WWE is no stranger to publicity stunts. Whether it be the “sale” of Raw to Donald Trump, the “Battle of the Billionaires,” or basically any angle involving Donald Trump, Vince McMahon has been known to make desperate grabs for mainstream media attention, typically at the expense of regular viewers who watch his programming in spite of (and not because of) the presence of, say, John Wayne Bobbitt.
In September of 2002, amidst free-falling ratings, a “gay wedding” between Billy Gunn and Chuck Palumbo grabbed the attention of media outlets around the country. Therefore, Raw GM Eric Bischoff sought, in storyline, to top the rival show with something he enigmatically called, “HLA.”
What was HLA? Was it a new gimmick match, like the TLC match? Was it a new faction, like the recently defunct nWo? No sirree! Although, like the WWE’s nWo, HLA would have been made even worse by Big Show and X-Pac joining in.
See, “HLA” stood for “Hot Lesbian Action,” which Bischoff promised to deliver on that night’s episode without so much as an explanation of who would be involved or how the night’s festivities related to wrestling in the slightest way. Not coincidentally, that night’s Raw went head-to-head with the season premiere of Monday Night Football, so the most transparent ratings grab in wrestling history was at least well-timed. Really, it was either host “HLA” or start a football league of their own, and not even Vince McMahon was delusional enough to do that (again).
As strange as it seems now, there was a time when the internet was little known, and the masses did not have 24/7 access to all varieties of sexually explicit material on demand. Of course, 2002 was long past that time, as by then most anyone who could afford cable TV could also access pornography on their computers as easily as running water. In fact, more easily than running water (which could not be accessed on their computers at all).
Therein lay the flaw in WWE’s plan for huge ratings. Well, one of the flaws, anyway: anybody who wanted to see “hot lesbian action” could merely look up the real thing on the internet rather than waiting until 10:30 Eastern Time on TNN. Meanwhile, anybody more interested in other things (like, say, wrestling) wouldn’t want to endure two hours of non-stop, intelligence-insulting shilling for the softcore spectacle.
Sure, Raw had played host to countless bra-and-panties matches in the past, but those were the sort of segments you could just ignore if you changed the channel for five minutes. The same could not be said for “HLA,” since Jerry Lawler would simply not shut up about it all night.
Throughout the entire broadcast, King sounded like he was about to cream his pants right there at the announcers’ table (not to be confused with the time he sat on a pie that Dink planted on WWF Superstars).
And can you blame him? There was going to a woman kissing another person on television! And that other person was also a woman! It was such a riveting concept that Jerry made sure to remind everyone about HLA during practically every minute of the broadcast.
At the top, the bottom, and sometimes the middle of each segment, Jerry would giggle and squeal hysterically about the upcoming “hot lesbian action,” regardless of what was going on in the broadcast. The message was clear: the only thing worthwhile on that night’s show was going to be that two women were going to have sex (but not really, because the show was only rated TV-14).
Just to hammer the point home, the lesbians were given their own lesbian locker room with a lesbian sign reading, “The Lesbians,” just in case you didn’t realize that the lesbians performing hot lesbian action were lesbians.
Good old J.R. did his best to calm the King down, changing the subject or playing dumb. For instance, when Lawler asked Jim whether he liked lesbians, J.R. expressed his appreciation for Rosie O’Donnell’s talk show. Ross wanted to let the audience (and his wife) know that he was no pervert (at least not while on air).
Believe it or not (given how giddy and foaming-at-the-mouth Lawler was about the girl-on-girl action), hyping up HLA was the one thing Lawler wouldn’t be doing single-handedly on this night. It seemed that the entire roster just could not get over the fact that two people with four X-chromosomes between them were going to partake in adult situations. No matter what other pressing issues the superstars had going on that night, they all took time to express their awe over the fact that two strangers were going to grope each other, and they would get to watch it (if only on one of those tiny backstage monitors).
Spike Dudley, for instance, had a match against World Champion Triple H, but still let his concentration lapse when confronted by two girls kissing.
The long-forgotten All-American contingent of Bradshaw, Kane, Booker T, and Goldust all took a moment away from their patriotic duties to gush over HLA.
William Regal, ever the voice of reason, gave Chris Nowinsky a slap in the face when all the Harvard grad could think about was “a couple of scrubber lesbians rogering Molly Holly” (Regal’s words, not Nowinsky’s).
At last, after all the embarrassing build-up, the time for HLA had come (and so had Lawler at least twice on live TV). The King, armed with a pair of binoculars, squealed at the very sight of the two unknown homosexual women.
He even howled when, I kid you not, the brunette lifted her arm into the air, as if a lesbian armpit were the naughtiest thing he had ever seen.
Still, at least he didn’t actually use the phrase “lesbian armpit,” which is more than can be said about the “lesbian puppies” and “lesbian panties” he would scream about during the segment.
This wouldn’t be like Anne Heche and Ellen DeGeneres, assured the King. No, said, Lawler, this would be like Madonna and Sandra Bernhard, which was not something most people would like to be reminded of in 2002, and definitely not today.
Eric Bischoff, naturally, played the role of sleazeball like a pro, sounding like a seedy porn director. It’s a wonder he didn’t get to direct See No Evil.
And the “lesbians”… Well, they looked about as comfortable as a parent who had been foolish enough to bring their kids to that night’s Raw.
Bischoff asked each of the ladies if they wanted the other one sexually, just to prove their lesbianity.
Next, Eric suggested ever-so-subtly that the two women take off their shirts. “You know, you’ve got some real nice pecs, but it’s hard to tell under that t-shirt.“
The GM then convinced “Jenny” to take off “Tanya’s” skirt so she could “get a handful of that nice, tight, firm, round buttocks.” This was truly repulsive to hear; it should have been “get a handful of those nice, tight, firm, round buttocks,” Eric! Everyone knows that “buttocks” is plural!
Next, it was time to get down and dirty, starting with… a hug. Sound exciting? Jerry certainly thought so, but then again, he was excited by Jenny’s armpit.
Finally, the two women were told to kiss, which they did with as much gusto as is possible to display without actually kissing the other person. The camera didn’t get a good shot of it, and their long hair got in the way, but it appeared that Tanya and Jenny weren’t too keen on actually touching lips and just sort of faked it.
They were hired to do one thing (“be lesbians”), and they couldn’t even do it right. Sable dove right in with Torrie Wilson on her return to WWE, and a “lesbian storyline” had been one of the complaints in her lawsuit against the company.
Hell, Brock Lesnar and Kurt Angle made a more convincing gay couple than Jenny and Tanya.
Just when it looked like Tanya was going to take off Jenny’s bra (not her lesbian bra, mind you. Lesbian Victoria’s Secret was sold out of those the day they bought their lesbian panties), Bischoff put the “entertainment” to an abrupt halt, telling the girls that the segment had gone on about “3 minutes” too long. Well, more like six minutes, given that that was the approximate length of the segment up to then, but the point was that it was time for the dreaded 3 Minute Warning to jump in the ring and queer-bash.
Future Super Hero In Training Rosey and future Samoan Bulldozer Jamal savaged the two participants, first with a stiff kick to Jenny…
…then a Samoan Drop to Tanya…
…topped off with a Superfly splash to the stack of lesbians. See? This crap sort of had to do with wrestling, after all.
And guess who came to put a stop to this disgusting spectacle and rescue the brutalized women? Nobody, actually, even though Bradshaw, Kane, Booker T, and Goldust were all supposedly watching backstage and could easily have taken down the two Samoans. The two women were carted out on stretchers, never to be seen again.
Thus ended a segment whose sheer tastelessness would go unsurpassed on Raw for literally weeks.
So why does this stunt, above all other “Divas” segments, stand out so much in the memories of wrestling fans recalling the bad old days? Well, although Divas matches had often been glorified excuses to showcase as much bare flesh as possible, they always had the pretense of competition, as if the T&A were merely incidental (and, in the grand scheme of things, they were. Do you see either of those two guys following Trish into the Hall of Fame?).
It’s sort of like how hardcore matches were pretty much excuses to see people get hit with things and fall through tables. But take away the trained athletes, the fans’ emotional investment in the characters, and the illusion of athletic competition, and what would you have left? A couple guys breaking things and blading for its own sake (backyard wrestling, basically). HLA was like that, only instead of heavy-handedly promoting the prospect of Mike Stab and The Lizard standing around taking turns hitting each other with light bulbs, stapling each others’ foreheads, and bleeding buckets for no good reason, WWE expected fans to stick around for a whole show just to see two nobodies with boobs pretend to want to have sex.
It appears that on that fateful night, Vince borrowed Eric Bischoff’s philosophy of “controversy creates cash.” Yet somehow, it backfired, with Raw scoring its lowest ratings since back when it was losing to Nitro every week. Believe it or not, their previous 3.4 rating was before the WWF put the belt on Austin, whom Bischoff didn’t feel could “create cash.”
I’m no wrestling historian, but my guess is that it took a lot of lesbian stripper beatings to turn Raw’s ratings around back in ’98.