Spoiler warning for the Season 1 finale of Viceland's Dark Side of the Ring.
Dark Side of the Ring has legitimately delivered some of the most engaging episodes of unscripted TV so far in 2019, digging into pro wrestling's dark and unbridled past. For its Season 1 finale, the Viceland docu-series focused on the legendary and semi-tarnished career of Mary "The Fabulous Moolah" Ellison. More specifically, on the various alleged abuses that Moolah reportedly took part in through years at various training facilities, such as drugging and pimping out the women in her wrestling stable.
While other Dark Side of the Ring episodes focused on mysterious deaths, and how wrestling storylines negatively affect real-world relationships, "The Fabulous Moolah" depicted how absolute power can corrupt absolutely. At least, depending on who you listen to. I got to listen to Dark Side of the Ring executive producer Evan Husney explain why the creative team chose The Fabulous Moolah for one of the Season 1 stories.
First bringing up the WWE's decision in early 2018 to hold the Fabulous Moolah Battle Royal for WrestleMania 34, Evan Husney said:
Shortly after they announced that, tons of fans and people online and other stories began to surface around the Fabulous Moolah's history and her legacy. And most of them were negative, obviously, coming out of the Me Too movement a little bit, and looking at a time in our culture when we're reexamining legacies, and having the conversation of separating art from artists, and those type of things. That, to us, was kind of interesting to have in the wrestling space, in that it was a very topical approach to looking at the Fabulous Moolah. Because there are so many perspectives on it, it began to look like it would fit all the criteria we had for an episode of this show.
Unlike quite a few other topical TV programs of this nature, Dark Side of the Ring's mission wasn't to "cancel" Moolah from the jump. This is one of those situations where there are too many people making accusations to dismiss anything, but also too many people defending Moolah to dismiss that side.
The episode definitely covered both corners, so to speak. On one side, there were accusers such as the children of Sweet Georgia Brown, the first black professional female wrestler, and the former pro champ Wendy Richter. On the flip side, there were defenders such as the Fabulous Moolah's daughter, and wrestlers such as Selina Majors, not to mention the "Fight For Moolah" founder Nigel Sherrod.
Here, Evan Husney talks about taking the Fabulous Moolah's story on in as unbiased a way as possible.
So what we wanted to do was speak to as many people as we could that were sort of on the 'defending Moolah's legacy' side, and then those who have other stories that are maybe even more complicated, and maybe it's not so binary. I'm not trying to say that's what our aim was, because it wasn't, but that's kind of what the result of the piece is, is that it's not so binary. It's not so one or the other; it's very complicated. That's the only way I can describe her legacy, seemingly, from the stories that we've heard.
These situations are always complicated, when someone's personal behavior overshadows the more positive influences he or she has had on a grand scale. Her importance was another factor in why the Dark Side of the Ring crew wanted to bring Moolah's story to the masses.
She's had such a huge impact on women's wrestling, which is now – thankfully and finally, in the year 2019 – really taking off and becoming something that, in my opinion, is far more interesting than men's wrestling has been in several years. So I think it's very fascinating to see the history of that, and where it was, and really who she was as a person.
Scandal-focused documentary projects like this have a way of creating waves within the zeitgeist at large. HBO's Leaving Neverland, for instance, caused a lot of people to re-look at Michael Jackson's history, though that project was highly criticized for only taking the perspective of the alleged victims. The same could be said for Lifetime's R. Kelly docu-series that put a spotlight on the many accusations that have been aimed at the R&B singer over the years.
During my talk with Evan Husney, I asked what kinds of sparks and reactions he thought the episode might get.
You know, I'm not sure. I think some of these stories have definitely been out there before, in terms of the Fabulous Moolah. So I think it's most likely just going to restart another conversation. You know, more people who are on one side of the fence or the other are probably going to be contributing more experiences and opinions, and that's probably the best thing that can happen, you know? Just more conversation around these sorts of things. Because it is a complicated thing when you are talking about legacies and those types of things, and especially how times now are so different than they were in the '60s and '70s. So I think as far as the reactions to the episode go, I think it's probably gonna spark some new debate around her legacy, but as far as I'm concerned, I don't necessarily have a strong opinion myself in terms of what should happen afterward. Or even where I stand. It is a complicated history, and it's gonna be tough to really, truly know. We can only kinda go on the word of a lot of these people's perspectives.
Expanding the scope out from The Fabulous Moolah, one of the biggest Dark Side inspirations for Evan Husney and director Jason Eisener, among others, is the proliferation of "shoot" videos on the Internet these days. For those unfamiliar. these videos typically feature big-named wrestlers speaking candidly and unabashedly about many a topic.
Below, Husney explains why those videos sparked the move to create Dark Side of the Ring.
These guys are telling these incredible stories that are almost borderline unbelievable. It's so crazy, like the wildest rock 'n' roll road story meeting the most harrowing human tragedy. . . . Most of the time when you watch them, everybody's got a very strong opinion and strong perspective, and they oftentimes conflict with each other. And sometimes when they do conflict with each other, it becomes newsworthy in the wrestling industry. So that was something that we wanted to kind of recreate, and put that into the show as many times as we could, because a lot of these stories happened several decades ago, and they get kind of lost in translation in the blurred-lines world of wrestling. . . . Namely, how these people interact with each other, and how people remember stories, and how people take credit for stories, and how they revise history, and those types of things are all aspects of this universe, and that's something that we kind of wanted to present, but also to kind of leave open. For fans and viewers to chew on and put the pieces together. I think it's much more interesting when you're watching something, and there is that participation.
Indeed, each Dark Side of the Ring episode invited viewers to come to their own conclusions about such topics as Bruiser Brody's death, Macho Man and Miss Elizabeth's love, and the Von Erich family "curse." And it's likely that many would have different ideas about what it all meant, which speaks to the show's largely unbiased approach.
Though Dark Side of the Ring may be technically finished with Season 1, Viceland has more goodies for fans to enjoy. On Wednesday, May 22, the network will be airing the new docu-series The Wrestlers, which will sidestep the WWE's glitz to spotlight various wrestling communities around the world. Also on that night, Viceland will air extended episodes of Dark Side of the Ring, with deleted segments added back in for even more engrossing goodness. Be sure to tune in!