Stone Cold, HBK, and Bret Hart, WWF in the second half of 1996.

Stone Cold Steve Austin, after winning King of the Ring, was on the path to becoming the WWF’s new big star. What no one could have known was that he was about to become one of the biggest stars in the history of the business.

Steve was brought into the WWF under the Ringmaster gimmick, and was seen at the time as only a midcard talent. Steve knew the Ringmaster gimmick wasn’t getting him over, and one night he saw an HBO  documentary about a serial killer for hire nicknamed the Iceman. Richard Kulinski was notorious for putting his victims in freezers and dumping the remains a year later. After watching this documentary, Steve conceived of the idea of a cold blooded wrestler (Austin 141)  

He pitched the idea to Debbie Bonnanzio, Senior VP of WWE Creative Services, who was in charge of gimmick characterizations. The company faxed Steve several pages of possible names for his new wrestling character, including “Fang McFrost,” Ivan the Terrible”, and “Ice Dagger.” Steve himself was considering the name Iceman, but in World Class Wrestling out of Dallas there already was an Iceman King Parsons. Then one day Steve’s wife Jeannie, who is British, made a cup of coffee for her frustrated husband. She then remarked “go ahead and drink your tea before it gets stone cold.” Then inspiration hit her. “That’s your name, Stone Cold Steve Austin. (Austin 142) It was this cold blooded character that would win the 1996 King of the Ring and cut the Austin 3:16 promo.

After King of the Ring, the character continued to evolve. Steve was going bald anyway, so he decided to get a buzz-cut. He liked how Bruce Willis looked in Pulp Fiction where he was bald (Austin 147) and Woody Harrelson’s shaved head in Natural Born Killers also provided inspiration. The office saw a problem with his promos, not because they were to bad. He noticed some of his promos were being edited on TV. Vince McMahon said, “Well, Steve, your stuff is making people laugh back in the studio. We are concerned because, as a heel, we want the fans to not like you.”  

Steve responded, “Man, if you take my personality away from me, I can’t compete with anybody here. You got guys here six-ten, seven feet, three hundred and fifty poinds or whatever. But if you give me my personality, I can compete with anybody. I guarantee it.” (Austin148)

Still using million dollar dream of his former manager Ted Dibiase as a finsiher, veteran wrestler and now agent Michael Hayes suggested the stunner. (Mikey Whipwreck in ECW also used it.) Johnny Ace also did a version of it in Japan called the Ace crusher (Austin 152),  Commentator Jim Ross called it the Stone Cold Stunner, and Hayes suggested kick to gut first, as at first Steve was going straight to the stunner. (Austin 153) As for DTA, don’t trust anybody, Steve came up with that on his own.

While Austin’s star was rising, an old veteran of the business pondered where his future lay. On September 25th of 1996 Bred Hart flew to Los Angeles to voice an episode of The Simpsons. Hart’s agent, Barry Bloom knew WCW President Eric Bischoff. Before leaving, Barry told Bret that Bischoff wanted to meet him. Bret wasn’t considering making a jump, as Nash and Hall had in the spring of that year, but he hit it off when meeting Eric for the first time. They bonded over talking about gunfighters from the Old West, including Butch Cassidy who had spent time in Hart’s home of Calgary Alberta Canada. 

According to Bret Hart’s autobiography, the conversation about Bret coming to WCW went something like this

Eric asked Bret, “So what’s it going to take to bring you to WCW”

Bret replies “I would want the exact same contract as HulkHogan, plus one penny.”

Eric, surprised at his answer, said he couldn’t put anything like that together at the moment,

to which Bret said “That’s fine, I’m not really looking to go anywhere. I’m happy where I’m at.”

Eric keeps prodding though, saying “C’mom, At least give me something that I can go back to my people with. Anything.”

Bret, thinking off the top of his head, and figuring they would tell him no anyway, asked for three million and a later schedule.

Again, according to Bret’s autobiography, Bret himself was surprised when three days later he received an offer for 2.8 million. On October 3rd he talked with Vince McMahon, who told him he couldn’t match the offer (Bret 394)

Bret says, “I wasn’t asking him to match it, just to make me the best offer he could….I hated the thought of being an assassin against him and a company that I’d devoted my life to,” but, he also, quite sensibly, pointed out that “Saying no to this is like tearing up a lottery ticket.”

Vince understood, and also is quoted as saying “WCW would never know what to do with a Bret Hart.” (Hart 395)

Six days later Vince flew to Calgary to present his offer in person. During this visit Vince also approved the idea of a documentary crew following Bret Hart around backstage. This would later become the now well known wrestling documentary Wrestling With Shadows. Its origins lay in the European tour in the spring of that year, during which Hart did an interview where he spoke very honestly about his career. Film maker Paul Jay was impressed by Hart’s sincerity, and later met Hart at the Banff film festival and pitched the idea of the documentary.

Regarding staying in WWF, Hart was offered a twenty year deal for 10.5 million. It would break down to 1.5 million a year for three years as a wrestler, half a million for seven years as a senior adviser, and a quarter of a million for the remaining  ten years. Bret quotes Vince as saying “I’ll never give you a reason to want to leave.” Vince was quite happy when  Bret agreed to the deal.

(Hart 395)

One person that was not happy about the new contract was Shawn Michaels, who earlier that year signed a contract for $750,000 a year and was told that was the biggest contract WWF had. At the time, he says in his autobiography, he told Vince, “I’m just asking that you don’t pay anyone, except Undertaker, any more than you pay me. That would be an insult. Taker is seperate. What he gets he deserves, but I don’t think anyone else deserves more than me.” At the time, Vince agreed. (HBK 241)

After Bret’s deal, Vince and Shawn talked about Wrestlemania and a possible Hart/Michaels match. Learning about Bret’s deal, he now did not want to work with Hart, however, Shawn would injure his knee and not perform at Wrestlemania anyway. In his autobiography Michaels says “If Vince would have pressed me to put Bret over, I would have. I’m sure I would have made life miserable for a lot of people, but I would have done it. When push came to shove, I always did what Vince wanted. (HBK 242) 

As 1996 closed, the seeds were planted for Stone Cold Steve Austin to be one of WWF’s top stars, but not before 1997 would bring the most controversial event in professional wrestling history.

Sources used were the autobiographies for Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, and Stone Cold Steve Austin, all published by WWE. Will update with more details in the future.

WWF 1996 Post Wrestlemania to King of the Ring.

At Wrestlemania XII Shawn Michaels fulfilled his boyhood dream of winning the WWF title. However, reaching the top of the mountain brought a lot of pressure, with the rival WCW about to launch their biggest angle ever, and internal problems making it appear the WWF was losing steam. 

Among other issues facing Shawn Michaels were that two of his closest friends, and two of WWF’s biggest stars, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall, were about to go to WCW. In April of 96, Shawn and his friends were on a post Mania European tour, where one night, over dinner in Hamburg Germany, they were discussing what would be their last show together. This was a house show (a non-televised show) on May 19th. Someone threw out the idea that Shawn, Hunter Hearst Helmsley, Hall, and Nash all come out to the ring at the end of the show and say goodbye to the fans. What was initially drunk talk would have immense and unforeseen consequences for the wrestling industry. (Michaels 225)

Hall and Nash’s last televised matches were at the In Your House 7: Good Friends, Better Enemies PPV, on April 28th in Omaha Nebraska. On this night Hall/Razor Ramon lost to Vader, and Nash/Diesel lost to Shawn in a no holds barred match. During this match, “Mad Dog” Vachon, an Omaha resident known from the AWA days, was in the audience. Pat Paterson had the idea for Mad Dog’s artificial leg to be used as a weapon during the match. Nash would be the culprit, who took the artificial leg to hit his opponent. ECW was gaining steam at the time, and the WWF was trying to adapt with their first hardcore style match. Here was also the first time Michaels “loaded up”, meaning stomping his foot on the mat, before delivering his finisher, the sidekick known as Sweet Chin Music. (Shawn 226)

Just a few weeks later was the house show at Madison Square Garden. The bit about saying goodbye to the fans never came up again in conversation, but that night Hunter brought it up. Given that Hunter doesn’t drink, he was probably the only one who remembered it, and Vince gave his approval for the gesture. Shawn and Kevin again main evented the evening. After Michaels got the win, Scott and Hunter came into the ring and they all hugged and bowed to the fans. (Sean Waltman, the 1,2,3 kid, would have been there too, but he was in rehab) Wrestling fans were long aware of the predetermined nature of the business, but you never saw the wrestlers, heels and faces, acknowledge in front of an audience that they were friends. This was what they called breaking Kayfabe. No one knew it at the time, but this action was a turning point in the industry.

It wasn’t a big deal at the moment though. Backstage Vince asked Shawn, “Was that important to you.” Shawn acknowledged that it was, and Vince said “Then it’s important to me.” (Michaels p227)

It became a big deal a week later, when, in Florence, South Carolina, at the Beware of the Dog PPV, Vince called Shawn and Hunter in his office. Vince took a lot of heat from the old timers about what is now known as the Curtain Call, and informed them; “Shawn, you are the champion. I can’t punish you, but I want you to apologize to everyone. Hunter I can punish, and I have to. If I don’t punish you and show everyone that I am serious, I’ll lose credibility. You are going to have to eat this.” (Shawn p227) Hunter would job for the next year.

At that night’s PPV the power went out. Only two matches aired, and the whole event had to be repeated two nights later. Overall it was not the best night in Shawn Michaels’s career. 

In another match that night Savio Vega defeated Steve Austin in a Carribean strap match. The two had been feuding over the last few PPVs. Per stipulation that night, Austin would lose his manager, the Million Dollar Man Ted Dibiase. He would go on to the WCW, and briefly be known as the money man behind the NWO. In the meantime, Austin was now left to cut his own promos, which, in the very next PPV, would begin his great legacy in the WWF.

King of the Ring, a tournament themed PPV, was held on June 23rd in Milwaukee Wisconsin. In a non-tournament match, Ultimate Warrior defeated Jerry Lawler. Warrior had written a comic book about himself, published by Ultimate Creations. Lawler, himself an illustrated, feuded over the Warrior claiming he should have drawn this comic. King of the Ring would be Warrior’s final WWF appearance until 2014, when he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.

Originally Hunter was scheduled to win the King of the Ring Tournament, but in light of the Curtain Call, Steve Austin was now set to win. In the first round of the tournament Steve Austin beat Marc Mero, but during the match he legitimately busted his lip and had to go to the hospital to get 14 stitches. Coming back to the arena, WWF official Michael Hayes told Austin that his final opponent would be Jake the Snake Roberts, who had just cut a religious promo on him. Austin then came up with one of the most popular phrases in wrestling history. (Austin DVD)

After winning his match, Austin was interviewed by Hayes, and said “You sit there and you thump your Bible, and you say your prayers, and it didn’t get you anywhere. Talk about your Psalms, talk about John 3:16… Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your ass!”

At the next Raw, the audience was filled with Austin 3:16 signs. It was an organic phenomenon, the audience, not the office, decided that Austin was a star. Soon he would have one of the top runs ever in the business, and Shawn Michaels would soon face his replacement for the stop spot in the WWF.

Michaels, Shawn, and Feigenbaum, Aaron, Heartbreak and Triumph, The Shawn Michaels Story, Pocket Books, New York, London, Toronto, Sydney, 2005

The Legacy of Stone Cold Steve Austin DVD, WWE 2007

Iron Man: WWF 1996 to Wrestlemania

While WWF fired back via their Billionaire Ted Skits at the start of 1996, soon to be champion Shawn Michaels was nervous as two of his close friends, Kevin Nash/Diesel, and Scott Hall/Razor Ramon, were rumored to be WCW bound. Diesel was the WWF champion, but dropped the strap to Bret Hart at that previous years Survivor Series. The plan for 1996’s Wrestlemania was for Shawn Michaels to win the title against Bret Hart, in, as WWF official and former wrestler Pat Patterson proposed, a 60 minute Iron Man match (Michaels 220). In this kind of match, the two would wrestle for an hour, and whoever had the most pinfalls, submission etc at the end, would be champion. Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels were considered two of the best pure athletes in professional wrestling, and few if any other people on the roster would have been able to deliver in a match of this type.

On the road to Wrestlemania, Bret Hart retained his title at Royal Rumble against the Undertaker, via interference from Diesel. Shawn Michaels, who previously teased retirement in an injury storyline, would eliminate Diesel to win the battle royal style Rumble match, which in storyline granted Shawn a title shot at Wrestlemania.

1996’s Royal Rumble, held on January 21rst,  was also the PPV debut of Steve Austin under his Ringmaster gimmick. Fresh off his ECW run, Austin debuted on the January 8th Raw, and was awarded the Million Dollar Championship by his manager Ted Dibiase. The following week he had his first WWF match against then jobber Matt Hardy. A former wrestler known as the Million Dollar Man, Dibiase created the Million Dollar Championship for himself during his own WWF run, after several failed attempts to win the world title.

The following month was In Your House #6: Rage in the Cage, held in Louisville Kentucky on February 18th. Here Bret Hart defended his title against Diesel. This match was held in a steel cage, intended to prevent outside interference. Undertaker emerged from underneath the ring to attack Diesel, as revenge for the  Rumble match interference, leading to Hart retaining via disqualification. In the planning meeting of this match, Hart objected to having two title defenses in a row ending in interference that saved him. The story goes that Undertaker yelled at Hart saying it’s not always about you. Kevin Nash said this incident led him to seriously consider WCW’s offer to jump ship.  

Also at this PPV Shawn Michels defeated Owen Hart, who had kayfabe injured Shawn, starting Shawn’s concussion/retirement angle. Shawn put up his Wrestlemania title shot in the match.

In the Wrestlemania build up, WWF owner Vince McMahon conceived of the idea of Shawn’s victory being labeled as “The Boyhood Dream.” (Michaels 219) The WWF shot vignettes of Shawn training with his former partner Jose Lothario, and the two telling stories etc. Hart was also featured in vignettes training with his father, the legendary Stu Hart. Stu was the patriarch of the Hart family, and trained countless wrestlers in his basement, known famously as the Dungeon. 

Wrestlemania XII was held on March 31rst in Anaheim. The card included the Undertaker defeating Diesel, avenging the Rumble interference, and bringing his mania record to 5-0. 

Rowdy Roddy Piper returned to the WWF to face Goldust in a Hollywood Backlot Brawl (Piper had appeared in Hollywood films and Anaheim is close to Hollywood). While the WWF was not in its Attitude Era yet, the Goldust character pushed the envelope (as did Piper). Played by Dustin Rhodes, the son of legendary Dusty Rhodes, Goldust was an androgynous drag queen obsessed with movies and all things gold. He debuted that previous August, and starting at the Royal Rumble, was accompanied by Marlena, a sexy blonde who would watch Goldust’s matches in a directors chair while smoking cigars. She was played by Terri Runnels, who at the time was married to Dustin. In the buildup to the backlot brawl, Goldust expressed sexual attraction towards Piper, something he often did to his opponents. In an era when homosexuality was still not widely accepted, the Goldust characer pushed the buttons of the audience. Piper won the match, which included an appearance by a white Bronco, an allusion to OJ Simpson’s famous police chase. In fact, the initial idea was for Piper to wrestle O.J. Simpson himself. (Piper Born to Controversy DVD).

Also returning was the Ultimate Warrior, who beat then undefeated Hunter Hearst Helmsley in a squash match. Before being known as HHH, Hunter played the character of a New England snob. Sable made her WWF debut here, accompanying Hunter to the ring. 

Regarding the Iron Man Match, while Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels later had a real life legendary dislike of each other, at this point they got along well. When discussing the outcome of their Wrestlemania match, Shawn quotes Bret as saying “Vince spoke with me and I’m on board. I’m more than happy to do it for you. I don’t have a problem putting you over. I just want the match to be good. (Michaels 220-221) Shawn says “He then made it very clear that he was doing me a favor, and he reminded me that he had told me a few years ago that he thought I would be the guy to take his spot.” (Michael HBK) Bret knew that WCW was getting hot, but speculated that eventually Vince would come out on top. Hart felt like a loyal soldier and wanted to help, figuring that a Hart/Michael’s rivalry would be just the thing.

Specifically planning for Wrestlemania, Bret came up with a numbers system to pace their match, below five was good, eight was time to slow down, and at ten one of them would grab a hold for a breather. (Michaels 221) Shawn made a spectacular Wrestlemania entrance, flying down to the ring on a zip line. The main event would go 60 minutes without a pinfall, known in the business as a Broadway. Shawn’s idea was after the bell Bret would walk up the aisle with the belt, assuming he’d won, but on screen WWF President, and former wrestler Gorilla Monsoon, would order Bret back to the ring for over time (Michaels 222). Then Shawn Michaels would hit his signature move, Sweet Chin Music (a side kick to the jaw), for the win at one hour, one minute and fifty six seconds. Bret had the idea to not shake Shawn’s hand after the match (Hart 381), a move designed to make the perception among wrestling fans and the locker room that the two really did have animosity toward each other, planting the seeds for a return match.

In the moment though, Wrestlemania ended with Shawn Michaels as the WWF champion. The torch had been passed, and the WWF was in the dawn of a new era, but it was an era Shawn would almost face alone. 

Hart, Bret. Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling, Grand Central Publishing, New York and London, 2007.

Michaels, Shawn, and Feigenbaum, Aaron, Heartbreak and Triumph: The Shawn Michaels Story. Pocket Books, New York, London, Toronto and Sydney, 2005.

Rowdy Roddy Piper: Born to Controversy DVD. WWF 2006

Billionaire Ted Skits

New Years Day of 1996 was a Monday, and WWF started the new year by finally firing back against WCW with a series of Billionaire Ted skits, Billionaire Ted was a parody of WCW owner and media mogul Ted Turner. Featured in the skits are the Huckster, the Nacho Man, and Scheme Gene, intended to parody former WWF and then current WCW wrestler Hulk Hogan, Macho Man Randy Savage, and the interviewer/announcer Mean Gene Oakland. Throughout the whole series of skits the two wrestlers are portrayed as old, out of shape, and ridiculous, while Gene is portrayed as a conniving scam artist. 

The first sketch shows Ted in a meeting the three pardodied characters and various unnamed WCW officials (It is notable that Eric Bischoff was not parodied). Clips are shown of then current WWF superstars, with said unnamed officials asking the two WCW wrestlers if they can attempt their moves. Ironically Vince Russo is the first of those officials, who asks “You think you can pull it off Huckster?” regarding a clip of Razor Ramone, to which the Huckster answers “No way brother.”  Diesel is also featured in the sketch (Two weeks later Russo would refer to the trio as “greedy, disloyal, has beens from the 80’s”). The point being that these “old” wrestlers cannot keep up with the younger talent. The skit ends with the WWF logo and the words New Generation, with a voice over reading “On top of the hill, not over it.” 

Next week in the war room Nacho Man suggests the slogan “This is where the Big Boys Play,” a slogan which WCW did use. In an incredible irony, just a few years after their own steroid trial, WWF took a shot at WCW’s drug policy. “What if our stars have to take legitimate tests for steroids.” Nacho Man asks, Huckster responds saying not to worry about it as they are not in the WWF anymore. This skit ended with text reading “For a WWF Drug Program Advisory Sign on to America Online Tonight.” 

During the first four weeks, these skits, called “Billionaire Ted’s Wrasslin’ Warroom” would  parody not only Hogan and Savage’s age, but also Turner’s business practices, including his tendency to buy and repackage old content, such as the MGM film library through which he made the Turner Classic Movies network, and Hannah Barbera through which he made the Cartoon Network. In fact in the third week of sketches Ted bemoans his inability to buy WWF, the skit ending with the statement that the WWF New Generation is “not for sale.”

On January 29th, WWF official Michael P. Hayes said on Raw that a WCW official wrote to WWF on January 17th, threatening litigation, before introducing a new skit that would see Billionaire Ted at a Press Conference. This particular press conference skit would conclude the following week. Here Ted takes fire for undercutting WCW advertising, WCW losing money, and trying to put the WWF out of business. Turner’s then current Time Warner merger was also mentioned. Things got personal the segment brought up Ted Turner’s father, whom he had a contentious relationship with. In part one of the sketch it is announced that the Nacho Man will face the Huckster, who, via his contract with Ted, never loses. This match would air on the free show before Wrestlemania on March 31rst.  Also after part one there is a voice over from McMahon showing a rejected ad in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal criticizing Turner. An updated ad was to appear in the New York Times Financial section that following Wednesday. 

These sketches would return on February 19th with a two parter parodying Turner’s CNN show Larry King Live, Here his show is called Larry Fling live, airing on BNN, the Billionaire news network. Larry King himself was not spared from parody, shots were taken regarding his five girlfriends and four ex-wives and his massusse. The first week the guest is Billionaire Ted, Larry hits him with questions regarding Ted’s personal vendetta against the WWF, monopolistic/predatory activity, the Huckster’s salary, and WCW losses, the Federal Trade Commision investigation, and Ted’s financial advisor’s in the Warner merger being a “stock swindler”  Many of these issues apparently were covered by a Wall Street Journal report. Nacho Man calls in as Randy from Sarasota (Where Randy Savaged lived) but he called by mistake, thinking it was the number for rogaine. Terry/the Huckster calls in from Tampa/the Huckster to ask Ted for Monday off. Then Jane calls from Hanoi, which is a reference to Ted’s wife Jane Fonda, who was infamous for visiting Hanoi during the Vietnam War.

The sketch on March fourth opened, possibly due to threat of legal action, with this text; “The following satire is intended to entertain and inform. The quotes contained herein are actual quotes by the man who could control 50% of America’s cable system.” Here  Ted Turner was on Tee Vee Trivia, a game show where he played against a busty blonde named Candy. The gag was various controversial quotes were read, and the contestants had to guess who said them. Ted Turner said them all.

Scheme Gene was featuring the following week, and the bits culminated just before Wrestlemania with a mock FTC (Federal Turner Commision) hearing. This sketch was a parody of A Few Good Men, the 1992 military legal thriller starring Jack Nicholsen and Tom Cruise. Throughout all these skits, Billionaire Ted is portrayed as a hapless buffoon, but, in a scene mirroring A Few Good Men’s famous line “You can’t handle the truth” line, Ted breaks down in a rant of megalomania, saying “I determine what you watch and what you don’t watch.” Finally, he admits wanting to put the WWF out of business, a question he avoided in prior skits with reporters and Larry Fling. 

In addition to this admission, the sketch ends in a call to action for WWF fans. A statement is shown and read stating that Ted Turner will testify that month before the FTC regarding the Turner/Warner Brothers merger. Should the merger go through (as it did) Turner would control 50% or the nation’s cable outlets. Fans were urged to write to the Chairman of the Federal Trade Commision, Mr. Robert Pitofsky. His Washington address was given. I am unaware if anyone followed through on this.

The Billionaire Ted skits culminated in a Huckster vs Nacho Man match, airing for free on Wrestlemania Free for All. This aired as a pre-taped segment before an audience of elderly people, and an attractive blonde (presumably Jane Fonda) waving a Vietnamese flag. Vince McMahon and Jerry the King Lawler appear in silhouettes. This mimiced the style of the cult TV show Mystery Science Theater 3000, in which characters are seen watching notoriously bad science fiction films, and make fun of them for the audience to hear. Lawler and McMahon mercilessly mock Huckster and Savage, as well as special referee Billionaire Ted, and ringside commentator Scheme Gene. The match is brief, and the bit ends with the two wrestlers having heart attacks. Billionaire Ted is bewildered at this predicament, then a character in black appears with FTC written in white on the chest (presumably in NWO style), then Ted himself collapses to the canvas. This was the end of the Billionaire Ted sketches.

In retrospect, given the contributions Hogan and Savage made to the WWF, it is easy to understand Bret Hart when, a few years later, he was concerned Vince would bury him once he left WWF. While one might expect WWF to make fun of Hogan and Savage for their age, particular maliciousness was shown to Ted Turner. It is evident the WWF truly believed Ted Turner was trying to put them out of business. WCW executive Eric Bischoff has said that while Ted Turner was certainly competitive, Bischoff was never aware of Turner having any personal vendetta against Vince McMahon (Turner did have a very public feud with Rupert Murdoch). Eric himself was known to make boastful statements in the late 90s about the WWF going out of business, but he says in retrospect his personal goal was simply to turn WCW profitable and successful.

Either way, the gloves were off, less than 6 months into the Monday Night War WWF fired back and fired back hard. However, it would take more than comedy sketches to compete with the then red hot WCW. 

New Years Day of 1996 was a Monday, and WWF started the new year by finally firing back against WCW with a series of Billionaire Ted skits, Billionaire Ted was a parody of WCW owner and media mogul Ted Turner. Featured in the skits are the Huckster, the Nacho Man, and Scheme Gene, intended to parody former WWF and then current WCW wrestler Hulk Hogan, Macho Man Randy Savage, and the interviewer/announcer Mean Gene Oakland. Throughout the whole series of skits the two wrestlers are portrayed as old, out of shape, and ridiculous, while Gene is portrayed as a conniving scam artist.

The first sketch shows Ted in a meeting the three pardodied characters and various unnamed WCW officials (It is notable that Eric Bischoff was not parodied). Clips are shown of then current WWF superstars, with said unnamed officials asking the two WCW wrestlers if they can attempt their moves. Ironically Vince Russo is the first of those officials, who asks “You think you can pull it off Huckster?” regarding a clip of Razor Ramone, to which the Huckster answers “No way brother.” Diesel is also featured in the sketch (Two weeks later Russo would refer to the trio as “greedy, disloyal, has beens from the 80’s”). The point being that these “old” wrestlers cannot keep up with the younger talent. The skit ends with the WWF logo and the words New Generation, with a voice over reading “On top of the hill, not over it.”

Next week in the war room Nacho Man suggests the slogan “This is where the Big Boys Play,” a slogan which WCW did use. In an incredible irony, just a few years after their own steroid trial, WWF took a shot at WCW’s drug policy. “What if our stars have to take legitimate tests for steroids.” Nacho Man asks, Huckster responds saying not to worry about it as they are not in the WWF anymore. This skit ended with text reading “For a WWF Drug Program Advisory Sign on to America Online Tonight.”

During the first four weeks, these skits, called “Billionaire Ted’s Wrasslin’ Warroom” would parody not only Hogan and Savage’s age, but also Turner’s business practices, including his tendency to buy and repackage old content, such as the MGM film library through which he made the Turner Classic Movies network, and Hannah Barbera through which he made the Cartoon Network. In fact in the third week of sketches Ted bemoans his inability to buy WWF, the skit ending with the statement that the WWF New Generation is “not for sale.”

On January 29th, WWF official Michael P. Hayes said on Raw that a WCW official wrote to WWF on January 17th, threatening litigation, before introducing a new skit that would see Billionaire Ted at a Press Conference. This particular press conference skit would conclude the following week. Here Ted takes fire for undercutting WCW advertising, WCW losing money, and trying to put the WWF out of business. Turner’s then current Time Warner merger was also mentioned. Things got personal the segment brought up Ted Turner’s father, whom he had a contentious relationship with. In part one of the sketch it is announced that the Nacho Man will face the Huckster, who, via his contract with Ted, never loses. This match would air on the free show before Wrestlemania on March 31rst. Also after part one there is a voice over from McMahon showing a rejected ad in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal criticizing Turner. An updated ad was to appear in the New York Times Financial section that following Wednesday.

These sketches would return on February 19th with a two parter parodying Turner’s CNN show Larry King Live, Here his show is called Larry Fling live, airing on BNN, the Billionaire news network. Larry King himself was not spared from parody, shots were taken regarding his five girlfriends and four ex-wives and his massusse. The first week the guest is Billionaire Ted, Larry hits him with questions regarding Ted’s personal vendetta against the WWF, monopolistic/predatory activity, the Huckster’s salary, and WCW losses, the Federal Trade Commision investigation, and Ted’s financial advisor’s in the Warner merger being a “stock swindler” Many of these issues apparently were covered by a Wall Street Journal report. Nacho Man calls in as Randy from Sarasota (Where Randy Savaged lived) but he called by mistake, thinking it was the number for rogaine. Terry/the Huckster calls in from Tampa/the Huckster to ask Ted for Monday off. Then Jane calls from Hanoi, which is a reference to Ted’s wife Jane Fonda, who was infamous for visiting Hanoi during the Vietnam War.

The sketch on March fourth opened, possibly due to threat of legal action, with this text; “The following satire is intended to entertain and inform. The quotes contained herein are actual quotes by the man who could control 50% of America’s cable system.” Here Ted Turner was on Tee Vee Trivia, a game show where he played against a busty blonde named Candy. The gag was various controversial quotes were read, and the contestants had to guess who said them. Ted Turner said them all.

Scheme Gene was featuring the following week, and the bits culminated just before Wrestlemania with a mock FTC (Federal Turner Commision) hearing. This sketch was a parody of A Few Good Men, the 1992 military legal thriller starring Jack Nicholsen and Tom Cruise. Throughout all these skits, Billionaire Ted is portrayed as a hapless buffoon, but, in a scene mirroring A Few Good Men’s famous line “You can’t handle the truth” line, Ted breaks down in a rant of megalomania, saying “I determine what you watch and what you don’t watch.” Finally, he admits wanting to put the WWF out of business, a question he avoided in prior skits with reporters and Larry Fling.

In addition to this admission, the sketch ends in a call to action for WWF fans. A statement is shown and read stating that Ted Turner will testify that month before the FTC regarding the Turner/Warner Brothers merger. Should the merger go through (as it did) Turner would control 50% or the nation’s cable outlets. Fans were urged to write to the Chairman of the Federal Trade Commision, Mr. Robert Pitofsky. His Washington address was given. I am unaware if anyone followed through on this.

The Billionaire Ted skits culminated in a Huckster vs Nacho Man match, airing for free on Wrestlemania Free for All. This aired as a pre-taped segment before an audience of elderly people, and an attractive blonde (presumably Jane Fonda) waving a Vietnamese flag. Vince McMahon and Jerry the King Lawler appear in silhouettes. This mimiced the style of the cult TV show Mystery Science Theater 3000, in which characters are seen watching notoriously bad science fiction films, and make fun of them for the audience to hear. Lawler and McMahon mercilessly mock Huckster and Savage, as well as special referee Billionaire Ted, and ringside commentator Scheme Gene. The match is brief, and the bit ends with the two wrestlers having heart attacks. Billionaire Ted is bewildered at this predicament, then a character in black appears with FTC written in white on the chest (presumably in NWO style), then Ted himself collapses to the canvas. This was the end of the Billionaire Ted sketches.

 

In retrospect, given the contributions Hogan and Savage made to the WWF, it is easy to understand Bret Hart when, a few years later, he was concerned Vince would bury him once he left WWF. While one might expect WWF to make fun of Hogan and Savage for their age, particular maliciousness was shown to Ted Turner. It is evident the WWF truly believed Ted Turner was trying to put them out of business. WCW executive Eric Bischoff has said that while Ted Turner was certainly competitive, Bischoff was never aware of Turner having any personal vendetta against Vince McMahon (Turner did have a very public feud with Rupert Murdoch). Eric himself was known to make boastful statements in the late 90s about the WWF going out of business, but he says in retrospect his personal goal was simply to turn WCW profitable and successful.

Either way, the gloves were off, less than 6 months into the Monday Night War WWF fired back and fired back hard. However, it would take more than comedy sketches to compete with the then red hot WCW.

A Billionaire Ted Playlist can be seen here.