On Monday, WDVM-TV-9 sportscaster Glenn Brenner did the darndest thing -- he asked his viewers whether they wanted to see professional wrestling highlights and, during the 6o'clock news, gave them a phone number to call to register a vote. He said he'd give the results at 11 o'clock.
Brenner's staff fielded 274 calls in a 35-minute period ending at 7:15 p.m. Countless calls went unanswered up until the late newscast. Shockingly (at least to me), the vote went 178 to 96 against showing pro wrestling highlights.
Call it a small victory for civility and common sense and perhaps a large victory of sorts for WRC-TV-4's George Michael, who can remain the local airwaves' sole salesman for pro wrestling as sport.
Let me quickly admit here to my anti-pro wrestling biases. I would sooner change a flat tire in the rain than attend a pro wrestling exhibition. Although I realize it's spectacular entertainment for some, pro wrestling is no more a sport than ballroom dancing, and it ought not to replace the reporting of legitimate events on sportscasts.
Brenner, too, tried to avoid the near-sport. "My policy has been: it's preordained, it's fake, it's not really sport . . . It's like when we were kids and played on the street and pretended to throw punches."
But recently, several people have asked Brenner why he never showed wrestling, and at a speaking engagement last week in Gaithersburg, when he asked the audience what else it wanted him to discuss, "about 1,200 in unison said, 'Pro wrestling.' "
Brenner continued, "I'd be cutting off my nose to spite my face if (the viewers) wanted it and I didn't show it. I have nothing against it, but within the parameters of a sportscast, it just doesn't fit.
"But you know, I can go from my house to the station and develop tunnel vision. I figured I'd ask the people out there."
So Brenner went on the air with his query. He didn't even attempt to clear the idea with his superiors. ("They pretty much let me do what I want here. They've either given up on me or leave me alone; I'm not sure which.")
For WJLA-TV-7 sportscaster Frank Herzog, no polls are needed to dissuade him from showing wrestling.
"I had a real bad experience (once), and because of it, I vowed I'd never show it," Herzog said. "Bruno Sammartino was in town . . . We shot a staggering amount of film for the interview alone. I had never seen pro wrestling before, and I bought it hook, line and sinker from him.
"Then I went in to watch the matches. I was so appalled. It was such a disillusionment to see the punches missed, no physical contact whatsoever. I felt so used. For a long time, I've absolutely hated it because they try to sell it as the real thing."
Like many wrestling fans, George Michael knows it's not the real thing, but it doesn't matter. Michael's a master showman, and since local news is really show business in thin disguise, it pays for him to exploit wrestling's entertainment value.
"I run wrestling simply because people enjoy it," explained Michael, who said he is allotted extra time for wrestling in addition to his regular sports slot on the news.
"You're dealing with great natural athletes -- sometimes. I can't say we've never shown Andre the Giant. He's not an athlete . . . Seeing Cyndi Lauper get decked by the Fabulous Moolah, that doesn't turn me on . . . I like wrestling, but I know I'll never convince people who don't like wrestling about it."
I'm guilty as charged on that count, although I'll admit that in my weaker moments, even as I curse Michael and Hulk Hogan, I smile at some of the antics Michael highlights.
"Sure, if I walk by a TV set and it's on, I'll stop and watch it," Brenner said. "On the flip side, if I'm driving down River Road and there's a three-car accident, I'll also stop and watch it. That doesn't mean it should be on a sportscast."
But maybe Michael is, as he suggested half-jokingly, ahead of his time. The wrestling phenomenon grows unabated. Liberace and Mr. T have promoted it. Sports Illustrated put wrestling on its cover this week.
And so, Brenner has left the door open for a recount. "If there's a groundswell in six months, maybe we'll open the lines again," he said.
Going straight to the public is a fascinating approach for a news show -- maybe one day we'll get to vote nightly on what stories are reported -- but on the topic of pro wrestling, Brenner ought to follow his first instinct and continue to sideline the staged follies from legitimate sportscasts.