Sunday Night Heat's Legacy 20 Years Later, and How It Would Fit in Today's WWE

Erik Beaston@@ErikBeastonFeatured ColumnistJuly 27, 2018

Credit: WWE.com

It seems almost unfathomable that WWE's Sunday Night Heat turns 20 this year.

Debuting Aug. 2, 1998, the show was the company's attempt to capitalize on the immense popularity of the Attitude Era. A second broadcast designed to give WWE increased exposure and the second platform for its stories to play out for the masses, it was met with great enthusiasm from a fanbase eager to eat up as much WWE television as possible.

Now, 20 years after it exploded on to the USA Network airwaves, relive its legacy and find out how it would fit into today's WWE.

                   

A New Experience

In August 1998, WWE was riding a wave of momentum.

"Stone Cold" Steve Austin was wrestling's No. 1 rebel, and his rivalry with the evil Mr. McMahon had captivated audiences and driven WWE to the forefront of the Monday Night War after an 83-week ass-kicking by WCW.

With wildly entertaining characters such as The Undertaker, The Rock, D-Generation X and Sable, the company had struck a chord with the audience. The outrageous, chaotic TV storytelling of Vince Russo and the writing team was engrossing and made the company's television product must-see.

The ratings success of Raw and the pop culture phenomenon that Austin had become understandably led USA to want more WWE programming on its network. Enter Sunday Night Heat.

Heat invaded the living rooms of eager fans Aug. 2, 1998, and served as another opportunity for WWE to deliver its stories and Superstars. Those early days featured appearances from Austin, Rock, Undertaker and even McMahon himself.

Sometimes, those Superstars battled in high-profile main events, and other times, they were utilized to further storylines that would make fans tune into Raw.

Most of all, early episodes of Heat were broadcast live, preserving the air of unpredictability that had become such a significant part of the WWE product. While the live presentation would be short-lived, it was integral to getting the audience's attention at the time.

Utilizing the program as a live springboard for stories that would later play out on that week's episode of Raw was a smart booking decision that elevated the importance of the show and created even more excitement for Monday nights.

              

A Pay-Per-View Lead-In

Heat was also a tremendous asset to WWE on pay-per-view Sundays in that it provided the company with one last push for that night's extravaganza.

Major angles would play out moments before the PPV went on the air, forcing fans who may have been on the fence about ordering the event to finally take the leap and pledge their $40.

Just weeks after its introduction, Heat was home to a red-hot episode one hour before WWE took to the Highway to Hell at SummerSlam 1998. On that show, Austin attacked a hearse with a sledgehammer, believing either Kane or Undertaker to be inside, just hours before a WWE Championship defense against The Deadman in the night's main event.

D-Generation X brawled with The Nation, and Sable revealed that her mystery partner for that night's show would not be one of The Oddities but rather someone fans least expected.

The show was the ultimate tease for SummerSlam, and WWE would replicate that formula over time, using Heat as the last advertisement for its pay-per-view endeavors.

           

A Showcase for the Underutilized

By the time the one-year anniversary of Heat rolled around, the WWE product was at its hottest and most in-demand. SmackDown's arrival in April 1999 took the emphasis off Heat, leaving it to become a shell of what it once was.

Gone were the icons of the Attitude Era, whose presence was needed elsewhere, and in their place were the midcard competitors who otherwise may have struggled to get any television time.

The result was a show that may have lacked stars but carried plenty of opportunity for the Superstars who appeared on it.

Guys such as D'Lo Brown, Val Venis, Droz, Prince Albert, Test, Gangrel and Mark Henry all benefited from receiving ring and screen time they otherwise would have been robbed of on Monday and Thursday nights. There was little in the way of storyline development. Instead, the Superstars were given the platform to showcase their in-ring skills and consequently earn a following from fans who appreciated their ability.

As Heat evolved, it became the C-level show that gave talent unable to get on the company's two premier broadcasts some exposure. By the time 2002 rolled around and the brand extension was in full effect, Superstars such as the aforementioned Brown, Stevie Richards, Raven, Tommy Dreamer and Rodney Mack became staples of the show.

The writers in charge of the afterthought took bold risks, attempting to tell those characters' stories to varying degrees of success. Management did not care, and as a result, Heat became this little haven of sorts for cult favorites to ply their craft without the interference of McMahon and Co.

In 2005, there was even an appearance from a future WWE champion: CM Punk.

All the way through until its final episode in 2008, Heat was the place for the underutilized, underrated and undervalued to work, make a living and grow fanbases of diehard wrestling fans.

              

Debut of a Legend

On March 19, 2000, Trish Stratus appeared on the ramp during a match between Test and Gangrel, apparently scouting talent for her managerial services. Little could anyone have known at the time, but the Torontonian would go on to become arguably the greatest female talent in WWE history and be a 2013 inductee into the company's Hall of Fame.

She would also make her presence felt during a match between Prince Albert and Joey Abs, and just one night later, Stratus introduced the team of T&A—that's Test and Albert—to the world.

While that team floundered and split in less than one year, Stratus went on to revolutionize women's wrestling and lay the groundwork for the Women's Revolution that is such a major part of today's WWE product.

                 

Legacy

Sunday Night Heat was an experimental production, and its importance and overall quality were adversely affected by SmackDown's introduction in 1999. It was a show that was once storyline-heavy in an attempt to create buzz for the following night's Raw, but by the time another television show popped up on the WWE schedule, it became a wasteland.

Despite the lackluster star power it may have touted after its first year on the air, though, the men and women who appeared on the show were given a stage they did not have to share with Austin, Rock, Undertaker and Kane.

After the demise of ECW and WCW in 2001, Heat gave a number of extraordinarily talented wrestlers the opportunity to showcase themselves in a day and age when the independent scene was not as hot as it is in 2018.

Heat may go down in WWE history as a footnote alongside the likes of All-American Wrestling, The Action Zone and Mania, but for a few years, it was a valuable asset to management and a platform for stars seeking an opportunity to prove themselves.

            

Would It Fit in Today's WWE?

Unfortunately, the answer is no.

WWE already has Main Event, a show that is barely watched and not well-regarded. Like Heat, it gives stars without a spot on the main shows a chance to perform, but the disregard of storylines and character development makes it meaningless in the grand scheme of things.

Add in 205 Live, a brand devoted to the cruiserweight Superstars who already do not make it on to Monday Night Raw or SmackDown Live, and you have a market oversaturated by WWE programming.

About the only way a Heat-like show would work is as a companion piece to SmackDown, which has a wealth of talent the promotion cannot fit into a two-hour show.

Still, there is so much wrestling for fans to consume that such a show would be thrown on the heap, left for "another time" or "sometime I'm not busy," and history would repeat itself.

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