Grudge Match pits two or more pop icons (fictional or real) against each other in head-to-head competition. Who wins and why, however, is up for discussion.
There are several key features that make Grudge Match stand out, and different from similar versions you may have seen. First of all, the matches aren't always fights. Grudge Match has featured auto races, legal battles, drinking contests, investigations, game shows, awards shows, sporting events, and a bizarro biathalon, just to name a few. And the fights themselves aren't confined to a single setting. We've had street fights, kung-fu fights, bar fights, gang fights, food fights, cat fights, dog fights, bird fights, fish fights, and even a stuffed bear fight.
Second of all, we don't tell or show you what happens. These events don't happen, and in most cases can't happen. So we debate over what would or could happen. After the contest and contestants are set in the "The Scenario", our Expert Commentators (tm) take sides and argue about who would win and why. There are two prime purposes to "The Commentary": 1.) to allow the commentators to valiantly defend their choice, and to point out the horrible weaknesses of those on the other side (both the combatants and the other commentators). 2.) to completely cloud the issue at hand by arguing as many irrelevent and off-topic discussions as possible.
Third of all, and most imporant, we don't pick the winner. You do. Voting from internet viewers picks the winner of every match. Viewers are also allowed to voice their opinions by sending in their thoughts on the match, the funniest of which are posted with the voting results. So jump in and get involved!
During their second year of grad school at Cornell University, Steve Levine, Brian Wright & Sam Roadman would often end up in late night discussions, the topics of which would quickly turn to informal contests as to who could spew out the most irrelevent and obscure (and funniest) TV and movie references. Before long they were arguing over who would win a cage match between Hulk Hogan and the Incredible Hulk, or a mud-wrestling match between Wonder Woman and the Bionic Woman.
After this went on for a little while, Steve thought that the concept could be taken to a higher level. "Public Access Television" he exclaimed! That was the answer. But then, in his infinite laziness, he realized that a web page would be much easier. So after a riveting "I'll do it if you do it" discourse with Brian, Gary Coleman vs. Webster was born on February 1st, 1995.
Steve & Brian slapped together some comments and threw it up on the web. A simple voting system allowed internet viewers to choose the winner. They had hoped to get 50 votes, and ended up with 1500, over 800 of which came from a single, deranged Gary Coleman supporter. Suprisingly enough, some people actually responded. So the funniest responses got posted along with the results. And with a tighter voting system, Steve & Brian launched another match. And another. And another. Then viewers started sending in their own match ideas. Good ones even!
The page slowly grew through word-of-mouth. Then Steve & Brian got a little more pro-active in their publicity seeking. On advice of a viewer, they pitted the U.S.S. Enterprise against the Deathstar and advertised the match on the appropriate Star Trek and Star Wars newsgroups and websites. Voting records were smashed! Grudge Match also launched Game Show Mania(tm), a series of 6 game show themed matches, and was invited to contribute four football-themed matches to the Official Super Bowl XXX website (Gridiron Grudge Match). More word-of-mouth, more targeted advertising, and numerous awards and links led to even larger audiences, until Grudge Match actually started receiving mentions in printed media. The most notable mention was a small but prominent and very complimentary write-up (including original art work) in a February 1996 issue of Entertainment Weekly. Grudge Match also received mention in several newspapers, including a column in the Chicago Tribune. All this led to even more visitors, including one of particular interest...
One day in the Summer of 1996, quite out of the blue, Steve & Brian got an email from an editor at HarperCollins asking if they'd be interested in turning Grudge Match into a book. Uh... yeah! So once the details got worked out, work began on a manuscript for "Grudge Match, Are You Ready To Rumble?" featuring the commentary and top viewer responses from some of the funniest matches in Grudge Match history.
Forrest Gump vs. Rainman, Mr. T vs. Mr. Clean, Mr. Peanut vs. Pop'N'Fresh, Scooby-Doo vs. The X-Files, John McClane vs. the Deathstar -- 20 classics in all. Plus, 10 all new matches were done, but were promptly pulled after completion. Since exclusive material was needed for the book to help sales, and since Steve & Brian didn't want to pull any old matches, they decided that this was the best route. However, due to an overly long first draft, 5 of these new matches unfortunately had to be pulled, leaving 25 matches for the book. Once the book went out of print, all 10 matches were re-posted and are available in the archives. Autographed copies of the book (which still has several features not found on the website) are available for sale on-line.
The book did relatively well, particularly given the lack of national publicity. Approximately 8,000 copies were sold, mostly due to a handful of local interviews and word-of-mouth. In the meantime, Steve & Brian managed to have a book signing, to write and record a radio commercial, to appear on several radio shows (including Boston and Oklahoma City), to appear on TV on Round About Tompkins County (we finally made it to public access!), to flirt briefly with some TV producers, and to throw a party celebrating the completion of the manuscript. All in all, a great adventure, even if nobody got Filthy Stinking Rich(tm).
Near the end of 1997, Steve & Brian were faced with a bit of a dilemna: Real Life(tm). Both were nearing the end of their time in graduate school and had to get busy finishing their research, writing their dissertations, trying to find jobs, etc. Plus, with the book coming out in a few months, it was not known what additional events or responsibilities might come up. Thus, with Heavy Hearts(tm), it was decided that Grudge Match had to come to an end. So Steve & Brian picked a few more matches from the remaining pool, and closed out Grudge Match in March of 1998 after 92 matches. The page would remain up, providing access to the archives, the lists of Steve & Brian's all-time favorite matches and favorite responses, and the WWWF Photo Gallery.
But not so fast! Eight of the top GM responders, aka "The Panel", had previously been coralled to contribute new material to several of the old matches to be used in the book. Some of them also served as guest commentators to give Steve & Brian a break while they finished up the book. Upon hearing that Steve & Brian were planning on ending Grudge Match, they took action. Paul Golba quickly rounded up the rest of "the Panel" to form the Save the Grudge Foundation (STGF) (tm). They felt that Grudge Match could continue strong for several more years, so they did some planning, got organized, and WWWF Ground Zero was launched, premiering when the final Grudge Match ended. Seven of the original Panel members plus an additional Rabid Fan (tm) provided commentary for new matches on a rotating basis for this spin-off site. And the WWWF lived-on for two more years.
In the meantime, Steve & Brian rode the wave of the book (see above) and got the heck out of grad school. Steve finished in the Summer of 1998 and accepted a research position with Exxon (now ExxonMobil). Brian finished in the Fall of 1999, and then decided to put his research career on hold in order to pursue the ultimate Grudge Match vision: Grudge Match, Da TV Show (tm).
Before that got off the ground, Grudge Match received an exciting offer from a company called TheFunniest. While initially planned as an "on-line comedy festival", it soon evolved into a humorous content provider for the wireless web and a talent agency. Working with TheFunniest (a.k.a. PocketBoxOffice) in both areas, Grudge Match is moved forward towards new media, including the wireless web, television, and additional print opportunities.
While no huge deals were ever struck, and the thing with PocketBoxOffice eventually petered out, it was a great ride while it lasted. And by all accounts, we got a lot closer than we had a right to. We actually had an offer sheet for a pilot episode for Canadian television, but it never worked itself out. But at least Brian got to see Eric Idle in a private rehearsal. Very cool.
Since then, Brian also got a real job, working in technology licensing at Auburn University. The site kept going for a couple of years, first switching to a monthly format, and then eventually shutting down production of new material in early 2005. Life's obligations got too big, the possibilities of landing in new media got too small, and, let's face it: we'd done the idea. It was getting harder and harder to keep it fresh after almost 250 "episodes", so we decided to go out on top. But hey, if you are a powerful, successful, rich, and connected television producer or network executive that would like to turn Grudge Match into a TV show, we'd still love to talk with you. A jump into new media would without question revitalize the possibilites, and be sustainable in the long term.
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