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A talk show with no holds barred

'Tuesday Night Titans' wrestles some tough problems—its guests

Now that the U.S. has cleaned up on Olympic gold medals, let's salute some other things that are right about America. Take the USA Network's Tuesday Night Titans, which appears three Tuesdays a month at 8 p.m. E.D.T Here's a show that exposes the whole sordid bunch—comsymps, supporters of the Ayatollah, foreign weirdos—for the sub-life they are. You've seen that wrestler creep, Nikolai Volkoff, the one who wears the RUSSIAN POWER T shirt in the ring? Unbelievable how he asks the fans to stand while he sings his rendition of the Soviet national anthem. He should stand up while they play The Marines' Hymn, which is our own Sgt. Slaughter's cue to stomp on the likes of Volkoff.

Look, I admit TV wrestling isn't always the most tasteful entertainment. TNT, that dynamite new prime-time wrestling talk-and-highlights show, is a case in point. Recently, producer-host Vince McMahon showed poor judgment by inviting an ignorant spear carrier like Kamala, the Ugandan Giant, to appear on his show. I don't know about you, but I couldn't take it when Kamala, who came on close to his feeding time, spotted a live chicken that happened to be in a cage on the set. Kamala started salivating and then made a move for the cage door. Fortunately, USA cut to a commercial. But the show resumed with a tight shot of Kamala licking the feathers from his lips. McMahon, who's as earnest interviewing a Ugandan wrestler as he might be, say, Henry Kissinger, apologized to viewers. Too late! The chicken should never have been there in the first place.

TNT may be the most provocative talk show on television. If you can stand wise guys such as The Iron Sheik, who has been known to enter the ring carrying an Iranian flag with a picture of the Ayatollah affixed, then the show is must viewing. Even if you're a closet wrestling fan—a stockbroker, say, with a grudge against Mr. Fuji, who throws volcanic Fuji dust into the eyes of his oppressors—then you, too, should watch. On cable for only four months, TNT is already the top-rated USA show in prime time. The most recent episode, shown before the U.S. Open, pulled an excellent 3.9% of USA's potential audience. That means almost one million households tuned in—three times as many as watched USA's college basketball game on any given night last winter. Featured wrestling matches are even more highly rated, averaging more than one million households on USA and 1.5 million on WTBS, the Ted Turner superstation.

As befits a show for which USA pays $5,000 per episode, TNT is taped in a Baltimore studio that resembles a loading dock. McMahon, the World Wrestling Federation czar, chief TV announcer and talk show host, usually sits behind a plywood desk a la a discount Johnny Carson. His sidekick, Lord Alfred Hayes, is a syrupy British wimp who wears frilly tuxedos of the type fashionable in Las Vegas in the late '60s. All this is window dressing for the momentous issues discussed on TNT: Truth, Honor, Geopolitics and next week's opponent in Landover.

I think McMahon should insist on better behavior from his guests. Take the time he asked Volkoff and his manager, Freddie Blassie, about the L.A. Olympics. Blassie wound up calling former President Carter a "pencil-necked geek" for boycotting the '80 Moscow Games, which, he said, cost Volkoff a chance to be in the Greco-Roman competition. (Hey, wait a minute, Freddie. If Volkoff is a Russian, why wasn't he at the Moscow Games?)

Because wrestling is next to godliness, McMahon also should stop glorifying villains in TNT's videotaped highlights. Just the other night I saw The Iron Sheik (who's rumored to be from Springfield, Mo.) actually take off a shoe and club Sgt. Slaughter while the ref was talking to the timekeeper. On another occasion, "Scotland's" Rowdy Roddy Piper was being pinned by "Poland's" Ivan Putski when he heard the sound of bagpipes coming from the back of the arena. With a sudden burst of energy, Roddy broke Put-ski's hold and overcame the forces of good. Finally, there's Paul (Mr. Wonderful) Orndorff, who drips his own perspiration on fallen opponents.

I call this taunting, Vince. Make him stop.


McMahon (left) and Hayes went to great lengths to make volcanic Mr. Fuji feel at home.