One of the surprising sports-related business stories of 2021 is how All Elite Wrestling has become the Pepsi to World Wrestling Entertainment’s Coca-Cola. For decades WWE was synonymous with pro wrestling. The notion of having a credible rival seemed as likely as Google and Facebook facing competition seems today.
AEW has benefited from the ownership of the Khan family from Jacksonville, Fla., who also own the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars, and from the investment of Warner Media. AEW programming is shown on Wednesday and Friday nights on TBS. It had been on TNT for the last two years, but Warner Media executives understandably believe a move to TBS, which specializes in comedic fare, would be a better fit.
The upstart promotion has not been shy about taking on the WWE in the metropolitan area. While it has not gotten access to Madison Square Garden yet, it has held shows at Arthur Ashe Stadium in Flushing Meadows Corona Park and at the UBS Arena in Belmont Park. This Wednesday it will hold the debut TBS telecast at Newark’s Prudential Center.
Last week I spoke on the phone with a pair of AEW’s rising stars, Anthony Bowens, and Max Caster, the tag team known as “The Acclaimed.”
Bowens is from Nutley, NJ, and is excited to be wrestling in his own backyard. “I will get to see old friends and sleep in my old room again,” he told me. Although his sexual orientation is not part of his wrestling character, Bowens is openly gay, and is proud to be a role model to the LGBTQ community. “Happily, I’ve not faced a backlash from fans or other wrestlers,” he said.
Max Caster grew up four miles east of Queens in Rockville Centre. His father, Richard Caster, was a tight end for the New York Jets when they played at Shea Stadium and were a far better team than what currently passes for them. “I was on the football team at South Side High School, but I really didn’t see a career for me in the NFL. I studied broadcasting at CW Post/LIU and went to a wrestling school on Long Island which was the same one Maxwell Jacob Friedman attended. We’re still friends.”
Caster is a devotee of hip-hop music and his wrestling moniker is “Platinum Max” because he always dreamed of being a top-selling recording artist. He is very adept at rapid rhyming which mixes in pop culture and current events as a way of insulting opponents. “I know it’s corny, but it does make people appreciate hip-hop who weren’t into it previously.”
The greatest insult comic ever, Jackson Heights native Don Rickles, would be proud of Max because his targets are as amused by his barbs as the audience is.
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New Mets manager Buck Showalter displayed a wry sense of humor in his introductory Zoom press conference last Monday. When New York Post baseball columnist/MLB Network analyst Joel Sherman introduced himself by his full name and affiliation, Buck said, “You are a legend. You only need your first name just like Adele and Rhianna!” I wonder whom he is saving Beyonce for.
The Professional Bull Riders return to Madison Square Garden for their 15th appearance on January 7-8 for the Monster Energy Buckoff at the Garden.
PBR has long been dominated by riders from four countries: Canada, Australia, Brazil and the United States. Surprisingly, Argentina, the home of the gaucho, is not well-represented on the PBR’s rider leader board. Interestingly, the top bull rider is Daylon Swearingen from upstate New York. Take that, Wyoming!
PBR’s best known rider, J.B. Mauney, is questionable to appear at the Garden as he is recovering from injuries incurred on the PBR Tour.
The bulls are a bigger attraction for casual fans than the riders are, and they each have vastly differing personalities. Some just go back to the corral as soon as they buck off their rider, whose goal is to hang on for dear life for eight seconds, while others love to run around the infield soaking up the crowd applause.
Life and style
There are a couple of late changes in New Year’s Eve television programming. Fox decided to pull the plug on having Ken Jeong and Joel McHale host their show from Times Square because of Omicron concerns. I am not sure if this was Covid-related, or if they were tired of finishing way behind ABC’s “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve,” but NBC has finally yanked Carson Daly, and replaced him with “Miley’s New Year’s Eve Party,” which is being anchored by Saturday Night Live’s Pete Davidson, and of course, singer Miley Cyrus. It will air live from Miami.
The start of a new year means networks start trotting out their midseason replacement shows.
Fox’s “Pivoting” examines the lives of three female friends (Eliza Coupe, Maggie Q and Ginnifer Goodwin) after a close friend of theirs passes away unexpectedly. Think of this as a comedic twist on ABC’s “A Million Little Things” or the baby boomer film favorite, “The Big Chill.”
Also debuting this week on Fox is “The Cleaning Lady,” starring French actor Elodie Yung. The premise has Yung playing a hotel housekeeper who takes the position as a way of earning a living and getting health insurance for her ill son after she learns she cannot transfer her medical license from overseas. After saving the life of a criminal she is given an offer she can’t refuse to work for a crime syndicate. The plotline sounds very much like another FOX series, “The Mob Doctor,” which ran for a season a decade ago.
NBC is also premiering two new series next week.
“American Auto” is an ensemble comedy starring SNL alum Ana Gasteyer as an outsider who becomes the CEO of a family-run automobile manufacturing company. It is made in the spirit of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” “The Office” and “Superstore.”
“Grand Crew” focuses on a group of twenty-something Black friends who gather at a wine bar in the hip Los Angeles neighborhood of Silver Lake. Any resemblance to the 1980s TV classic “Cheers” would appear to be intentional although series creator Dan Goor denied that when I asked him at a recent NBC press event. “There’s no ‘Norm,’” he said with a smile.
Every broadcast network should have at least one medical drama, and CBS is joining the party with “Good Sam.” Jason Isaacs and Sophia Bush play a father-and-daughter cardiac surgeon team at a Michigan hospital. Isaacs’ Dr. Griffin is an irascible crank who thinks he’s a medical god. Isaacs is a British actor who has perfected an American accent just the way a fellow Brit, Hugh Laurie, did when he played a physician with a similar temperament in the old Fox series, “House.” The opening episode had too many soap opera cliches, but then again, that is a problem for most medical dramas.