Jessica Hahn, the living link between Jim Bakker and Sam Kinison, is standing onstage in the Park Plaza Hotel ballroom, a hairy crowd of leathered headbangers seated in the bleachers on her right. A more subdued, straight-looking crowd--William Morris agents and the like--are seated to her left.
A microphone is in her hand, a pit of mud at her feet.
"Slipping and sliding for She-Rok," Hahn yells, "is Quisha."
Quisha, in a skimpy two-piece outfit, comes bounding out from behind the stage curtains and steps into the mud pit, where she faces the equally underdressed Leslie. Leslie, who the crowd is told represents the heavy metal band Young Gunns, promptly splashes a drink in Quisha's face. The women lock into combat and plop into the mud with Hulk Hogan seriousness. Beyond the mud pit, wearing a headset, peach halter top and black bicycle shorts, is film director Penelope Spheeris, who is orchestrating the action.
The wrestlers, the audience and Jessica Hahn are all part of a pay-per-view TV event--some would consider it a pay-per-view experiment--that is being taped for telecast on cable systems Friday. The show, referred to as both "Thunder and Mud" and the contraction "Thud" by its makers, is a combination female mud wrestling act / heavy-metal rock concert / game show with some comedy bits thrown in.
Perhaps in the future, the rules of "Thud" will be common knowledge. But until then, an introduction: Five obscure metal bands are competing for some undisclosed honor. Each group is represented by a female mud wrestler. A motley crew of five beer-swilling judges chooses a winner from each wrestling bout; up from the primordial ooze and on to the next round. After every match, one of the bands comes onstage and lip-syncs a song. Jessica Hahn and co-hosts Tawn Mastrey and Sam Mann make jokes about sex and the PTL throughout.
The outcome, like every other part of the show, is scripted. Some people will call it exploitive, some will call it dumb. The program creators will say they didn't promise anyone Shakespeare.
But there is more to this than sex and mud and rock 'n' roll. It's actually an attempt to expand the boundaries of pay-per-view television. The program delivery system, under which viewers are billed for each show they order, has hit a major snag. So far, the only types of programming that make money are wrestling and boxing. Attempts to attract viewers with musical events have failed. Most noteworthy was the Aug. 24 Who concert at the Universal Amphitheater in which the legendary group was joined by a supporting troupe of top stars to perform their ground-breaking rock opera "Tommy." Despite gobs of publicity, few TV viewers paid to see the show and it lost money.
The Rolling Stones will try their luck on pay per view in December.
But I.R.S. Media, run by rock impresario Miles Copeland, decided to try something different by producing "Thud." The idea is to lure different kinds of audiences to the same event: metal music for headbangers--as the heavy metal aficionados are known--female mud wrestling for another segment of the TV-viewing public and Jessica Hahn for all the rubberneckers who are curious about Jessica Hahn.
"Straight concerts have not proven to be successful," Copeland says backstage at the Park Plaza. As he sees it, the aspects of a rock concert that are exciting to see in person do not translate to television. The entertainment executive, who managed the Police to prominence and still manages Sting, says he's trying to combine a few disparate elements to see if he can create something larger.
"What we're trying to do is add one and one and hopefully get three," he says.
Outside, before the show is to start, I.R.S. Media President Paul Colichman is working the handpicked crowd that will compose the audience--nodding hellos along the line of guests waiting to get in and glad-handing the VIPs who are immediately escorted inside. He handles the chore with great ease and recalls that he was once a doorman. He also did a stint as a programming executive at Fox Broadcasting; he was the one who developed Joan Rivers' late-night talk show.
It was he and Spheeris, the director of renowned documentaries about the punk and heavy metal subcultures in Los Angeles, who dreamed up the idea for "Thud," he says.
"I knew I wanted to do a pay-per-view event," says Colichman, who runs the film arm of Copeland's mostly music company and produced Spheeris' metal documentary "The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years." But he recognized that only wrestling and boxing were attracting viewers to pay-per-view.
"I thought: 'How can I combine that with music?' " The concept came together when he and Spheeris were at Gazzarri's club on the Sunset Strip and noticed the mud wrestlers hanging out with the metal bands. Voila. When Spheeris agreed to direct the show, that was that.