Reaction still split on how WWE handled Jerry "The King" Lawler's return to TV. - Photo by David Seto of Flickr via Wikimedia Commons
Interestingly, Jerry Jarrett, Jerry "The King" Lawler's wrestling business partner in Memphis for two decades, has been one of the few insiders to publicly criticise the CM Punk and Paul Heyman fake heart attack angle which WWE scripted for return of the King.
Well, WWE certainly got everyone talking about Jerry "The King" Lawler's return to TV last night, after being out of the commentary booth for two months to recover from a serious heart attack. Unfortunately, what could have been one of the best feel good moments in WWE history, was ruined by sleazily showing footage of Lawler being treated by paramedics beforehand and then having Paul Heyman and CM Punk come out to interrupt his heartfelt interview in order to heavy-handedly mock him by doing a fake heart attack and CPR demonstration, respectively.
I know, it is pro wrestling after all, we all should have expected it, a profession where desperate promoters can't resist the basest of carny tactics when easy cheap heat comes a calling, even though it often backfires or falls flat, especially in the modern era.
This was just par for the course, which explains why most wrestling performers didn't have a problem with the angle, though "Stone Cold" Steve Austin thought WWE was "pushing the envelope in the wrong direction" and Lance Storm unsurprisingly wasn't down with it either.
However, perhaps the most intriguing name to criticise the ratings stunt was Jerry Jarrett, the ahead of his time booking genius and Memphis promoter, who was Lawler's business partner for about two decades, a creative consultant for the WWF when Vince McMahon was under inditement on steroid distribution charges in 1993/1994 and one of the founders of Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (TNA). He absolutely lambasted the skit, shortly after viewing it, on his Facebook page today:
"I watched WWE last night. Jerry Lawler was returning after surviving a life threatening heart attack. I sat watching the television with a feeling of pride that they were honoring the return of such a great wrestler. I sat thinking, "now this is real class". Just when I was appreciating the class WWE was showing, it ended suddendly with a juvenile cheap heat angle. I turned the television off and starting thinking about Linda McMahon's hard work and great expense running for the Senate. It is exactly this kind of programming that prevented her from becoming a Senator. Wrestling should have some limits and boundaries. If you offend great portions of the audience, it is a bad angle."
This contribution could be labelled as hypocritical, given all the angles that cut close to the bone that Jarrett wrote, including the many times that his heels blamed Lawler for Andy Kaufman's death (though to be fair, for all I know that could have been all Lawler's influence, as they both took turns each year to book the territory).
However, that was in the days of yore where the business hadn't been completely exposed and the heat for such comments wouldn't fall so heavily on the scriptwriter's shoulders. So he's right, it was absolutely a bad angle, if it turned more people off than it entertained, regardless of the quality of the performances of the people involved.
He's wrong though that angles like this prevented Linda McMahon from winning the election, but transferring the mentality behind them to her political campaign did do her in. The flimsy personal attacks on Chris Murphy and all the shameless adverts, palm cards and T-shirts falsely suggesting that she endorsed President Barack Obama in the home stretch, displayed the same craven willingness that was seen here to stoop to anything to pop a rating or in her case to grab a vote.
The same insults to the audiences intelligence, and the same sheer desperation in that they would willingly exploit real life tragedies, whether it be an employee's heart attack or the hurricane that affected the well-being of her citizens.