urx unit loader 'WWE Monday Night RAW' hits 800 and heads to Iraq

Love it or loathe it, professional wrestling is more than a century old, spans countries and continents and has been a TV staple for decades.

One proof of that is the 800th episode of WWE Monday Night RAW, a three-hour special that airs Monday, Nov. 3, on USA Network, starting at 8 p.m. ET.

Pro wrestling impresario Vince McMahon, chairman of the board of directors of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), and WWE’s majority shareholder, sees this longevity as a validation of the durability of the format.

"Years and years ago," McMahon says, "stations would have a little studio, room for maybe 100 people, put up a 16-foot ring and have at it. Now, of course, we’re in major arenas all over the world. Fifteen thousand people will be watching us live, and you draw off that enthusiasm, that electricity.

"There is nothing better than live television. I have an expression that relates to live TV that everything that happens in live television is supposed to happen, even when it’s not — because the audience doesn’t know."

As to the three-hour special specifically, McMahon says, "We’re going to see clips from previous shows, sort of a walk down memory lane. This is some 15 years ago that we started this. Since then, we’ve just banged this thing out.

"We’re on the road every week of the year. It’s a live show. Can you imagine doing a two-hour live show every Monday, somewhere around the world? The only one that’s delayed is the one we do out of Iraq.

"It’s the second largest traveling show in the world, second only to the circus."

In addition to the Monday-night show, as McMahon mentioned, the WWE wrestlers also volunteer yearly to head over to Iraq and Afghanistan to put on shows for the troops. The fifth annual Tribute to the Troops special aired on Christmas Eve 2007 on USA Network, but the sixth annual special is getting an upgrade.

This year, Tribute to the Troops — set to film in Iraq during the first half of December — airs around Christmastime (exact date has yet to be announced) on USA’s broadcast sibling, NBC.

"We’re coming to the big show," McMahon says. "It’s an hour. We do it every year. We’re actually going to be in Baghdad this year. We move around some. And of course, when we do our really big show is the last day we’re over there.

"Meanwhile, we go to all the FOBs [Forward Operating Bases] where nobody goes. It’s really cool to see the looks on the men’s and women’s faces when they see a touch of Americana. We actually get more out of it, I think, than the troops do."

While the wrestlers don’t have to sacrifice on the level of troops on the ground, McMahon says it’s not exactly high-end jet-set travel.

"The accommodations are great on one of those C-17s," he says. "Have you ever been on one? It’s luxurious! Come on. There’s no insulation in the thing. It’s a shell, but we fill it up with all kinds of stuff to eat and drink, cots everywhere. It’s something less than ideal conditions, but it’s all fun.

"The feedback you get is enormous. They so much appreciate any slice of Americana. It’s really all about the troops. It’s not about us. The matches and so forth are OK, but it’s really about messaging and communication.

"It’s really about passion. As you know, our men and women over there have so much passion for our country. I wish more people over here who are not in uniform could share in that passion."

Asked how long WWE Monday Night RAW — and the company’s other wrestling franchises, including Extreme Championship Wrestling, a k a ECW, on Sci Fi Channel, and WWE Friday Night SmackDown, currently airing on MyNetworkTV — can continue, McMahon says, "It can go on forever. When you think about it, we started when television was born."

But still, pro wrestling doesn’t get a lot of respect from journalists covering the entertainment industry. That doesn’t bother McMahon.

"We went direct to our consumer years ago," he says, "bypassing the media, because we had this connection straight to our consumer. But now, it’s time to really tell our story, and this is an opportunity to do that."