1973 saw The World at War, a WWII documentary considered a landmark in the history of British Television.
A generation later, World at War producer Jeremy Isaacs returned to produce the Cold War documentary for CNN and BBC.
Last August, the most important documentary of our generation debuted, its final two episodes aired in early January of 2015. This documentary aired on the WWE Network. This documentary, was the Monday Night Wars. Each episode covered a particular aspect of the war. In this series I will review each episode.
The first episode is entitled “The War Begins.” It covers the events leading up to the first few months of Monday Night Nitro. It starts with the early 1980s when Vince McMahon Jr. took his father’s company and expanded it nationwide during the advent of cable television. The seeds of the McMahon/Ted Turner rivalry are explained as in these early days WWF (now called WWE) programming aired on both the USA and TBS network. TBS was owned by Ted Turner, and was the first nationwide cable network. TBS also aired wrestling programming from southern regional territories like Jim Crocket Promotions/NWA and Georgia Championship Wrestling. Ted Turner is not interviewed for this documentary, but several episodes of this series show clips of a 1998 Ted Turner interview. In this particular episode Turner is shown explaining that he didn’t like WWF programming being on the USA network as well as his own, so he canceled his deal with Vince.
Following this, in 1988, Ted Turner formally bought Jim Crocket Promotions and re christened it World Championship Wrestling, or WCW. Vince explains that Turner called him at this point saying “Hey Vince I wanna let you know I’m in the rasslin business.”
To which Vince replied that meant they were in different businesses, explaining “Well, you’re in the rasslin business…. I’m in the entertainment business.”
Explaining the eventual problems with management, WCW star Ric Flair says “The association with Ted Turner and the cable network was huge. What was bad was he just gave different parts of the company to his friends whether they had experience or not.” While Flair said this we see the clip of Robocop freeing Sting from a cage, undoubtedly one of the goofier moments in WCW history.
WCW in the early days had trouble succeeding, but by the early 90s WWF was facing hard times as well (The Gobly Gooker bit is shown). Vince felt his mega star Hulk Hogan had reached the zenith of his career, and they parted ways in 1993 while Vince started focusing on younger talent.
At the same time, a young Eric Bischoff, who was a C team announcer in WCW, put in for the job of WCW Executive Producer. Within 18 months he turned it into a profitable company. One of the changes he made was WCW started filming shows at Disney MGM studios. On the next lot over, Hulk Hogan was filming a TV show called Thunder in Paradise. Hogan says that Bischoff and Ric Flair approached him on set. At that time in his life, Hogan thought he was done with wrestling, but says they kept approaching him for five to six months before he eventually decided to wrestle again. This five to six month period is something I’d be very curious to hear more about. I’d love to follow the thought process of all those involved during this period.
From here it explains how other stars like Macho Man signed onto WCW. The documentary takes the stance that Eric Bischoff had a blank check from Ted Turner to do what he wanted. Bischoff is never given screen time to respond to that. Bischoff tells the story of the now famous meeting between him and Turner, in which Turner asks him what they have to do to compete with WWF. Not expecting the question, he answered go head to head with Vince. Not expecting Turner to agree, Ted Turner decided to start a show Monday nights on TNT, which was Turner’s flagship channel.
Apparently Eric Bischoff had 6 weeks to prepare what would be Monday Night Nitro. The first episode aired on September 4th 1995, and ended up having 2.5 million viewers. It was broadcast live from the Mall of America in Minneapolis Minnesota. One of the more memorable incidents is when Lex Luger, whose WWF contract expired literally the day before, walked onto the set of the first Nitro. This episode provides a lot of interesting details about how that came about and how his defection was kept under wraps.
The Madusa incident is also covered, where the WWF women’s champion appeared on Nitro and dumped the women’s title in the trash. However there wasn’t as much new insight into that incident. Madusa was not interviewed regarding this incident or for the documentary in general, whereas Lex Luger was.
This episode covers how Eric Bischoff gave away the already recorded events from RAW on his live Nitro program. The tone of the episode is mostly negative toward that tactic.
It ends with the WWF Nacho Man/Huckster comedy bits that make fun of Hogan, Savage, etc. Bischoff says both he and Turner thought they were funny.
While I would have liked to have seen an original interview with Ted Turner, former president of Turner Sports Harvey Schiller offers a few words of insight. Overall this first episode is very informative on the origins of this great era in wrestling. It is easily one of the best episodes of this series.