Does anyone else remember Thunderdome, the shitty TNN show that came on after wrestling in the early 2000s?
It was a fake league of ATV and motorcycle races with predetermined winners and losers. The drivers had paintball guns they pretended to shoot at each other with bad sound effects, and I def remember at least one incredibly fake explosion (one driver bumped another off the track into a barn, triggering a fast cut to a model barn exploding as if it was storing WMDs).
The drivers had wrestling-like characters and would cut unbearable backyard wrestling-style promos against each other. Their mic skills made Scott Steiner look like Edgar Allen Poe.
But here’s the thing: There is no official record of this show ever existing. The best you can find is a few forum posts from the early 2000s where people talk about how bad it was. But there are no pictures, no tv listings, no footage — nothing. Not even an IMDb page for best boy or grip. The show is a ghost.
But I know I saw it.
I know I saw a yearly Thunderdome scoreboard with some straight up asinine numbers on it. I remember the top Thunderdome driver was earning something like $79 million on the year, and each episode had millions and millions of obviously fake dollars changing hands per race. I was a 12-year-old wrestling fan who thought I was going to grow up to just naturally be as buff as Scott Steiner, and even I couldn’t buy into this show’s bullshit.
But as I grew up the absurdity of the show stuck in my mind. And when the quick little Google search which normally gives me any information I could ever want yielded no results, I wasn’t able to let it rest. I needed to know: What the hell did I watch? And what happened to it?
So maybe twice a year I take a deep breath and go on a deep dive for my beloved Thunderdome. “I’ll use a different browser,” I think. “I’ll post on Reddit,” I think. “I’ll see if anyone on Twitter remembers.” Nothing has worked. The cornyness of Thunderdome.com got my hopes up but turned out to be the homepage for a gabber rave thing in Germany.
One of the only traces of Thunderdome’s broadcast I can ever find is a particularly dorky internet user/narc trying to organize a campaign against the show because it will “ruin the reputation” of paintball, on the forum PB Nation:
I can not believe what I just saw on TV!!!!
TNN has a show call Thunderdome. It caught my attention while channel surfing because a whacked out looking camo wearing wrestler-want-to-be was brandishing a m98 with CO2 while yapping at an interviewer. No there was not a barrel plug.
The next scene is a similar interview with his opponent. In this segment, the 2nd member of this opposing team actually shoots the interviewer on camera in the back from about 20-30 ft. No one pictured has a mask on. I’m freaking at this point but it gets worse!!!
The competition is of the two 2 person teams riding dirt bikes with side cars around an off road arena course while shooting each other. Not one of the course workers, commentators, audience, or players has an approved mask. Oh it gets worse still…
They wail around this course ripping paint at each other and one of the drivers appears to have his motorcycle helmet shield up!
Unbelievably… there is yet another level of stupidity…..
In the closing interview, the winning team shoots the unprotected interviewer AGAIN!
I’ve never seen this show before and don’t know if this is a regular debasement of paintball or just a onetime Monstrous act of reckless endangerment.
Someone help me find an email addy for TNN. I am completely shocked that I saw this.
FOUND IT! http://www.thenewtnn.com/mail_form.jhtml
You know what to do but be nice yet firm.
Was this the death of my dearest Thunderdome? Was it Scorch and his band of paintball-wielding proto-incels who brought the worst show in television history to a close via their narc-ass letter writing campaign?
Here’s the thing though: If Thunderdome aired on TNN only to be brought down by a band of pre-pubescent kids trying to convince their moms paintball is safe enough to be a Christmas present this year, there would still be some sort of trailer, promo material, or even schedule of the program before it was cancelled. But there just isn’t. At least not available for the general public.
I needed to find out more, so I sent letters to representatives at The Paramount Network (who took over TNN).
In any good mystery, there is an artist rendering of the potential suspect to help members of the public (in this case Paramount executives) notify detectives (in this case me) if they’ve seen anything like it. My Thunderdome search had been a cold case for 15+ years, so I thought maybe some sketches would help jar people’s memories. That’s why I sent this artist rendering to Paramount’s Vice President Debra Fazio-Rutt with the subject line: “Urgent! Is Thunderdome a Real Show?”
No response. What was she hiding?
Next up was Vice President Shana Tepper, Senior Managers Nicole Platt and Haley Mason, and department assistant Siena Escobar, who received an explanation of my quest and this artist rendering of the deadly barn explosion which once aired on their channel:
“Both Deb and I worked at TNN in 2002 and have never heard of the show,” Shana Tepper wrote back. She apologized for not being able to help more and (likely) crossed her fingers that I would stop emailing my suspect sketches to so many people in her department.
Had I uncovered a corrupt circle of silence? A PR Icewall? Are these the people who scrubbed all traces of Thunderdome off the internet? Was it out of embarrassment for greenlighting it in the first place, or just to cow-tow to the all-powerful paintball lobby? Either way, I decided it was time to do my own research.
I headed to The Wayback Machine, an internet archive, cross referencing the date of the corresponding forum post to find a historical snapshot of TNN’s website the month Thunderdome aired. I looked at the network schedule for every month I could. Thunderdome wasn’t listed.
How high does this thing go? Are the people at Wayback Machine involved? Who can I trust? Were the workers who made Thunderdome killed, much like the common myth about the Taj Mahal, such that its greatness could never be replicated again?
The one lead I did get via the Wayback Machine was that TNN’s schedule had large chunks of “paid programming” during late night hours. Could it be that Thunderdome was actually an infomercial? Some bizarre idea a mad genius came up with, pitched around town, and had every single person say no, so he bought the time and put it on the TV himself?
That would explain why there is no evidence or marketing materials for Thunderdome on TNN’s website. Or why there isn’t an IMDb history. But it does nothing to bring my quest to a fulfilling end. In fact, it only makes it so much more interesting to me. Because who THE FUCK made this thing and then paid for it to be on TV? And how much money did they burn doing that?
I needed to find out more. So I went into the archives of TV Guide magazine, thinking that perhaps paid programming would be tracked in some way. I found the cover of the TV Guide the month Thunderdome aired, but the full contents of the magazine were never digitized. So I tracked down the editors of TV Guide magazine and sent them a detailed explanation of what I was looking for, as well as this artist rendering of one of the drivers cutting a promo:
One thing about Thunderdome ― and maybe the reason it was burned into my still-forming brain ― was a much-hyped segment called … “The Women of Thunderdome.”
The Women of Thunderdome were actually (as far as I can remember) just a single woman sitting by a pool waterfall in a bikini. But there was softcore porn music and slowmo shots going up and down her body, giving extra attention to her very fake titties. (I believe fake tits were mandatory for any programming aimed at young boys when I was growing up, which I’m sure did wonders for my psyche). It was kinda like a Girls Gone Wild commercial vibe, where I’d watch just praying for a nipslip or editing mishap. Ya know, just 90s kid stuff. All of this is information I tried to convey in the artist rendering I sent to the National Infomercial Marketing Association, hoping they may have a log of infomercials that aired in 2002 on TNN.
That’s when I got a bounceback email notifying me that Electronic Retailing Association, which had taken over the infomercial association, had decided to officially close up shop in June 2018. I was heartbroken, dejected, and feeling like I had failed my friends and family who needed to know about Thunderdome.
Until I stumbled on the biggest lead in the case so far.
I had previously searched many TV database sites. But one, TV Tango, searches multiple databases and then puts all the results on one page. And Thunderdome had a hit.
This mostly blank search result is actually the biggest piece of evidence that this show existed. The premiere date, network, genre, concept, subject matter, tags, thumbnail image, and episode descriptions have all been scrubbed (by who?? #InvestigateThunderdome). But down near the bottom we have the biggest, most promising lead in the history of my quest.
According to TV Tango, Thunderdome was a live action series either produced or distributed by Associated Television International.
Knowing the name of any entity related to the creation of Thunderdome is huge. None of my prior efforts had ever gotten this far. Associated Television International could be the key to this whole thing. Unfortunately their website and Wikipedia show no evidence of Thunderdome, even though it lists other TV shows created around that time.
Luckily, ATI has been in business for over 30 years, and its owners and affiliated companies have been producing and distributing television series, specials, feature films, radio programs, books and music since 1967. And according to its website, “ATI’s vaults are filled with original television programming produced entirely by ATI including over 1000 hours of documentary and special interest programming, (nature documentary, biography, travel shows, wildlife documentary, music specials, investigative journalism documentary and more).”
Using the Wayback Machine I was able to scour ATI’s website in the early 2000s and pull the following promotional text, solidifying the existence of my beautiful, beloved Thunderdome:
Thunderdome is “NASCAR with attitude”. In this exclusive pay-per-view event you will see Extreme stylized cars, Extreme events, Extremebattles, and Extreme Women!. Thunderdome is the premiere extreme motor sports event. Our warriors will compete in combat and racing events titled “Circle Of Fear”, “Triple X”, and “Nitro Lift”, to name just a few. These events will determine who will become the Thunderdome “ Champion”. In Thunderdome, anything goes and usually does.
Holy shit I have found it. The proof Thunderdome existed. PPV is surprising, but makes sense. I must have seen an infomercial advertising the PPV on TNN’s paid programming block. Or maybe they had a regular show on TNN and special events as PPV?
The quote was next to a broken image and broken “watch trailer [dial up] [broadband],” and “see our media kit” links.
I tracked down the owners of ATI and several people employed there. They did not immediately return my calls, so I sent them a detailed description of the show and asked if they could dig into that vault of theirs and pull out Thunderdome tapes and materials for me. I also sent along this artist rendering of the bullshit scoreboard that flashed after Thunderdome matches.
Now we wait. And hopefully after some tense but productive meetings with the ATI guys, I can successfully negotiate a transfer of all promotional materials related to Thunderdome from the vault to the internet, where they belong.
Worst case, I have the address of the vault. Stay tuned.
If you have any leads related to Thunderdome, please contact Matt at @MattSaincome on Twitter or [email protected]mes.net.