In this corner, WWF Chairman Vince McMahon, the new champion of the First Amendment.
Surrounded by some of the top executives in TV, the wrestling billionaire laid into Hollywood's recent response to the political backlash against violence on the small and big screens.
In usual dramatic fashion, McMahon told a gathering of the Hollywood Radio and Television Society last week that film and TV executives "caved in" to political pressure at the recent Senate hearings and warned of the slippery slope down which government officials are sliding.
"Quite frankly, I was disappointed in you," he told the audience, which included the top executives of NBC, UPN, The WB and various Hollywood studios. "I was disappointed by the way Hollywood handled its response to that subcommittee. You have the privilege to go to work every day, the privilege to practice your craft. You got there because the people who preceded you made this opportunity for you. What do you do with it? Hollywood has always been the last bastion of protecting First Amendment rights."
McMahon said the entertainment industry can't give "an inch" to election-year politics and he's ready to tackle Washington politicos himself. McMahon, who not only presides over WWF Entertainment but also gets in front of the camera on the many different weekly events, said he would "love" to testify in Washington and defend the First Amendment.
"We at the WWF, we'll stand up, and I've been waiting for the phone to ring and Sen. McCain to say, 'Vince, come on down and testify.' I would have loved that, "Quite frankly, I was disappointed in you," he told the audience, which included the top executives of NBC, UPN, The WB and various Hollywood studios. "I was disappointed by the way Hollywood handled its response to that subcommittee. You have the privilege to go to work every day, the privilege to practice your craft. You got there because the people who preceded you made this opportunity for you. What do you do with it? Hollywood has always been the last bastion of protecting First Amendment rights." he said. "Maybe I'll still get the opportunity. I'd tell these people what America thinks, not what they think America thinks."
UPN President Dean Valentine, who sat on the dais with McMahon at the luncheon and also carries WWF Smackdown! each week, said, "I think Vince was very honest and made a lot of good points. Was it a call to action? I didn't see it as that. I just think he had an opinion and he wanted to share it with this group."
McMahon defended the WWF's track record on the violence front, saying that his wrestling organization takes extra precautions during early evening hours when children might be watching. "On Saturday and Sunday mornings [when WWF airs in broadcast syndication], we are very concerned with who can watch our programming," McMahon noted. "We are far more concerned with what we produce there than we are from 10 to 11 p.m. [on cable]. And at 8-9 p.m., quite frankly, believe it or not, we don't even use the word ass on UPN during that hour."
McMahon said that his organization has been unfairly targeted by groups unhappy with his programming and that such efforts have "absolutely" taken a big chunk out of the WWF's ad revenue on broadcast TV. (He said many advertisers have moved over to WWF's cable airings [it's now on TNN and MTV].) But McMahon claimed he was ready to go to the mat with such groups.
"You have to take these people head-on," he said. "We will be going after their jugular, exposing them for who they really are and the way they conduct their business practices. There is no murder, no rape, no knifes and no guns on our programming."
Outside of the political arena, McMahon also promoted his upcoming football league, The XFL, calling it the best reality show that will ever hit television. He took shots at the NFL, saying it had forgotten the middle class and how the game is supposed to be played. McMahon said The XFL, which will air on cable as well as UPN and NBC this winter, will have cameras and microphones in every conceivable location and no "boring" kicks on extra points. Teams will have to earn the point with either a run or pass.
"The XFL will be the most well-promoted sports league in history, and it will take you into the locker room, on the sidelines and into the stands, where the fans will be a big part of the show, just as they are on the WWF."McMahon asserted that The XFL will be legitimate and that Las Vegas casinos will have weekly betting odds on games. And WWF wrestlers such as The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin won't be suiting up for football duties. "They don't want to take the pay cut," he said.