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The Critical Angle: Is WWE's 'Raw' the longest-running, episodic program in TV history?

Pro Wrestling

The Critical Angle: Is WWE’s ‘Raw’ the longest-running, episodic program in TV history?

It’s not like they ever inflate heights, or weights, or records, or …

The best thing about being a professional wrestling fan are the discussions. Everything is up for debate. What was the best WrestleMania match of all time? What was your favorite WCW World Title run? Which tag team had the greatest disparity in talent? The list is never ending.

The neat thing is, pro graps occupies an odd space where even seemingly indisputable facts are open to interpretation. How many times was Ric Flair really the World Champion? Was Hulk Hogan ever AWA World champ? Who was clever enough to come up with the name WrestleMania?

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One statement that seems easy to prove (or disprove) is one the WWE has proudly trotted out for years. Is WWE Raw, first airing on January 11, 1993 (28 years ago), really the longest running weekly episodic television show in history? There’s no way they could say that if it wasn’t true, right? In order to figure out whether the WWE’s claim is correct, the key words have to be examined, along with examples that put the claim to the test.

Weekly

The Simpsons (First Broadcast: December 17, 1989)

The Critical Angle: Is WWE's 'Raw' the longest-running, episodic program in TV history?

The Simpsons debuted four years before Raw, and the Fox juggernaut is also fictional, weekly, and scripted. It has broadcast fewer total episodes, though, since it doesn’t run all year-long. Does the WWE mean most episodes of a weekly, scripted, fictional show? Does the show have to run continuously, without season breaks? If so, that eliminates a lot of competition.

I guess “weekly” also eliminates soap operas, which air daily. General Hospital, still airing today, debuted in 1963, and has wracked up over 14,000 episodes since then (Raw has yet to hit even 2,000).

Episodic

Meet the Press (First Broadcast: November 6, 1947)

raw

But even then, as weekly shows go, Raw is not even close to being on the air the longest. Meet the Press has been on for almost three quarters of a century, and has aired a whopping 3,600 episodes. It’s been preempted for sporting events, but so has Raw, which has not aired due to the U.S. Open and the Westminster Dog Show.

So what exactly constitutes “episodic” television? If it has to be scripted, I guess that eliminates news programs. To the regular, “smart” wrestling fan, Raw is notorious for how strictly their wrestlers are scripted. Does the “episodic” tagline then mean that Raw is no longer even trying to give the illusion of being unscripted?

“Longest-running”

Image result for world championship wrestling saturday ric flair

What may be the funniest thing about the statement is that Raw is not even the longest-running wrestling show of all time — unless they somehow mean the longest still running program, which isn’t really the same thing. If a baseball player is on a 20-game hit streak, then they might have the longest hit streak in baseball. But it’s not the longest hit streak in baseball history.

Don Owen’s PNW in Portland, Oregon (commonly called just “Portland”) was on the air for 40 years. The Houston wrestling show that eventually ended up in the hands of the legendary Paul Boesch got its start in the 1940s, and lasted right up until the end of the 1980s.

However, those were only broadcast in local markets. If that somehow makes them not “count,” why? Not counting shows for being around before there was cable seems unfair. Did the old affiliates have their markets cornered? People often say that having more channels today leads to greater competition. That’s true, but it also allows for niche programming to develop.

In an era when there was less to watch, it would stand to reason things would be more competitive. Just look at any season of the British Baking Show. A mediocre baker can get by unnoticed for weeks. Once the field narrows down, the flaws are more noticeable and that so-so chef is quickly asked to leave.

There was one wrestling show that seems to defy all weasel words and narrow criteria. In what can best be described as sweet irony, Raw has not even been on the air as long as the show that ended as WCW Saturday Night. Starting as Georgia Championship Wrestling, the weekly show featuring fictional ongoing storylines in an episodic format was on the air for 29 years – one more than Raw currently has been.

Conclusion

Unless, you’re willing to play lots of mental gymnastics, or you just love to argue semantics, there’s simply no way Raw is the “longest-running episodic weekly show in television history.” But if you bring back the WWE weasel words, I guess it can be the longest running show in the Universe.          

The Critical Angle is a recurring feature that uses critical thinking and skepticism to analyze pop culture phenomena. Skepticism is an approach to evaluating claims that emphasizes evidence and applies the tools of science. Rather than repeating the same old arguments, we put them to the test.

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