Exclusive Jerry Lawler interview part I
Date: 4/30/2001
By: Gabe and Jerry from RFVideo.com

Gabe: What is the TV situation in Memphis?

Jerry Lawler: Well let me give it a little history first of all. I guess for the past three years, Power Pro Wrestling has been running on WMC TV 5 Saturday Mornings at 11 o’clock, a live studio show produced by Randy Hales. He was the owner of Power Pro Wrestling. During that time I guess several things took place involving two general managers at the TV station and ownership of the station combined with the ad market softening. I guess different circumstances led to the fact that the last general manager that was here, a guy by the name of Bill Applegate, was doing this year’s budget for Channel 5. He was compelled to try to cut the budget as much as possible so he cut out the money that was in the budget for a liscening fee that they used to pay to Randy Hales every week to produce the show. I guess it was the only situation left in the country where the TV station was actually paying for a show plus paying the cost of producing the show. So he cut that out of the budget without really telling anybody. He also cut out the money for the production of the show. Then he left and moved on to another TV station. Then a new general manager came in, named Howard Megel, and it became his job to inform Randy of the new situation for the new fiscal year for channel 5 and that was that there wasn’t money in the budget to continue to pay for the TV show. So suddenly Randy was faced with the option of not only not being paid to produce the show, but actually having to pay all the costs associated with producing the show. It was just one of those deals where financially Randy is not able to do that. I don’t know if anybody could go from losing nearly a thousand dollars a week being paid to you plus taking on nearly $1,500 a week for production costs of the show. So, they gave Randy the option of submitting a business plan to see if he could continue on like that and actually he wasn’t able to financially do that. At that point, myself, Cory Macklin, Dave Brown and Jimmy Hart met with Howard Megel and of course expressed our concern that in some way, shape or form we would like to have wrestling continue on the station. His decision was and he told us “I don’t want to be the bad guy here. I’m not coming in here to try to take wrestling off the air on channel 5. There is such a rich tradition and long history. Don’t get me wrong that’s not what we wanna do, but we have other concerns here.” One of the other concerns is the federal agency, OSHA, are you familiar with them?

Gabe: No

Lawler: It’s a federal organization that goes around and they look for safety standards in different buildings and businesses. It has something to do with safety. They had come in and looked at the channel 5 studios and it sort of had something to do with wrestling, but they found that there were some safety concerns that had to be addressed. For one thing, they had these 30 foot high curtains that went all around the entire studio that they pull around to curtain and drape off the concrete block walls whenever they are shooting something in the studio, those curtains are 25 years old and aren’t even flame retardant. If a spark hit those curtains they would go up in flames and with like 200 people in the studio audience it could be a disaster. Not only that, but there were some concerns with the bleachers that they were using for the fans. Also, there are these four big wooden doors that are the only entrance and exit way to the studio and they open the wrong way. If there was some kind of problem with all those people in there and they rushed to the doors and tried to push the doors open they wouldn’t open cause you had to pull them in. So OSHA made this report to channel 5 and they are going to have to make all these renovations to the studio and take those doors down and change them to lighter doors where they open out. They are gonna have to replace all those drapes and then there is something to do with the garage door where they take the ring in and out. It’s about two months worth of work that they have to do to renovate the studios. So the manager said that we are gonna have to be out of the studio for about two months anyway so the idea and plan is to come up with a classic wrestling show. Actually, we were going to run some repeats for two months and then we had the idea to run the best of the repeats and then we decided instead of just running the repeats why don’t we go back and pick out highlights. So one thing led to another and it just snowballed into putting together a classic Memphis wrestling show for the next eight weeks where we go way back even to when we were on channel 13 and get some of the classic stuff people remember. Then we had me and Jimmy Hart and Dave Brown and Cory Maclin go into the studio and do some ins and outs and intros of these different vintage clips. So that is what we are airing for the next eight weeks. So then after the studio renovations are finished, we got to then submit a business plan to the station as to how we can continue on with a live wrestling show and make it profitable for the station and whoever puts on the show. Basically, what we are looking at is kind of starting up a new company or formulating a plan where we can take advantage of some of the things that have not been done in the past. You know, like Randy was not going out and trying to sell advertising. He really wasn’t running any live shows or live events. He was basically just producing a TV show every week. So now we are going to try to bring in some people. Cory Maclin, for one, owns an advertising agency. That is his real job. He is going to take on the burden of trying to sell advertising. We are going to take on somebody along with Jimmy Hart to try to actually run some live events. Hopefully, we can give them a plan where they will say “OK, lets go back on the air with live wrestling at the end of this eight week period when the studio in renovated.”

Gabe: Is it definitely going to happen or is it just in the planning stages right now?

Lawler: Well it’s in the planning stages but I would say it’s a 90% chance it’s going to happen. It’s like the guy said “believe me we want wrestling on the station.” Here is the whole deal. He said “in a perfect world what I would love for you guys to do is to bring me a tape every week and let me run it. My main concern is having two hundred people in this studio every week.” It’s just a way society has changed. It has become such a litigant oriented society that the station is afraid of liability. As I explained to him we don’t have TV cameras and that sort of stuff. He said, “Ok I understand, I’m not saying we won’t have a studio wrestling show. I just want you guys to bring a plan we can both be happy with.” I think what we will probably wind up doing is try to cut costs every way we can on production. One of the ways that we talked about and he seemed happy with and it will cut production costs probably in half and liability in half, is instead of having it live every week, have one live show and then once that show goes off the air, tape the next week’s show. Basically, we are getting two shows out of each production session and cutting the liability in half as far as bring fans into the studio every week. I really think that is what will eventually happen. I’d really like to be able to have us all work together as a team and bring Randy Hales in. What Randy loves and what he does best is book TV and work with the wrestlers. He’s not fond of, as I never was, the business end of wrestling like getting sponsors or trying to run live events. I’d like to have us all work together and bring Randy back as far as booking the thing and run live events and make it profitable again. I certainly think that is possible.

Gabe: Any idea on what talent you guys would be using?

Lawler: Well not exactly right now. We are still six weeks away from jumping back into that. That is where Randy will be able to help us. There is quite a bit of talent around the Memphis area. I just got off the phone with a guy that is running shows over in Little Rock and he was talking about that he had Mabel and Koko Ware booked. The Rock’n’Roll Express guys just called a minute ago. There are several local guys down here like Spellbinder in the area and there is like The Moondogs and Larry Latham has a little organization running right up in Diresberg and Don Bass has a little organization running up in Arkansas so there are a lot of guys in the area. Then, the other thing, is that the connections that hopefully I have and that Jimmy Hart has. We just talked to Hulk Hogan the other day. Hulk is already all excited, he said “hey man I want to come in and King you and I will work a big match over at the Coliseum and bring in some guys” and all that sort of stuff. We have Randy Savage calling in on our show next week. So there is any number of guys that would be available to come in and work some shows. I mean not necessarily on a weekly basis, but for big shows like at the Coliseum and that sort of thing. Also, that will help with our TV. You know if someone comes in for one TV, boom all of a sudden they are going to be on two TVs if we are doing two at a time with one travel cost.

Don't miss part II tomorrow as Lawler talks about the booking philosophy behind the potential new Memphis promotion, what he thinks his chances are of going to back to WWF or the new WCW and how the WWF is sabotaging him. Check out the best of Jerry Lawler and the Jerry Lawler shoot interview in our new update or the new release section of this site.

Part II

Gabe: As far as the booking of the new Memphis promotion, can we expect the same kind of booking philosophy that we are used to in Memphis or will you take things in a new direction?

Jerry Lawler: I would think that judging from what looks like the popularity of this classic wrestling show that the people like what they have grown to know and love here in Memphis. I think it would be pretty much that same philosophy. A lot of people here seem to yearn for the good old days, as they like to refer to them as. I think there is a middle ground that you can reach. The largest segment in the world today is the baby boomers. These are people that are around 50-years-old and there are more of them on this planet right now than there are any other age groups. Those people like the kind of wrestling that they remember and that they grew up with. I think you can appeal to them and still appeal to the younger group by having the right blend and the right mix of wrestling styles.

Gabe: If people were to watch any of your stuff other than the WWF, what would you want them to watch? What are you proudest of in your career?

Lawler: Oh gosh, I don’t know. Of course, the whole Andy Kaufman angle was classic. I’m real proud of that. I mean that is something people are still talking about 20 years later, making movies about and that sort of thing. I mean not a day goes by that someone doesn’t mention Andy Kaufman to me. That obviously was a very successful part of my career, something done locally and regionally here in Memphis, Tennessee that made news worldwide and people still talk about it. We had a really successful run right here in Memphis, Tennessee and in the whole territory with what we dubbed “quest for the titles.” We had a situation where we had the people here really get behind a local hometown boy so to speak and his quest to become a world champion. We were able to milk that for years and years and so many different title matches. All those title matches were fond memories, too.

Gabe: Anything new with the WWF?

Lawler: No, nothing new other then the fact that their in house attorney, Ed Kaufman, told my attorney that he’s turning the whole situation over to their big major attorney, which I guess is Jerry McDevitt. What he means by that I really don’t know. I guess they are expecting that I’m going to sue them. As far as I’m concerned as long as they pay Stacy and me our royalties, which is money that we already worked for and already earned and we have coming then I don’t have any problems with the WWF. With the exception of the fact that I don’t want them to hinder my ability to continue to make a living in the wrestling business, which at present I feel they are doing that somewhat. We have continued to hear different things from different promoters. If wrestlers work the same shows that Stacy and I are on it will hurt their chances of being considered by the WWF. Stacy after being told by Hugh Heffner himself personally that she should be the next WWF diva to grace the pages of Playboy and then suddenly getting a rejection from Playboy saying the only way they could consider using Stacy is if the WWF and Playboy relationship didn’t go forward. Just things like that. As I said it’s almost like while you are working for the WWF everything is fine and good, but if you are no longer employed by them they want you to just drop off the face of the earth and it’s like you never existed. I’m not trying to do anything detrimental to the WWF, but by the same token I don’t want them to be doing anything detrimental to us.

Gabe: Would you say it is a basically a zero percent chance of you returning to WWF or going to the new WCW?

Lawler: I would think that it is pretty slim, but you can never say never in this business. I could just tell you by the literally thousands of emails I get, we just did a personal appearance yesterday in New York City, literally thousands of people that were at that event, every person says the same thing, “the shows are not as good, the shows are not as fun.” If I were Vince McMahon, the mark of a good businessman is that you put your personal feelings aside when it comes to business sense. I don’t think it’s blowing my own horn to say the show is not as good. There was chemistry there that took years and years to build and now that’s gone. The commentary is lacking. I’m not saying it’s anybody's fault, I’m just saying it is not what it was simply because of the time it took to build my and JR’s relationship and mine and Michael Cole’s chemistry. If I were Vince, in this day and time, with no competition you are really walking a tightrope. I mean you may think that no competition is good, but in reality no competition is really bad. He has to be very careful that he doesn’t do certain things that could lead wrestling, and now he is wrestling, into a period of recession. It could be disastrous for WWF, for wrestling, to take one of those slides that historically it always seems to take every few years. If Vince just here and there lets the show regress in any shape, form or fashion and turns off a certain number of viewers, if that continues to happen, then wrestling and the WWF could hit the skids and it could take years and years for them to ever get hot again.

Gabe: Thank you Jerry.

Lawler: No problem Gabe, thank you.

Want to hear more from Lawler? Check out our new Jerry Lawler shoot interview and best of tape in the new release section. Lawler’s home on the web is KingLawler.com.