WWE hall of famer “Rowdy” Roddy Piper turned to “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan, and with a regretful expression on his face asked, “A little stiff, huh?”
In the 1980s, this line might have been muttered in the corner during some tag-team match in Altoona, Pa., the term “stiff” referring to nailing someone for real within the staged combat of pro wrestling.
But this time, Piper and Duggan were conversing between bites of salad at Smith and Wollensky steakhouse in Manhattan Tuesday while watching a sneak preview of the new WWE Network series “Legends’ House” with media members. The series premieres Thursday at 8 p.m.
During the debut, eight WWE legends -- Piper and Duggan are joined by Tony Atlas, “Mean” Gene Okerlund, Pat Patterson, Hillbilly Jim, Jimmy Hart and Howard Finkel -- meet up at a house in Palm Springs, Calif., for weeks of “Real World”-style bonding. To stir the pot early in the proceedings, the cast is summoned outside by a gong and is surprised to find Hollywood star-turned-troubled soul Gary Busey offering a healing meditation session.
The next shot on the preview is Piper recalling the introduction in a one-on-one interview, wondering why Busey was there. Piper quipped whether Busey was there to teach them how to ride motorcycles, a reference to the 1988 accident that left Busey critically injured.
That line prompted Piper’s lunch-table lament to Duggan, and the “Hot Rod” looked down toward his plate more than once until the preview was finally over. The shock of seeing recorded thoughts and actions you’d like to take back is exacerbated a bit in this case. The show was shot early in 2012, and sat for two years while WWE Network was looking for a home, eventually settling on an Internet-based subscription service.
The cast had not seen the full episode until viewing it with the press Tuesday, and didn’t know who their castmates were going to be until they got to the mansion formerly owned by Harpo Marx.
“First thing, I’m uncomfortable,” Piper admitted seconds after the viewing when asked his immediate reaction. “There are some things I forgot -- [grimaces] -- uncomfortable.”
The episode ends with Piper wandering through the desert in his bathrobe, unable to deal with the surroundings and uncomfortable having a roommate -- Duggan.
While this may seem like classic reality show melodrama, it fits with Piper’s past. He left home at 13, entered the ring for the first time at 15 and is an admitted loner.
“I’m in the desert, and I realize, ‘Where the hell am I going to go?’ I thought maybe I could grab a car, hitchhike,” Piper said. “I’m in my bathrobe. [I didn’t know what] my line of baloney would have been. I cleared the house, and I’m in the desert -- snakes, scorpions. I hate snakes. Big full moon. It’s true. Full moons, I don’t know why, something about a full moon. I just don’t want them to exploit the guys. I didn’t know they were going to…”
Piper’s train of thought wanders like he did in that desert as he starts to talk about the show’s more lighthearted moments. He hopes “Legends’ House” doesn’t go any deeper than the desert scene, and even used the word “humiliating” in describing being captured that way. But in this world of largely staged reality, he said another word came to mind.
“I think it’s very authentic,” Piper said. “Like nobody there is trying to pretend ‘I’m this,’ or ‘I gotta live up to this.’ Everybody in there has been around long enough, they’re just kind of being themselves, like we are here. Nobody’s putting up any airs.”
Even sincerity has its problems in reality land. Heat became apparent in the first episode between Duggan and Atlas, problems that Duggan said Tuesday resulted in some near real-life fights. In the first episode, Duggan and Atlas sparred verbally during the cast’s post-meditation sit-down with Busey over priorities of counseling troubled youth versus taking care of one’s own kids.
At one point at lunch Tuesday, Piper held up his glass Coke bottle, simulating the Tabasco bottle that he said was almost part of a later Atlas-Duggan brawl.
“At one point, I went to the producer and said, ‘Listen, if one of us gets into it, who’s gonna stop it?’ Because nobody’s else is going to jump in from our band,” Piper said, talking about pro wrestling protocol not to jump into a backstage fight between two guys with issues. “... We’re not ‘Jersey Shore,’ for sure we’ll go. You don’t want to push that button too much.”
Before the viewing Duggan, unprompted, confirmed the rift that took place with Atlas. But he also spoke of how the experience brought him together with Piper. Piper said during the post-screening chat that he and Duggan created a “Mason-Dixon line,” in Piper’s words, using white tape to cut the room in half. Piper said he needed the separation since he’s “not a roommate kind of guy,” but in the end a good friendship developed. Duggan said the pair’s families now are close.
“I think that’s very unique in our business,” Duggan said. “High divorce rate, high drug and alcoholism rate, high death rate. It’s tough to find another family guy, and we hit it off.”
Teasers for Thursday’s episode
* Differences aside, the cast bonded over -- a blender. The pesky appliance forced an expletive out of Piper on the show. While watching the episode in the restaurant Atlas shouted out, “How many wrestlers does it take to turn on a blender?”
“Eight of them,” Hillbilly Jim shot back to laughs.
* If you’re a fan of “Where’s Waldo?” try to count how many times Atlas is shown in the first episode without food in his hands.
* See how a cabbage roll dinner idea ended up with Atlas having to perform physical therapy on Patterson.
* Finkel’s bilingual skills get tested when the cast heads out with desserts as a welcome to the neighborhood. When his Spanish gets him denied entry from a housekeeper, Duggan quipped, “Smart move, lady” from his seat at lunch.
* The old-school crowd will enjoy watching Hart talking about Finkel giving him a call to come to New York to work for Vince McMahon -- while Hart was heavily involved in the Jerry Lawler-Andy Kaufman feud in Memphis.
* Piper admitted he was surprised to see ring announcer Finkel and interviewer Okerlund there, thinking that “Legends” meant actual performers. But he said Tuesday at lunch that he never knew how much Finkel did for the company behind the scenes before getting to spend some time with him.