RAW,” a production of World Wrestling Entertainment that is shown on the USA network. In it, performers with names like the Great Khali, Triple H and Goldust climb into the ring for two hours each and every Monday night to do battle.

In a bid to capitalize on that audience — an average of 5.8 million viewers each week, many of them male and teenagers, according to Nielsen Media Research estimates — the producers of “WWE RAW” decided last summer to begin booking celebrity guest hosts.

Those who signed up early included Jeremy Piven of “Entourage,” who insisted on climbing on the turnbuckle of the ring to fling himself onto WWE superstar John Cena, and Donald Trump, who could not resist an on-camera shouting match with the WWE chairman, Vince McMahon.

Other top names who have climbed into the “RAW” ring include Bradley Cooper along with the rest of the cast of the film adaptation of the "A-Team"; Singer Jewel and her husband, rodeo star Ty Murray; Bob Barker, who presided over a WWE-themed “Price Is Right”; Dule Hill of another USA series, “Psych”; Carl Edwards, the Nascar driver; Former Boxing Heavyweight Champion, Mike Tyson; NBA star Shaquelle O'Neal; Rapper Snoop Dogg; Sharon and Ozzy Ozbourne; Former New York Yankee, Johnny Damon; Grammy Award winning music producer, Timbaland; TV Legend, David Hasselhoff; and Nancy O’Dell and Maria Menounos of the entertainment news show “Access Hollywood.”

On May 17th, the former astronaut Buzz Aldrin appeared as a guest host, a career move that seems less surprising now than it might have in 1969, when he walked on the moon; he was most recently seen on ABC as a contestant on “Dancing With the Stars.” One wonders whether a “RAW” booking for Betty White, a recent host of “Saturday Night Live,” can be far behind.

“It’s so much fun, the energy around the WWE,” Mr. Phillippe, best known for serious roles in films like “Crash,” said ringside on a recent Monday afternoon at the New Jerseys Izod Center, as he prepared to rehearse a bit with his co-stars of the film "MacGruber" and a WWE performer called Vladimir Kozlov. “Who wouldn’t want to associate their film, or show, with that enthusiastic crowd?”

While the duties of a “WWE RAW” guest host can entail introducing featured matches, he or she is also encouraged to participate in some skits. And those might well include some light wrestling.

Maria Menounos said she had trained for weeks at a Los Angeles boxing gym for a mock bout last fall with WWE Diva, Beth Phoenix.

“Beth slammed me against a wall, and before she did it, I told her, ‘I want you to slam me as hard as you can,’ ” said Ms. Menounos, who as a teenager watched with her father, as Macho Man Randy Savage, wrestled on television. “Then Beth said to me, ‘I want you to kick me as hard as you can.’ I did.”

“It’s choreographed, yes,” Ms. Menounos added. “But when they’re getting slammed to the mat, the pain is real.”

The addition of celebrity guest hosts to “RAW” coincides with a conscious decision by producers to make the program more family-friendly. Gone, in recent years, is the blood — real or otherwise — that was a staple of many matches, as are vulgar gestures to the crowd by performers past like "Stone Cold" Steve Austin.

“I’ve got young kids,” said Triple H, whose real name is Paul Levesque and who is married to Mr. McMahon’s daughter, Stephanie, executive vice president for creative development for WWE. “Years ago, we were what we were, and I certainly wouldn’t want to have my young kids watch that product.”

“We’ve evolved,” he added.

Mr. Levesque, whose voice is less menacing outside the ring, speaks of the wide reach a “WWE RAW” guest host might achieve with a single appearance. It’s not just the regular viewers — an estimated 500,000 of whom are boys ages 12 to 17. Some of the material will also be repackaged on the WWE shows “SmackDown!” (an average of 4.2 million viewers), and “NXT” (1.7 million viewers) as well as on its Web site (

With its comic sketches, character-driven story lines and live broadcasts, “WWE RAW” reminded "MacGruber" star Will Forte of his day job.

“There’s so many parallels between this show and what we do at ‘Saturday Night Live,’ ” he said, though this was before being hoisted onto the shoulders of Vladimir Kozlov. (“MacGruber,” which evolved from an SNL skit, also features six WWE performers in supporting roles.)

Ms. McMahon, who refers to her father as Vince at work, and Dad at home, took the “Saturday Night Live” analogy a step further, in a reference to the late-night variety show’s creator and executive producer.

“Vince would hate that I said this,” she said. “But he and Lorne Michaels are a lot alike. They both have a clear vision, and they both know exactly how they want you to execute it.”


The video below is a WWE corporate sizzle promotional video showing the span and reach of World Wrestling Entertainment and its ever-growing and famously loyal fanbase.