One rarely talked about aspect of the WWF’s recent deal with Viacom is that the Federation is to provide programming other than wrestling to its new network home. Obviously, the XFL was part of that mix, but there are also to be shows featuring WWF personalities. In fact, rumor has it that Terri Runnels is a leading candidate for an action series that will be penned by WWF staff.
This is nothing new, however. Wrestlers have had guest appearances on everything from Family Fued to Star Trek. In fact, in the late 1980’s, the stars from the National Wrestling Alliance were an integral part of a sitcom entitled “Learning the Ropes”. Each episode featured a guest star from the old NWA, ranging from the Road Warriors to Ric Flair, and everyone in between.
And while you might think that a show with guest stars like Ivan Koloff sounds funny (and let’s face it, if you do, it’s time to lay off the wacky weed), you’d be wrong.
LTR starred Lyle Alzado, who had something in common with the wrestlers on the show, as he had made his name not in acting, but in football. Alzado was a huge star in the 1970’s and early 80’s, assisting the LA Raiders to a 38-9 drubbing of the Washington Redskins in Superbowl XVIII.
In the series, Alzado played Robert Randall, teacher, vice principal, and single father of two. (Here’s a cheesy promo to tell you more.) The show even featured a steroetypical 80’s sitcom theme (short version here ; long version here ), which was probably written by Alan Thicke.
The main story in the show was that Robert had a secret identity as the Masked Maniac, pro wrestler. The gag was that no one outside of his immediate family knew about his moonlighting, which led to all sorts of hilarity!
Well, in THEORY, at least.
In practice, of course, things didn’t turn out so well. The show did provide an outlet for the NWA, though, as its stars were featured in every episode. In fact, each episode would even have a little bit of in-ring footage, usually of the guest star pummelling the Maniac, who never won a match.
It’s when the camera was turned on to the wrestlers that the problems started. I mean, yeah, Ricky Morton was one half of the Rock & Roll Express, but was he ever a real rock star? Well, according to “Learning the Ropes” he was. Check out Ricky’s mean riff!
Things weren’t helped by the awful dialog. Not only did the lead actors get crappy “comedy” to work with, the wrestlers – who probably had a rough enough time just doing their lines – did as well.
Here Ricky tells us a (horrible) joke (complete with canned laughter)…
…before resuming jamming, with a song so wimpy even Nelson wouldn’t record it.
At the end of each episode, of course, everything worked out. The kids were happy, the dad’s identity remained a secret, and the wrestlers taught everyone some valuable lesson, like to stay in school or to never trust a wrestling promoter, because they are all evil like Vince McMahon.
It was like an episode of Fat Albert, but the kids never played in a junk yard and lacked the coolness that is Rudy.
I believe the show only lasted one season before it was canned.
Sadly, this series was among the last projects Alzado worked on, as he was diagnosed with brain cancer that was brought on by years and years of steroid abuse.
He died in 1992.
Announcer: “Meet Robert Randall. Hard working teacher, dedicated vice principal, and devoted father who moonlights as a professional wrestler.”
Nerdy son: “My father is an ANIMAL!”
Robert: “This my other job and these are my friends. But you’ve both got to keep this a secret.”
Barry Manilow’s wimpier brother Jerry sings: “Living in this world of ours / sometimes brings us down / bring our hopes to the ground / but we can work it out …” And it goes on. And on. It’s hard to believe it’s only, like, 55 seconds long, because just transcribing that first part felt like it took about 12 years off my life. Really, you don’t want to know the rest of the lyrics. Suffice to say it’s all about love and ropes. Or maybe loving ropes. Nothing like a good piece of twine to keep you company on those lonely nights at home.
Rock & Roll riff by Ricky Morton (well, SURE it was). Canned applause follows.
Ricky: “Well, if it isn’t the Masked Maniac.”
Maniac: “How you doing Ricky? Son, do you know Ricky Morton?”
Nerdy son (way too excited): “Of the Rock & Roll Express? WHO DOESN’T?!”
Nerdy son: “You know, some day I’m going to play lead guitar for U2.”
Robert: “U Dreaming!”
Robert: “I just want you to put a full effort into your school work.”
Nerdy son: “Dad, as far as my school goes, nothing will change.”
Robert: “And that’s what I’m afraid of!”
Ricky: “What are you into?”
Nerdy son: “A little soul, a little punk, a little heavy metal…and a lot of volume.”
Ricky: “All right, kid, I will play with you guys. But first of all, let me tell you something. I’m into a little rap…as a matter of fact, I just wrapped a guy’s head around a turnbuckle.”
Wimpy Rock Music: “Some hearts never forget / some times you just hold on / some hearts never forget / no I just don’t want to believe you’re gone / some hearts never forget”