The roots of the Monday Night Wars stem from a rivalry between Vince McMahon and Ted Turner that went as far back as the 1980s, when Vince McMahon was first taking his promotion national.
Before the advent of cable television, the professional wrestling scene in the North America was made up of several small regional territories that never crossed over into one another. What would eventually become WWE was a territory based out of New York run by Vince McMahon senior. Other territories included Mid Atlantic, run by Jim Crockett, Georgia Championship wrestling by Jim Barnett, AWA in the Midwest run by Verne Gagne, and in northwestern Canada was Stampede wrestling run by Stu Hart. When Vince McMahon Jr. took over his father’s business, he took his company national, hiring talent from other regions in a move that was unprecedented, eventually turning his territory into the global giant it is today.
One of the ways McMahon reached a national audience was through cable, but he was not the only wrestling promoter on cable. Ted Turner launched TBS, the Turner Broadcasting System, which was the first super station, or the first station to be carried on all cable providers. One of the main programs on the super station was Georgia Championship Wrestling. Starting in 1971 Georgia Championship Wrestling aired from 6:05pm to 8:00pm on Saturday nights. TBS’s highest ratings were from Georgia Championship wrestling. Hence it was around this show that Turner built his cable empire. New shows would debut before and after Georgia Championship Wrestling until they built an audience and moved to another time slot. (1)
While it was a different territory, Jim Crockett and his Mid Atlantic territory out of the Carolina’s grew highly successful, and ended up supplying a lot of the talent that appeared on Georgia Championship Wrestling, and thus appearing on TBS. (2)
Georgia Championship Wrestling’s stockholders included Jim Barnett and Paul Jones, but in the early 1980s a young Vince McMahon got control of the company. This put Vince in position to air WWF programming on the TBS network. McMahon offered TBS $500,000 a year to air WWF programming. Turner agreed, and took Crockett’s wrestlers off the air.
While WWF talent appeared on TBS, Vince also had a deal to air programming on the USA network, saying “I thought that would be a great 1-2 punch straight away into the cable market.” Turner and Vince had a handshake agreement, but eventually Turner wanted out. (3)
Turner was not happy when WWF programming was airing on another network besides his own. Turner also wanted to buy a piece of the WWF but was refused. Turner went to court over this dispute, but the court ruled in favor of McMahon, who ripped up his contract in front of Ted Turner. (4) Crocket also wanted back on the air, and paid Vince 1 million dollars to get his old contract back to be on TBS. At the time Vince was planning his first Wrestemania, so basically Crocket helped pay for Wrestlemania. (5)
By 1988, Jim Crockett’s business grew very popular, but unfortunately for them acquired a lot of debt. That year Ted Turner purchased what was then called Jim Crocket promotions and re-christening it World Championship Wrestling, or WCW. At this point Turner called McMahon saying “Hey Vince I wanted to let you know I’m in the rassling business.”
To which McMahon replied “Well you’re in the rassling business…. I’m in the entertainment business. That’s two completely different philosophies.” (6)
WCW star Ric Flair ads “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.” (7) The early days of WCW saw a series of rotating bookers (people who plan out the matches) and executives; including Jim Herd, Ole Anderson, Kip Fry, wrestling legend Dusty Rhodes, the controversial Bill Watts, and Bill Shah. Under Shah’s regime, a new position for Executive Producer opened, which would eventually be filled by a young ambitious man who would change the course of wrestling history. That man, was Eric Bischoff. (8)
1 The Rise and Fall of WCW. DVD, WWE Home Video. 2009
2 Rise and Fall
3 Rise and Fall
4 McMahon. DVD, WWE Home Video 2006
5 Rise and Fall
6 The Monday Night Wars Episode One: The War Begins. WWE Network, 7/7/2014
7 The Monday Night Wars Episode One.
8 Rise and Fall