The Common Denominator – “Soap Opera for Guys” (Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Miss Elizabeth, Mick Foley, CM Punk, Undertaker, Kane)

My wife and I got married young and started college together as a married couple living in the married housing at beautiful scenic Arkansas State University. That’s not really important to this story, except that we were able to schedule a little lunch break for ourselves. That little lunch break was from 10:50 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. everyday. And the reason that is important to this story is that we would go home to eat ramen noodles or peanut butter sandwiches or whatever we could afford and watch TV.

Well, if you’re not familiar with daytime television of the early-to-mid 90s, the best thing we could find to watch at 11 a.m. was “The Young and the Restless.” Now even if you’re not a soap opera aficionado, and you’re probably not, you’ve probably at least heard of it.

At the time, I was not familiar with “Y&R,” as all the cool kids (probably) call it. It was just the show with the haunting little piano theme song that told me the fun of “The Price is Right” was over when I happened to be up at that hour during summer vacations and whatnot. But, my wife started watching it, and before too long, I was hooked.

Now my mother was a “General Hospital” connoisseur in my youth, so I understood the general concept already: Convoluted storylines, caricature-ish heroes and villains, over-the-top drama and acting, and of course, a healthy dose of cheesy romance.

Maybe you can see where this is going…

Any time I would tease my mom about her “shows” and how silly the whole thing was, what with evil twins and kids aging to adulthood in a matter of months, she would always point out my affinity for professional wrestling, or as she and others have astutely called it “soap opera for guys.”

Well, last Monday was Memorial Day, and I didn’t have to work, but since I have a 6-year-old little girl, sleeping late isn’t really much of an option these days, so I was up in time to catch “The Price is Right” (Just an aside, Drew Carey is no Bob Barker, but he seems to be developing his own style that works well enough). And, just like in 1993, as soon as “Price” was over came the opening notes of the “Y&R” theme song. I actually watched a few minutes to see if I recognized anyone, and I did, but that’s not really the point. The point is I got it…I mean something really clicked with me about the whole “soap opera for guys” thing that for some reason never really had before.

There was a time when that really was true. I’d put the Randy Savage-Miss Elizabeth saga right up there with anything Luke and Laura got into on “General Hospital”…and if you’re not in the know about Luke and Laura, trust me, they got into quite a bit. Hulk Hogan even dropped the WWF title to Andre the Giant via a little “evil twin” plot involving the Hebner brothers.

Some other staples of soap opera that have made their way into the squared circle? Amnesia? Cactus Jack and the god-awful “Lost in Cleveland” storyline. Long-lost children? Remember the whole deal when Vince had a secret love child that everyone thought was going to be Ken Kennedy and then it ended up being Hornswoggle, and then it ended up being a plot by Finlay, and then it ended up being stupid and forgotten? That’s almost a rough draft of some daytime drama script that the writers threw in the garbage. Evil siblings you thought were dead? Undertaker and Kane did this already, thanks, with some added soap suds involving Paul Bearer. Fake your death? Maybe Vince is a closet soap opera fan? Baby issues? Kane, Lita and Gene Snitsky (who?) have got you covered. Speaking of the Big Red Monster, I’m not even going to get into the whole HHH-Kane-Katie Vick debacle.

Soap operas often feature powerful families feuding with other factions. The Von Erichs pulled this trick off for years down in Texas. And oh boy, could I draw some comparisons between Vince McMahon and Victor Newman, the main man on “Y&R” since around 1980. I won’t, suffice to say that both are power-hungry, manipulative egocentric geniuses that have weathered more than one personal attack by the latest up-and-comer and lived to tell the tale. In fact, I can’t make a better wrestler-to-TV character comparison outside of JBL and JR Ewing from “Dallas.”

I feel like I should point out that I don’t think this is a bad thing. There’s a reason that “The Young and the Restless” has been on the air, broadcasting five shows a week for the past 39 years: The formula works. If you think the Hogan-Savage feud that spanned the better part of a decade is impressive, Jill Abbot and Katherine Chancellor have been trying to get rid of one another for as long as I’ve been alive! Now that’s a feud in need of a blow-off.

Now, if this were wrestling, I guess the next step would be for the cast of “Y&R” to invade another soap opera…

Oh wait! That already happened. In the late 1990s several “Y&R” cast members had an extended storyline on “The Bold and the Beautiful.” In fact, soap operas are known for their interchangeable actors, who often leave one show only to reappear on other shows as different characters. This sounds somewhat familiar as well. Sometimes, the existing character will still be around, only played by a different performer… *cough* fakedieselandfakerazorramon *cough*
Now when it comes to soap opera-esque storylines, I think that’s one area where the Attitude era really jumped in with both feet. However you feel about Vince Russo and Ed Farerra, they did craft (at least for a while) compelling stories with unique characters. Yes, they were often outlandish and over-the-top, but it was something that people watched and talked about and took wrestling to a level of popularity that it had never really seen before (with a noted tip of the cap to the peak of Hulkamania). And as quick as critics were to slam the business for its sex and violence – and I think this is something Mick Foley pointed out in one of his 27 books – you can put any single episode of “Raw” against any single episode of “Y&R” (which is on in the mornings, I might mention) and go sex-for-sex and violence-for-violence and come out pretty even over the long run.

But somewhere along the way, the soap opera aspect of wrestling began to fade. I don’t know if it was a conscious attempt to try to be more like UFC with a modicum of realism at the expense of the drama, the shift to PG programming hamstringing the writing staff or just a general lack of creativity, or (and this is my own theory) just a lack of people who could effectively build and execute the story correctly.
As much as I hate the Attitude Era and its stars for effectively destroying WCW (although some of those death blows were decidedly self-inflicted), they could not only perform in the ring…they could ACT.

Austin, Foley, Rock, HHH, HBK, Bret and Owen, Undertaker, and the rest could bring it in the ring and in the storyline. Even the lower-tier characters like the Godfather, Val Venis, the New Age Outlaws, and you can’t leave out Goldust…strong characters with their own story to tell. Outside of the NWO (which eventually became a parody of itself), WCW failed at this concept, and that’s (part of) what eventually drove people away from their product despite having arguably a more talented roster.

Punk can act. Bryan is pretty good too. Big Show can …cry on cue (that’s a plus, I guess). I’m not really sure how many of the other guys have the chops. Maybe Randy Orton. Okay, Cody Rhodes did a pretty good job during his whole “disfigured” angle with Rey Mysterio, but I Cody almost HAD to have gotten some of that from Big Dust, right? The rest of the crew, I dunno.

I’m willing to be proved wrong, though. Put Dolph Ziggler in a compelling storyline and let’s see if he can pull it off. Now’s a good time with his recent apparent split with Vickie and Swagger. I really want to buy into Damien Sandow as a mastermind heel. Make me a believer.

Now, I know not everything works. Wrestlecrap.com is chock full of things that didn’t…

But (and here’s a rare example of WCW getting it right for once) sometimes you get this…

But there are going to be a lot of TV hours to fill with 3-hour Raw on the horizon and all that, so let’s hope there’s something worth watching.

If not, there’s always “Y&R.”

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