On May 11, 1985, Saturday Night’s Main Event aired on NBC in place of a Saturday Night Live rerun. This marked the return of Professional Wrestling to network Television for the first time since the 1950s.
Wrestling was one of the first true hit shows on television during the late forties and early fifties. Wrestling From Marigold on The Dumont Network and Wrestling from Hollywood on The Paramount Network made national stars out of Gorgeous George, Lou Thesz, Vern Gagne and many others. After the network shows got canceled, regional wrestling promotions all across the country started producing their own shows which aired on the local TV stations in markets where they promoted live events.
It was Cable that brought wrestling back to national television. Ted Turner’s Atlanta superstation, WTCG, later changed to WTBS, aired Georgia Championship Wrestling on Saturday nights. The WWE, then known as the WWF aired wrestling on The USA Network on Sundays morning, and Sunday evening. They also had a wrestling-themed talk show called Tuesday Night Titans on USA as well.
These shows were successful, but it really took MTV to take wrestling to the next level. MTV aired two successful wrestling specials, The Brawl to End It All in 1984 and The War to Settle the Score in 85. These specials originated with Cyndi Lauper’s music video for “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” which featured Wrestling manager Lou Albano. Lauper and Albano then had a feud on WWF TV which lead to both of them being in the corner of two lady wrestlers fighting it out for the WWF Women’s Championship. Lauper represented Wendi Richter and Albano managed The Fabulous Moolah. When MTV aired the first special that featured the women’s championship match, it was the highest rated show in MTV’s then short history.
Due to this successful Rock N Wrestling connection on MTV, Dick Ebersol, the producer of Saturday Night Live at that time, partnered with Vince McMahon and the WWF to produce a series of specials that would air in SNL’s time slot when it was on hiatus. The specials were big rating hits during the mid and late eighties. The March 14, 1987 show which featured a battle royale that included Hulk Hogan and Andre The Giant drew a rating of 11.6, which still stands as the highest rated show in that time slot.
Since Saturday Night’s Main Event was a hit, NBC decided to air some prime time specials with the WWF. The first of these shows simply called The Main Event, aired on February 5, 1988. It featured a WWF title match with Hulk Hogan vs Andre the Giant that was seen by 33 million viewers. It is still the most watched American wrestling program of all time.
Saturday Night’s Main aired on NBC up until 1991. Fox started airing the specials in 1992 and that lasted for two years. NBC revived the show in 2006 and aired specials until 2008.