By Jerry Chandler
So, over on Netflix they’ve had some success with a Netflix original program based on the 1980s cult wrestling hit GLOW. But, rather than actually have a women’s wrestling show on Netflix, they went the path of a comedy/drama telling a fictionalized version of the creation of the show. The original GLOW was the creative child of David McLane. He had an idea for giving women wrestlers a more story-based spotlight and set about building GLOW into a ratings winner for a time. That was the late 1980s, and it’s been a long, strange, spandex (and roller hockey) filled trip for McLane since then.
Between the Netflix original show, a recent documentary, and the general nostalgia buzz people have been recently having for all things 80s and 90s, odds are good you’ve probably at least heard of GLOW. GLOW was something of an oddity back when it hit television screens across America. Women’s wrestling was considered more of a novelty act in much of the wrestling world of the time, and even pop culture moments like Wendi Richter joining up with Cyndi Lauper didn’t seem to give any long-term momentum to women’s wresting in general. Indeed, McLane was even told by his one-time boss Dick the Bruiser that such a notion wouldn’t get over with most wrestling crowds back when McLane first got the idea while working in the World Wrestling Association. McLane decided it would get over with the crowds, and he set off to Hollywood to prove it. However, what he ultimately created wasn’t exactly a wrestling show as most folks new them.
When GLOW hit the airwaves in 1986, there were probably a lot of people who initially had no idea what they were watching by the time they were ten minutes into an episode. McLane’s (and especially Matt Cimber's) sense of humor was worse than Vince McMahon’s, and that humor was heavily on display in the show. Episodes were sometimes as filled with skits as they were wrestling, and most of the skits involved two or more wrestlers telling jokes that were old when television started as an entertainment medium. Some skits involved McLane himself talking on a phone and being hung up on after a particularly bad joke. Many of the characters the women played in the show were even more cartoonish than what was seen in most wrestling of the time. The wrestling itself, something one would think would be important in a wrestling program, was… well… A lot of them tried their best.
Most of the ladies of Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling weren’t actually wrestlers. McLane hired a number of aspiring actresses and stunt women who were looking to break into showbiz, and some of them had no idea they were even auditioning for an actual wrestling show until they showed up for the audition. Those that remained and made it through the auditions were given a crash course in wrestling fundamentals by wrestling veterans Mando Guerrero and Cynthia Peretti. By the time the show was ready to film, most of the women had the basics down, but they were also noticeably green. It was clear that the matches were not going to be technical masterpieces.
Yet, somehow, they didn’t have to be. GLOW was as much a demented variety show as it was a wrestling show, and that was a formula that got it an audience who overlooked the overall quality of some of the wrestling. How much of an audience did it get? GLOW started to beat the WWF's syndicated Superstars series in the ratings, sometimes even in markets where they aired against each other. It was something that likely had more than a few hardcore wrestling fans scratching their heads.
Now, I’m not saying the wrestlers were all bad. Far from it. Most were passable as wrestlers, and a few started showing some solid skills. They just weren’t experienced enough to put on squared circle classics. Still, one of GLOW’s biggest stars was Tina Ferrari. Years later, she would be known to wrestling fans around the world as the WWF’s Ivory. Obviously, there was some talent in there. But, they did have to work hard to overcome the continually worsening humor elements and the outlandish characters some of them were saddled with.
McLane left the series before the series left the airwaves due to creative issues and a growing distaste for the type of humor Matt Cimber was filling the show with. He wasn’t done with women’s wrestling, however, and he immediately set about creating Powerful Women of Wrestling.
POWW actually started airing in 1987 even as GLOW was still on the air, although GLOW was beginning to disappear from some markets by then. A part of the cause of the disappearance may have been the sudden loss of talent. A number of the wrestlers left GLOW over pay issues and creative issues and ended up moving over to POWW under new names and personas.
POWW seemed to be more than just a bit of a departure from the style of GLOW. POWW ditched much of the comedy bits and comedy acts and focused more on the wrestling. It actually started showcasing some solid events. A part of this was due to the former GLOW girls having had time to start developing actual ring skills, but another part of it was McLane working to get established wrestlers into the show.
POWW would eventually feature during its short life talents like Windi Richter, Luna Vachon and her tag partner Lock, Candi Devine, Heidi Lee Morgan, and Madusa Miceli. It also spent some time featuring a wrestler named Nina as a star attraction. Again, this was Lisa Moretti, the woman who would one day become the WWF’s Ivory. The show even featured a few up and comers who would go on to have brief careers in wrestling outside of POWW. One such performer was Rockin’ Robin. She would go on to have a short but moderately successful run with the WWF, and she was something of a wrestling legacy. Her father was Grizzly Smith, her brother was Sam Houston, and her half-brother was Jake the Snake Roberts.
POWW would also find ways to expand its roster via cross promotion. The organization would forge working relationships with both the AWA and the WWA.
POWW was a product much more designed to appeal to the hardcore wrestling fans than GLOW was. However, the show was born into an era when wrestling was facing a downturn in business and a lot of bad press. It went off the air in 1990, roughly the same time GLOW was officially ended.
McLane spent the better part of the 1990s trying to find success with programs outside of the wrestling world. His production company struck deals with ESPN for shows like World Roller Hockey League, Roller Hockey International, and Pro Beach Hockey. He actually saw some success with these ventures, but the success was much like GLOW and POWW. The shows came on strong, got some buzz, and then faded out after just a few years. By the year 2000, McLane was looking for something new to work with. This led him back to women’s wrestling, and, with the help of the Los Angeles Lakers franchise’s Jeanie Buss, the creation of WOW!-Women of Wrestling.
WOW! (also just called WOW) went back to the basics for McLane, but not quite all the way back. It featured crazy characters more in line with GLOW than POWW, but it also featured more of POWW’s focus on the wrestling. Syndicated in over 100 markets around the country, it actually found strong ratings in a number of those markets. However, it largely featured newcomers to the business who had little in the way of wrestling experience, and it showed in many of the performances in the ring.
There were some standout performers, but many of the wrestlers were sold to audiences largely on personality and/or sex appeal. This wasn’t exactly out of place for the wrestling business at the time, as it fell just after the highpoint of the Monday Night Wars between WWF and WCW and the insanity of the Attitude Era. Still, it might not have been enough to keep the show going strong. It also somewhat suffered from McLane’s over the top commentary, but that end of it was more than made up for by the show snagging as his commentary partner the legendary Lee Marshall.
The show had enough buzz and following that they attempted a WOW! PPV on February 4th, 2001; a first time attempt for McLane. To try to draw in more wrestling fans, the special guest on commentary was Bobby ‘The Brain’ Heenan. However, this just wasn’t enough to bring in PPV buys. The product was enjoyable enough as a free TV offering, but few people in an era where wrestling was offering some amazing PPVs wanted to shell out money for a PPV that looked to feature largely subpar wrestling. Worse still, the show, dubbed WOW Unleashed, was reportedly plagued with technical issues and had the lower budgeted production values of the weekly show. It had an extremely low buy rate, and a second PPV announced during the WOW Unleashed broadcast was quickly shelved. The PPV may even have been financially damaging, because, despite the show’s television success in some markets, the promoted second season never materialized.
The show may have also suffered from not having a solid lead to build around. Gone was Lisa Moretti, and the few returning wrestlers from the old days of McLane’s television wrestling ventures didn’t have the drawing power she had. In her place, McLane sought to build a new star in a similar mold. However, Terri Gold (Heather Lee-Millard) not only wasn’t quite the same level of performer, but her persona of a former gymnast turned cheerful babyface didn’t fit in with the wrestling culture of the day. Even as the show sought to promote and build Terri Gold and other traditional face wrestlers, fans of the show gravitated towards heels like Riot, semi-heels like Jungle Grrrl, and all out bad girls like the tag team of Caged Heat. By the time the show course corrected and made the Hollywood blonde, vain cheater and heel Lana Star its primary focus, the show’s first and only season was already coming to a close.
McLane would again move on to ventures not related to wrestling such as ESPN’s Triple Crown of Polo. The show had a six year run, and achieved some level of success on ESPN. However, it apparently wasn’t what McLane wanted to be doing at the time.
McLane seemed to still have the wrestling bug. McLane and Buss re-packaged WOW! in early 2011. They began to sell the series in limited markets and build the show through smaller live events. In 2015, the digital platform launched the show as WOW Superheroes and featured highlights from shows on the WOW website and YouTube pages.
This may have been a truly smart move by McLane and Buss. By launching small, they kept the costs down and expanded as the show built more of a following. It also allowed the more green performers time to make mistakes, learn, and get better someplace other than on a national television program’s first season. Additionally, they began to bring in talents known for their work on the indie scene and smaller wrestling companies like Shimmer Women Athletes. This helped to build a small bit of buzz for the show.
In 2017, MGM Television Studios, headed by Mark Burnett. formed a partnership with McLane and Buss to produce and distribute the show across more media and in more markets. This brings us to this week and the announcement that just came out.
WOW appears to be heading back to national television. Will it be any more successful than McLane’s other post-GLOW wrestling endeavors? Who knows, but, if nothing else, you have to give McLane credit for having a never say die attitude. He’s had a vision of women having a viable wrestling platform of their own on national television as far back as working for Dick the Bruiser in the World Wrestling Association, and he’s kept coming back to that vision- tweaking, refining, adjusting it -again and again. Besides, this version of his vision looks like it could be the most respectful and serious treatment of women’s wrestling that he’s been involved with, and, based on some of the wrestlers who have already established working relationships with WOW, it could be the one that launches with the best roster of talent to hook fans with.
I’m hoping McLane has a good run with this one, but more for the wrestlers than for him. Women’s wrestling in America needs a viable platform for talent to find work and get exposure on a national level outside of the confines of the WWE. Or, for that matter, another place to go to when the WWE’s creative team has nothing worthwhile for them to do through to the point that their contract is up for renewal.
McLane and Buss seem to have gone about building this and launching this the right way this time. Hopefully, they make something that lasts and has an impact this time, because in doing so they’ll ultimately help out the pro wrestling business- and a lot of women seeking their chance to shine in it -by doing so.
Jerry Chandler is a lifelong geek who, while enjoying most everything fandom has to offer, finds himself most at home in the horror, dark fantasy, and science fiction genres. When not wasting too much time on social media, he can be found writing regularly here at Needless Things, but has also written for websites like Gruesome Magazine as well as remembering to put up the occasional musings on his on blog. He’s been a guest on several podcasts from the ESO Network, Decades of Horror, and the Nerdy Laser. He has also recently become a regular cohost of The Assignment: Horror Podcast.