I want my XTV!

Since the XFL went large, Vince McMahon has brought his patented mix of action, sex and violence to basketball, "Millionaire" and "Sesame Street."

Published February 5, 2001 6:41PM (EST)

The XFL, the in-your-face football league co-owned by wrestling impresario Vince McMahon and NBC, has changed the face not only of American sports but of television as well. The football league's claim that fans were tired of the NFL's "pantywaist" version of the game struck a chord with viewers, and the XFL became a sensation, sparking a broadcast revolution.

Here are some of the new sports leagues and shows that have flourished in the XFL's wake:

  • "Figure Xkating" "Who watches figure skating?" McMahon asked rhetorically when this "extreme" version debuted. "Chicks. Well, chicks are great, but we're interested in doing something for the dudes." And "Figure Xkating" has indeed been a success in the all-important 12-to-24 male demographic, with ratings higher than the NFL and "The Cindy Margolis Show" combined.

    "The element that's always been missing from figure skating, the one thing that all the other great sports have," says director of competition Tonya Harding, "is defense." To remedy that, "Figure Xkating" allows skaters to tackle their competitors to prevent them from completing their routines. This simple rule change worked wonders: While switching the emphasis from skating ability to toughness, it gave fans some tantalizing glimpses of skin when female competitors tore each other's tops off, and created the new league's first breakout stars, Freda Foreman and Shannen Doherty.

  • The XBA "People are tired of the pantywaist NBA and its boring rules," says director of competition Bill Laimbeer, the former Detroit Pistons star. The XBA has liberal -- but strictly enforced, Laimbeer notes -- rules on traveling (more than eight steps is walking) and fouls (no blindsiding players who aren't actually on the court, but otherwise all's fair). These combine for end-to-end action and a tough, "smashmouth" brand of defense that has kept scores down. "In the NBA," Laimbeer says, "you breathe on a guy funny and they call a foul. It's boring. In the XBA, you almost never hear a whistle. The fans get their money's worth. They get to see action."

    Like the XFL, the XBA is an "all-access" league, with microphones and cameras on the court, in the team huddles and in the locker rooms. Cheerleaders interview the players during the game. This recent exchange, after Charlie Johnson of the New York/New Jersey Meth Dealers hit a 3-pointer to beat the 10-second clock, is typical:

    CHEERLEADER: Whoa, Charlie! Great shot! What's up?
    JOHNSON (trying to play defense): Hey, baby (puff, puff). It's (pant) all about (puff, pant) (unintelligible), you know (puff, puff, pant)? Switch! Oof!
    CHEERLEADER: Whoa! Great screen! Back to you, guys!

  • "Who Wants to Be an X-illionaire" In McMahon's entry into the game-show market, the cameras swoop above, around and under the contestants in thoroughly confusing ways, and sideline interviewers chat sympathetically with contestants who have just blown a half-million bucks by failing to name the capital of Texas. "People were tired of that pantywaist 'Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,' with all those boring questions about boring stuff and those monochrome shirt-tie combos Regis wears," says host Carmen Electra, whose outfits are quite, uh, colorful.

    Some losing contestants have complained that they've been kicked off the show despite answering correctly. Loser Marge Glickson of Reno, Nev., sued after Electra said her answer to a question about why plants need light ("photosynthesis") was wrong. Producers maintain their answer -- "Because Stone Cold says so" -- is correct.

    Other contestants have complained about questions that stray from the realm of fact ("What's the best birthday present a man can get from his wife?" Answer: A threesome) and about the distractions of Electra's cleavage, the show's cheerleaders and the constantly "woofing" audience.

  • "X-ame Street" "Kids were tired of those pantywaist kid shows," says host Gary Coleman. "They want some smashmouth learning." This first product of McMahon's Smackdown Television Workshop features many of the same types of characters and situations made famous by "Sesame Street," but with a twist.

    Big-ass Fowl is a pimp given to wearing feathered hats and teaching kids important life lessons in song, from "Never Trust a Ho" to "Always Keep Your Benjamins on the Outside of the Roll." In a running joke, a grouch character who lives in a dumpster routinely beats up the "guest" host, who is always former "copy guy" Rob Schneider. Every show is "brought to you by" the letter X, the number 69 and Tequiza beer.

  • The XGA "The element that's always been missing from golf, the one thing that all the other great sports have," says director of competition Tonya Harding, "is defense."

    The sport's first star was an old friend of Harding's: Shane Stant. "I've always been good with a club," Stant said after winning the XGA "Misters" tournament.

  • By King Kaufman

    King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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