Since the dawn of television, professional wrestling has been a fixture on the medium. Countless grandmas sat in their living room transfixed by Gorgeous George, Lou Thesz and Dick the Bruiser. Later, wrestling made a rich man out of Ted Turner, who famously kept his promise to have a wrestling show on the schedule as long as he owned a network. Not everyone can make it out to see the matches in person, but most wrestling fans can probably find a television to watch. But what happens after the wrestling program is over? How are you supposed to keep watching wrestling, which is the only thing worth watching on a TV? This is a big problem. Luckily it’s one that creators of television shows are aware of. To help solve it, television has been inserting your favorite wrestlers into non-wrestling shows for years. TV programming still has a long way to go before it achieves what we can only assume is its ultimate goal of every show either being a wrestling show or featuring a cast made up of professional wrestlers (what the Ancient Greeks dubbed the “Golden Ratio”), but these are some examples of the valiant efforts that have been made to get there. You might think we’re missing some big ones, but c’mon, what wrestling fan doesn’t already know that Vader was on Boy Meets World, or King Kong Bundy on Married… with Children, or Bret Hart on any number of Fox shows in the ‘90s? And we could do an entire piece on Learning the Ropes, the ‘80s sitcom with Lyle Alzado and almost the entire 1988 roster of Jim Crockett Promotions. These are some of the ones that might’ve slipped through the cracks.
1. Bill Goldberg on Law and Order: SVU
The 2007 Law and Order: SVU episode “Loophole” (here’s the scene without the Guile theme) starts off the right way, with a drugged-up goon named Cupid (played by Bill Goldberg) completely destroying the Special Victims Unit offices. Sadly, Cupid isn’t involved with the plot of the episode (in which a chemical company is found to be testing toxic pesticides on the tenants of a building) but he is central to the makeup of the team investigating this case. During his PCP-fueled rampage, Cupid throws detective Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni) through a plate-glass window, leaving Stabler’s partner Olivia Benson to investigate the case with Detective Finn Tutuola. Goldberg’s character is nothing more than a device to take Stabler out of the action, but this episode’s well worth watching if for no other reason than seeing Goldberg get clanked in the back of the skull with a fire extinguisher.
2. “Classy” Freddie Blassie on The Dick Van Dyke Show
Dance fads are, by nature, fickle. Sure, Randy Eisenbauer (Jerry Lanning) may have created a craze with his record “The Twizzle” but by the end of this first season episode, the staff of The Alan Brady Show (and all the teens hanging out down at the bowling alley) are looking for the next big thing. Luckily, Sally (Rose Marie) is convinced she’s found it. It’s called “The Twazzle” and she discovered it at the wrestling matches, where all good discoveries are made. “The Twazzle,” Sally explains, is “a combination of twisting and wrestling.” Sally’s friends and the gathered teens are perplexed. They wait in confusion until Sally re-enters the alley leading Freddie Blassie through the gathered crowd. Freddie doesn’t have any lines here, instead opting to throw Rob Petrie (Dick Van Dyke) to the ground, then pick him up and dance around with him on his shoulders as the show fades to black. Blassie’s only there for a few seconds at the end, but it’s well worth sitting through one of the better early episodes of one of television’s greatest shows to see him.
3. Colt Cabana on Chicago P.D.
Colt Cabana is used to playing a cop when he changes into “Officer” Colt Cabana for Juggalo Championship Wrestling, but his appearance on “Seven Indictments,” a 2017 episode of Chicago P.D., found him on the other side of the law. Cabana shows up here as Harlan Betts, a smug homophobe brought in for questioning during an arson investigation. There’s not really a whole lot going on with Cabana / Betts in this episode. It’s mostly him smirking and being a creep while the Chicago P.D. plays bad cop/worse cop with him. Is Betts ultimately responsible for the fire at the center of this episode? You’ll have to watch to find out! Just kidding. You won’t. He wasn’t.
4. World Championship Wrestling on Family Feud
Wrestlers have been on The Feud multiple times, but the episode that tops them all is the one in which the NWA / WCW faces off against GLOW. Representing World Championship Wrestling, we have “Flyin’” Brian Pillman, “Z-Man” Tom Zenk, “The Candyman” Brad Armstrong, Jim Ross and Sting. Sadly, Brad’s not wearing his Candyman ring gear, just a red polo shirt and jeans. Luckily, the Z-Man’s there to provide the needed early ‘90s poor wardrobe choices as he’s wearing a t-shirt with the letter “z” cut out of it. You’re probably wondering how that’s possible. Wouldn’t the angles of that letter cause the t-shirt fabric to flap open into a weird rectangle shape? It sure would, but the Z-Man’s a smart guy. He’s on The Family Feud, after all. He’s somehow glued the flappy fabric parts to his chiseled abs. His commitment to branding is second to none. Representing GLOW are Jackie Stallone, Godiva, Mountain Fiji, Hollywood and Justice. I don’t know much about that upcoming dramatization of GLOW that Netflix is making, but if they don’t use this show as the basis of an episode, it’s a real missed opportunity.
5. Roddy Piper and Jesse Ventura in Tag Team
Seems like 90% of the time a wrestler shows up in a scripted TV show, the police are involved somehow. In 1991, a pilot was created that took the next logical step and showed us what would happen if wrestlers actually became cops. Bobby Youngblood (Jesse Ventura) and Rick McDonald (Roddy Piper) are a tag team who get blacklisted for refusing to take a dive and lose a match. After a series of unsuccessful attempts at employment, the team thwart an attempted robbery at a grocery store and are encouraged by the police to consider a career in law enforcement. The pilot focuses on their journey through the academy and follows them as they solve their first case. Sadly, their first case was also their last, as this pilot never made the jump to series, forever robbing fans of cop shows and wrestling of a weekly combination of the two.
6. Booker T, Scott Steiner and Buff Bagwell on Charmed
You know how sometimes your ex-boyfriend signs an arcane contract that slowly turns him into a demon? We’ve all been there. This is the situation in which Prue Halliwell (Shannon Doherty) finds herself during Charmed’s third season. Luckily for Prue, there’s still time to stop the transformation, as it can only be completed when her ex Tom (Marco Sanchez) commits a murder, an act he was attempting when the Halliwell witches interfered. Piper, Phoebe and Prue dedicate themselves to making sure Tom doesn’t complete his training at The Demonic Academy, training which involves watching the demonic wrestler Slammer (Marcus Alexander “Buff” Bagwell) throw another Academy student into a portal to hell. Everything culminates with Phoebe and Prue facing off in the ring against two other demon wrestlers, Mega-Man (Scott Steiner) and Thunder (Booker T). Also, Ron Perlman’s hanging around and throwing Phantasm-style bladed spheres at people. Highly recommended.
7. The Bushwhackers on Family Matters
The Bushwhackers invaded ABC’s “TGIF” lineup before Vader ever showed up on Boy Meets World, starring as themselves in the season five episode of Family Matters called “Psycho Twins.” In this episode, Urkel (Jaleel White) invents a potion called “snooze juice” which he plans to use to help his neighbor, officer Carl Winslow (Reginald VelJohnson), capture criminals. But it all backfires when professional wrestling tag team The Psycho Twins (one of whom is a high school pal of Carl’s) drink the “snooze juice” before their big match against The Bushwhackers. Because of this, there’s obviously no other option than having Urkel and Carl dress up in The Psycho Twins’ ring gear and face The Bushwhackers themselves. Luckily, The Bushwhackers have been tipped off that their opponents are non-wrestler substitutes. They seem cool with it until they learn in the course of the match that one of their opponents is a cop. The Bushwhackers hate cops! They go nuts on their opponents, thrashing them within an inch of their lives.
8. Alex Karras on Webster
Alex Karras, depending on your pop culture frame of reference, is probably best known as Mongo from Blazing Saddles, or from his 12 seasons in the National Football League, or, for our purposes here, as George Papadopolis from Webster. Karras was a wrestler in the late ‘50s, and also returned to the ring during the 1963 football season when he was suspended from the NFL after admitting to league officials that he had placed bets on NFL games. There’s not a lot of footage of Karras in the ring (though he did play a wrestler in the 1977 film Mad Bull) but fans of 1960s wrestling from the Detroit area still remember Karras’s confrontation with Dick the Bruiser, a violent, bloody match that was booked as a result of an earlier bar fight between the two men that required the police to break up.
Robert Newsome is the editor and publisher of the wrestling ‘zine The Atomic Elbow and a co-organizer of the FLUKE small press/mini-comics fest. He lives in Athens, Georgia.