The Origin of WCW Monday Nitro

It is important to look at the early days of WCW to see how Nitro got started. Eric Bischoff was a third string announcer for the company who ended up getting the Executive Producer position because upper management wanted someone to run WCW that wasn’t a “wrestling guy.”

WCW was known for hiring ex-WWF wrestlers, though it should be noted that one of the first things they did was hire Mean Gene Oakerland and Bobby “The Brain” Heenan. Ric Flair suggested these announcers get hired first so they could help make stars in WCW. (Flair 226)

One of the first things Bischoff did was move the TV tapings to Disney MGM studios in Orlando Florida. WCW hadn’t been making money running live events, and now they were in a position where Disney was paying them to produce television and was supplying a fresh audience as people toured the various studios where TV shows were being filmed.

One of those shows being filmed was Thunder in Paradise, starring Hulk Hogan. Hogan had left the WWF in the early 90s, and at that point in his life honestly thought he was done with wrestling. While still in the WWF, Hogan was approached by the producers of Baywatch, Doug Schwartz and Greg Bonann, to do a pilot about two ex Navy seals that ride around in a boat fighting crime. It was not picked up as a series right away, but eventually Rysher Entertainment, the company that produced Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, got the show a syndication deal about a year and a half after the pilot was shot, with Hogan as executive producer. (Hogan 225)

Thunder in Paradise was shot on sound stage A, where three thousand people an hour went through the glass walkway on the studio tour. (229) Later, WCW filmed on sound stage B, but the way the tour was set up, people saw B before A. So basically everyone watched the WCW wrestling show, then saw Hogan filming Knight Rider on a boat and wondered why he wasn’t wrestling.

Bischoff got the idea to see if Hogan would be interested in wrestling again. Since Ric Flair knew Hulk previously, Bischoff asked Flair if he would talk to Hogan. (Flair 232) One day Flair approached Hogan on the set of Thunder in Paradise. Both Bischoff and Flair went back to the set several times to meet Hogan.

Hogan was reluctant at first, but he missed wrestling, and there were backstage events for the Thunder in Paradise show that were a factor as well. Keith Samples from Rysher Entertainment did not like some of the deals being made regarding the show, and wanted to bring a producer from Robocop in. However, Hogan was asked to take full responsibility for the show as well. By this point Hogan had enough, saying “The hell with it, pull the plug I don’t care.” (Hogan, 231, 232).

Before signing on Hogan wanted to meet with Ted Turner himself. He met Turner and Bill Shaw, the president of WCW. Hogan’s WCW contract gave him over half of his merchandise sales,though WCW didn’t have much of a merchandise machine at that point) (Hogan 238) and 25% of the Pay Per View revenue. (Flair 233).

Hogan was immediately put into a feud with WCW Champion Ric Flair. Flair had briefly been the WWF a few years prior, and one of wrestling’s great mysteries is why a Hogan/Flair match never happened at Wrestlemania. That dream match finally happened at Bash at the Beach in 1994, where Hogan became the new WCW champion. Flair had long been the face of WCW, as Hogan was the face of the WWF. Bischoff says “In a way-and in retrospect, because I didn’t think of it this way at the time-we were creating a war between the two brands.” (EB 119) He ads “We weren’t looking for a confrontation with Vince, although some people thought we were. Admittedly, some of our statements made it look that way.” (EB 119) Around this time he and Bill Shaw were interviewed by the Miami Herald and both said they dreamt of beating Titan in the wrestling industry. The Herald quoted Bischoff as saying “The biggest challenge we have ahead of us is making people realize we do have a better product. I think the consensus is we are better. But not enough people know that” (EB 119)

Much criticism has been levied to Bischoff over the years about giving Hogan creative control in his contract. In his book, Bischoff says it was the first time WCW spelled it out in the contract, and he reasoned that Hogan was an established brand, the biggest name in wrestling, he wasn’t going to “throw him into the lion’s den to be shredded up by a bunch of insecure people with their own agendas.” (EB 122) He quotes Hogan himself as saying “They’re going to look at Hulk Hogan as the guy who’s going to come in and have too much control over their lives, and they’re going to do everything they can to make that unsuccessful. The only way I’m making this move is with creative control. So if the situation is not comfortable for me, I won’t have to do it.” (EB 122) Also, it is important to remember that WCW was not a strong brand at the time. Hogan feared that if WCW crashed and burned, that the Hulk Hogan character would go down with it. (EB 120)

The next big hire was Macho Man Randy Savage. Macho Man had been an announcer for the WWF, as they were beginning to go with younger in ring talent. Still feeling he had a lot to offer, he had meetings with Bischoff and Flair. Later, Bill Shah asked if Savage was worth half a million dollars and Flair agreed that he was. (Flair 245) Savage would debut on December 4th, 1994, on WCW Saturday Night.

In early 1995 WCW went through some company restructuring, and Bill Shah was out of the company, Eric Bischoff became president of WCW, and now reported to Harvey Schiller, the head of Turner Sports. (EB 146-147)

Eric Bischoff’s goal was to simply turn a profit. In fact he made a bet with Harry Anderson, who worked on the financial side of Turner, that he could make WCW turn a profit. The deal was if he did, Anderson would get on his hands and knees and give him one dollar in front of WCW employees. (EB 148)

One idea he had to make a profit was to sell their TV footage overseas. Now that they had big stars like Hogan and Macho Man that were recognizable in Europe and Asia this was a good opportunity. Star TV in China was paying top dollar for footage at the time. The problem for Eric was Rupert Murdoch owned Star TV, and famously didn’t get along with Ted Turner. (EB 149) This led to the now infamous meeting between Bischoff and Turner.

At the meeting was Bischoff, Ted Turner, Scott Sassa, who oversaw Turner’s TV networks, and Harvey Schiller. Eric did his presentation on the Star TV deal, and just a few short minutes in Turner interrupted. “Uh, Eric, What do we need to do to become competitive with Vince.”

Eric was prepared to answer every possible question about the Star TV deal, but was not ready for this. Thinking off the top of his head he simply said “Well, Ted, I think we need to have prime time.”

Ted Turner then looked at Scott Sassa and said “Scott, I want you to give Eric two hours every Monday Night on TNT.” He then asked how soon the show could be ready. Eric said perhaps by August, Turner agreed. What was soon to be called Monday Night Nitro would debut on September 4th, 1995, and the Monday Night Wars began. (EB 150 151)

Bischoff, Eric with Roberts, Jeremy “Controversy Creates Cash” Simon and Schuster 2006

Flair, Ric with Greenberg, Kieth Elliot “Ric Flair, To Be The Man” Simon and Schuster 2004

Hogan, Hulk, with Friedman, Michael Jan, “Hollywood Hulk Hogan” Simon and Schuster 2002

Eric Bischoff: Sports Entertainment’s Most Controversial Figure DVD Review

This year the WWE released a 3 DVD set about Eric Bischoff, the former head of World Championship Wrestling, who kick started the Monday Night Wars and changed the business of professional wrestling. The first disc features a new documentary about his life.

Interestingly enough the documentary opens with a series of clips from previous WWE documentaries/specials etc where various people charge Eric Bischoff with being egotistical, conducting un-ethical business practices, and in particular, Mean Gene Oakerland’s charge that he gave everyone in WCW creative control in their contracts.

From here it goes into his life story, his early upbringing in Detroit, where his brother tells of all the fights Eric got into, before moving onto Pittsburgh and Minneapolis. Much of Eric’s life story is probably familiar to wrestling fans, especially those who read his autobiography “Controversy Creates Cash.” One nice touch this documentary offers is seeing the actual commercial of the Ninja Star Wars game he developed with Sonny Ono, which ran on a regional wrestling TV show, and was pretty much Eric’s entry into the wrestling business. Disc 2 of this set also has a segment from one of the wrestling programs promoting Ninja Star Wars.

Also shown is his infamous 1990 audition for an announcing job at WWF. At this point in his life he’d fallen on hard times financially, and when auditioning for the WWF he was asked to sell a broom. Needless to say he didn’t get the job, but admits now he knows he wasn’t ready for it.

Taking a break from his past the next segment is about his Cody Buffalo Beer, his brand of beer he personally started just a few years ago based out of Wyoming, which is where he now lives.

Back to his past he discusses his philosophy of TV which he calls SARSA, for Story, Aniticipation, Reality, Surprise, and Action. His subsequent rise to head of WCW and creation of Nitro is covered, again much of which is probably familiar to wrestling fans. Footage of the early Disney MGM shows is shown.

The montage of clips criticizing Bischoff is repeated, and Eric takes a moment to acknowledge these, particularly Mean Gene’s charge that he gave everyone creative control. Eric says the only person who had creative control was Hogan, and, as documented elsewhere, the only time Hogan used that clause in his contract was during the infamous incident with Jeff Jarrett Bash at the Beach in 2000. He says Goldberg’s contract might have had language that sounded similar to creative control, and a small handful of other contracts might have had similar language, but Eric challenges his critics to find another wrestler’s contract that specifically says they had creative control.

One frequent criticism of World Championship Wrestling was that, except Goldberg and the Giant (now known as Big Show) they didn’t develop new stars. Eric acknowledges at the time he wasn’t thinking about the long game. At the time he had so many big stars like Hogan, Savage etc, and his job in 1995 was to make WCW/Nitro big at that present time, so he simply wasn’t thinking about new stars yet.

Another criticism often brought up was the use of Jay Leno, but he says Leno himself had the idea to be in WCW programming, and it certainly did lead to mainstream media exposure.

Some interesting insights are offered into the Tuner cultural climate that led to WCW’s downfall, including some things I don’t recall hearing before. Harvey Schiller is quoted as saying “It was clear that there was more interest on the part of the individuals that were presidents of the cable networks TBS and TNT to put more Hollywood type things as opposed to the wrestling side and one of the reasons was although wrestling was driving the major ratings it wasn’t driving profitability. So one was against the other. That may seem strange but advertisers began to shy away from the wrestling side.”

This is followed by Bischoff explaining how ABC network took out a full page ad in the Wall Street Journal (which is shown here) during the up fronts, when networks pitch new shows to advertisers. The newspaper add reads “Are you wrestling with your mix,” and encouraged advertisers not to advertise on wrestling programs but instead advertise on ABC Monday Night Football and other non-wrestling programs.

WCW star Kevin Nash adds a few interesting insights I hadn’t heard before. He said WCW Pay Per View went to Turner Entertainment. Bischoff adds that WCW got some credit for live events, merchandise, and international business, but got no credit for advertising sales.

The final fate of WCW is then covered. Eric’s business partner of Wonder Years fame Jason Hervey talks about how they tried to buy WCW. Hervey doesn’t recall exactly but he thinks the FX network might have offered them a TV deal but it was only for something like 44 episodes, which was “not enough to keep the money intact.”

Bischoff’s career in WWE is highlighted, where he says one of his favorite moments was being disguised as an old minister on Smackdown’s “Commitment Ceremony” (implied to be a gay wedding) between wrestlers Billly Gunn and Chuck Pulumbo.

Disc two includes various clips cut from the Disc 1 Documentary, including another segment on his brand of beer. He also has a top ten controversial moments, including his challenge to Vince McMahon, which he says was in part a response to a RAW promo by former WCW employee X-Pac.

Also included is a two part interview by John Bradshaw originally shown on the WWE Network. In another segment Eric says that after that interview was over he realized he was glad that Vince bought WCW instead of the other way around. His feeling is that the AOL corporation would not have the commitment to wrestling that Vince McMahon has.

The third disc has various clips from WCW and WWE featuring Bischoff, coupled with a few extra interview segments.

This disc is definitely a worthwhile presentation on the life of Eric Bischoff that does in fact offer a few new insights into the Monday Night War.