For wrestling fans in the ‘80s, it didn’t get any better than Saturday Night’s Main Event.
Run as late night specials on NBC with no set schedule, the WWF famously took over Saturday Night Live’s time slot, which both legitimized the product and gave kids the excuse to treat midnight like morning.
Though the shows were usually recorded a month prior and always post-produced to death, I didn’t understand that as a child. To me, it was always live television. I’ve remained a fairweather fan of pro-wrestling ever since, but even decades later, nothing’s come close to matching the excitement of these specials.
I recently found some of my old wrestling videos, which were all taped off television, with the shitty custom labels to match. On one of them was the January 1989 edition of Saturday Night’s Main Event, complete with all of the original commercials.
Yes, a goldmine.
This edition of SNME came out when my interest in wrestling was at its absolute peak. Macho Man Randy Savage was the champ, and he and Miss Elizabeth were on top of the world. As a kid who wasn’t a fan of Hulk Hogan but would’ve taken bullets for Macho and Liz, seeing Savage with the belt while Hogan had to make do with just pointing at it was sooo utterly satisfying.
As was customary, the show started with a series of goofy promos, leading into an opening package that still gives me chills to this day. (I know most people prefer the even older opening — the one scored by Animotion’s Obsession — but this is the version I always think of when someone brings up SNME.)
The main event was Hulk Hogan versus Akeem, which was really just a backdrop for the growing dissent between Hulk and Macho. (In the eventual match, Macho Man hilariously stayed backstage while Hogan was being demolished by a pair of giants, and only made the save after Liz was in trouble.)
Even by this point, I understood that wrestling was predetermined, and could usually guess where things were headed. This show made me furious back then, because it was so obvious that it was hinting at a “bad guy” Macho Man losing his belt to Hulk Hogan. (And yes, a few months later, that’s exactly what happened!)
Still, taken at face value, Macho was the champ and Hogan was content to battle 400-pound counterfeit Africans. All was well!
Despite the many paragraphs you’ve just read, I’m actually not here to give you a blow-by-blow of the whole event. No, I’m here to talk about the commercials.
See, Saturday Night’s Main Event was wrestling at its hippest, and even the TV commercials played into that. Nearly all of them were adult-targeted, with pitches for everything from beer to Vivarin. They somehow made the WWF seem harder and grittier, and as kid who equated watching wrestling at midnight with being super cool, I loved the edge that came from watching actors drink Michelob.
Below are some of the most interesting commercials that aired during the show. Enjoy!
Bud Bowl I!
Remember when every kid was completely obsessed with football-playing cartoon beer bottles? Hell, the Bud Bowl even got me to watch the Super Bowl. This promo was for the very first one, in which Budweiser was victorious.
(I was pulling for Bud Light, because applying wrestling logic, it seemed like the underdog had to win. The next year, again applying wresting logic, I reasoned that Budweiser had to return the favor. And then Budweiser won again.)
I’m crazy nostalgic for old TV spots promoting R-rated horror movies. They scared me, but they also intrigued me. I’ve mentioned this in prior articles, but my whole M.O. was watching these promos and then imagining brutally violent films that were a hundred times worse than the reality.
This DeepStar Six promo wasn’t nearly as threatening as many others that I could name, but it still set the mood. I’d put aside my tremblings for the sake of Tito Santana and Brutus Beefcake, but as soon as the show was over, BAM. Suddenly there were monsters beyond every window, and tons of spiky aliens in my closet. And by then it was after midnight. Fuuuuck.
I know the dates don’t quite align, but that anthropomorphic barbecue had to be inspired by Audrey II, right? It’s in exactly the same shape, and it talks just like Audrey II.
(“Audrey II” was the killer plant from 1986’s Little Shop of Horrors, of course. Kind of an odd way to promote cheeseburgers!)
Mountain Dew Slam of the Night!
The WWF had extra-beefy partnerships with some of their sponsors, leading to cross-branded spots that straddled the line between content and advertising.
In this example, we were treated to a highlight reel of Demolition’s best moves. I’d still call Demolition one of the best tag teams ever, but back in 1989, no two-man crew in the WWF even came close. Since the sparkly biker beasts weren’t actually featured in a match that night, seeing them kick tail in a covert Mountain Dew commercial was a nice consolation prize.
I saw Twins in theaters and still love the movie, but I’m really only including this for the adorably crude audience testimonials. It’s still common enough for movies to be advertised this way, but back then, promos like this were practically the norm. It was as if nobody would buy into a movie until some sweaty stranger with post-theater pinkeye said it was good.
Pushing themselves as THE snack destination for any Super Bowl party-throwers, watch this one closely and you’ll spot tons of ‘80s junk food in long-discontinued styles of packaging. You’ll also spot Ben Stein, but that’s neither here nor there.
(This was actually the last commercial on the show. I’ve intentionally left in a bit of Saturday Night Main Event’s closing moments, if only to remember how horrible I felt when the show ended. Now I’d be left to deal with a dark house full of sleeping people and the aftereffects of that DeepStar Six promo. Again, fuuuuck.)
More important than any match was this final interview, where Hulk and Macho ignored the accusations of dissension and even pretended to have a Tomax & Xamot relationship in respect to physical pain. Yep!
No matter how “cheesy” ‘80s wrestling seems to some, I watch this interview and can’t imagine any of the players in any other environment. The stars were larger than life, and I can totally see how the me-of-1989 was so completely fascinated by their every move. I’d try to imagine them shopping at Sears or something, but never could. To me, they were a bunch of Crayola gods who lived among us but also above us.
Saturday Night’s Main Event meant the world to me. The show turned so many random weekends into huge moments. Waking up in the morning and knowing the day would end with big time wrestling was such an incredible feeling. They’d be glorious days filled with adrenaline and Jiffy Pop, where “tomorrow” existed only as some abstract concept. I miss it!