We all know it's fake, but this special shares the secrets behind the capes

On Nov. 1, America will be shocked, shocked! That’s the fateful day on which NBC will air Exposed: Pro Wrestling’s Greatest Secrets. Wait. You mean, those guys aren’t actually head-slammingly, body-thumpingly mad at each other? Next they’ll be telling us Pamela Anderson Lee’s boobs are fake! Or that Marv Albert’s hair’s not his own! Is nothing sacred?

Okay, so the special’s not on a par with the Pentagon Papers. But at the very least, its existence does shed some light on network-think. Last season, Fox scored entrancing ratings with its controversial Breaking the Magician’s Code specials. So NBC — mindful of wrestling’s jaw-dropping popularity (in one recent week 6 of the top 10 cable shows featured grapplers) — hired the Code producers to alienate the thick-necked pile-driving set.

Though it probably won’t be as titillating as finding out what’s up David Copperfield’s sleeve, this expose does offer a few noteworthy tidbits: Some of the ringside wrestling fans may actually be in on the stunts (chances are that trash-talking old lady isn’t just a peeved bystander). And allegedly some of the refs help dictate the action with well-timed signals. The special will also show how the wrestlers cushion themselves during your average over-the-back suplex. ”We’re going to bring you into the elaborate choreography that goes on behind the scenes,” promises producer Don Weiner. ”The managers, the promoters, the girlfriends, the referees, the props of the trade.”

Weiner secured the cooperation of eight enormous masked wrestlers. These guys aren’t Hulk Hogan or Stone Cold Steve Austin caliber, but all claim to be respected current or former pros. And how’s this for Mike McCurry-worthy spin: The grapplers say they’re collaborating for the love of the sport. ”We’re showing wrestling in a positive light,” says the pseudonymous Brash Knuckles, a blue-haired behemoth in Mad Max getup. ”We want to show that wrestling is a highly skilled sport — a combination of acting, acrobatics, and athletics. The stunts require split-second timing.” In other words, don’t try this at home.

Another walking muscle mound called Private Pain — he wears camouflage and green face paint — is even more militant. ”I’m sick of people saying ‘Oh, yeah, that stuff’s fake,”’ snaps Pain. ”Who cares? When was the last time you saw Bruce Willis go out and shoot 100 terrorists? But he still makes very good movies.”

The Private is especially irked by the recent spate of publicity stunts in which celebs have climbed into the ring. ”I can’t do any more harm [to the sport] than Jay Leno wrestling Hulk Hogan,” he says, claiming that the ”overweight comedian” cheapened his profession. ”People see wrestling as something anybody could do, and they’re reinforcing that.”

That line of reasoning isn’t going over particularly well with everyone in the headlock crowd. Not only do the NBC wrestlers risk unemployment if their identities are revealed, but the show’s producer claims there have been threats against some of the people involved in the special. Indeed, during the show’s taping, a crew member told EW’s photographer he couldn’t snap photos of the unmasked grapplers — for everybody’s safety, including his own.