Production values for a WWF event rival those of a rock concert
By MIKE ROSS -- Edmonton Sun
BACKSTAGE AT SMACKDOWN!
12 - Equipment trucks
2 - TV production trucks
6 - tour buses for the crew
6 - cameras, three ringside and three aerial
40 - TV production crew members
10 - lighting operators
2 - audio operators
4 - pyro-technicians
8 - production assistants
20 - hours in a typical show day
120 - WWF "superstars"
250 - full-time employees at WWF Entertainment Inc.
Before a single fake punch is thrown, before a single chair is smashed over a wrestler's head, before Rikishi presses his prodigious buttocks into the face of a hapless victim in his patented "stink-face" move (ask yourself this: DO I REALLY NEED THIS MUCH INFORMATION DURING MY SUNDAY BRUNCH?!) - Steve Taylor likes to take a quiet moment before the show and watch the wrestling fans stream in.
Taylor is the vice-president of event operations for World Wrestling Federation Entertainment Inc. As such, he's in charge of the physical setup for WWF's SmackDown! TV show, landing in Edmonton's Skyreach Centre on Tuesday - the general of a small army of sports entertainment professionals. He organizes the TV crew, lighting crew, sound crew, pyrotechnics crew, cameramen, roadies, support staff - plus the talent, of course, known as "superstars." With production that rivals the last U2 tour, it's a madhouse of more than 100 people working nearly around the clock to give fans the best that professional wrestling can offer. Did we mention the stink-face?
"After we've done the setup, I often sit down by the ring and watch the crowd come in," Taylor says down the line from the WWF world headquarters in Hartford, Connecticut. "It's a thrill for me to watch these people come in and they're so excited. Sometimes you kind of forget, you get wrapped up in the production, but I never want to forget that it's all about the fans."
Yes, the fans - who have inflated what was once a fringe novelty into a major force in popular entertainment. They demand bigger, better, larger, sweatier men, louder, more frequent explosions, larger video screens and more exciting plotlines for their favourite real-life comic book heroes.
"Some of the high flyers are doing stuff that wouldn't have even have been dreamed of years ago," Taylor says. "I've been doing this 18 years and the group of talent we have here now is without a doubt the best we've had - definitely some of the most talented people in show business today. They're not only great athletes, they're also great performers. What we try to do on the production side is highlight that, give them a grand opening. The crowd loves it, but the talent loves it, too.
"When I started, it was one truck. We just added our 13th truck. The show continues to grow all the time."
Like the rock 'n' roll tours a WWF TV taping resembles, most of the production tricks are planned, but thanks to the whims of the wrestlers and a team of creative writers on site, anything can happen. If Stone Cold Steve Austin wants 100 soccer balls to dump on Rikishi, by God, he gets them. Taylor recalls having to procure a cement mixer for a stunt that involved wrecking Vince McMahon's Corvette. The WWF boss, who runs his corporation like one big family, is also a superstar in the passion play of his own making.
"Our creative writing team keeps us going," Taylor says. "Sometimes the show evolves as it happens. It's not that tightly written that they can't make changes as it goes along. We've done everything from burn up a bus to crushing numerous cars. The creative team comes up with stuff. It's our job to implement it."
Tickets are still available for WWF's SmackDown!, for $25 to $80 and on sale at Ticketmaster (451-8000).
How to survive a SmackDown!
Here are some tips for attending SmackDown!:
* Unlike a non-televised show, the wrestlers show up around 1 p.m. and are in the building the rest of the day, so there's no point hanging around Skyreach Centre looking for autographs a couple of hours before the show.
* Showtime is officially 7:30 p.m. because that's when taping starts, but if you want to see a few other bouts - "dark" matches (not for TV) or ones taped for syndicated shows like Metal or Jakked, be in your seats by 6:45 or so.
* Bring signs - yours might be on TV - but don't say or show anything too graphic because they might be confiscated.
* It will be LOUD! Kane's pyro and the Dudley's rockets will have your ears ringing.
* The matches will be shorter than the ones during the WWF's last visit. House show bouts can be 10-15 minutes long while TV matchups are usually five to eight minutes long except for the main event.
"There's a little more of the pomp and circumstance, more of the fire and brimstone that they don't really have at house shows," explained Chris Jericho.
"Both are a good time. Especially if you're a fan, it's good to see both. The house shows have the longer matches for the real wrestling fans and the TV shows are when the bills get paid and you get to see the flash and magic of a true WWF experience."
* Watch RAW tomorrow to get a glimpse of what lies ahead for Tuesday.