Wrestling has TV viewers pinned
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From Ron Tank
LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- If you haven't seen it, you haven't been watching television. Wrestling, it seems, is everywhere -- from live events like the USA network's "Raw Is War" and TNT's "Monday Nitro" to MTV's claymation spoof, "Celebrity Deathmatch."
Wrestlers have joined real celebrities on sitcoms like Fox's "That '70s Show" and "MadTV"; celebrities like NBA star Dennis Rodman and "Tonight Show" host Jay Leno have joined wrestlers in the ring; and ringside, celebrities are joining fans.
"Robert Wagner, who I met at a celebrity event in Aspen, Cindy Crawford, Tim Conway, all these people are great fans," says World Championship Wrestling celeb Goldberg (aka Bill Goldberg), the bald-headed, goateed giant who is perhaps the most popular wrestler today.
TV Guide even published a special four-cover issue featuring wrestling's biggest stars.
"You know, it's like watching a soap opera," says fellow WCW wrestler Sting. "I've never seen (a soap) but they're addicting, I guess, and I think wrestling is sort of the same thing."
10 million viewers
Like actors, wrestlers follow scripts, but it's the show -- not the outcome -- that has fans watching.
"Some people take us a little too seriously," says Vince McMahon. "Those who don't get it are like, oh my God, what are they doing?"
Whatever they're doing, it's working. One look at the top-rated shows on cable television reveals that most of them take place in the ring. Six of the top 10 shows on cable last week were telecasts of either World Wrestling Federation or WCW events.
On Monday nights, according to Nielsen ratings, competitors WWF and WCW, which is owned by CNN Interactive parent company Time-Warner, attract an average combined audience of 10 million. They're telecast live, complete with enough gear to rival even the Super Bowl.
"If you look at the number of cameras, for example, now we've got nine, 10, 11 camera shoots, whereas three or four years ago, we were lucky if we had three or four in the building," says WCW president Eric Bischoff.
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In cities across the country, TV's new stars attract sell-out crowds that are spending a fortune on merchandise. Some fans even charge their expenses to their wrestling credit card.
Wrestling money built the massive WWF headquarters in Connecticut, and will pay to turn a Las Vegas hotel into a wrestling-themed casino.
Some wrestlers are even jumping into the political ring. Hulk Hogan has said he wants to run for president. Before you laugh, remember who is now governing Minnesota. Former wrestler Jesse Ventura surprised the political world last November when he beat two other candidates for the seat.
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