Monday Night Wars Documentary Review Episode 4: A New D-Generation

This episode starts with examining the pre-DX gimmicks of Billy Gunn and HHH along with other cartoonish gimmicks like the Honky Tonk Man. HHH became friends with Shawn Michaels, who was battling a lot of personal demons at the time (but this episode doesn’t say what they were).

Chyna is not interviewed for this series at all but her, HHH, Shawn Michaels, and the late Rick Rude were the original members of DX. On a WWF TV segment Bret Hart referred to the group as degenerates, and from there Shawn Michaels christened his group D-generation X. This episode compares DX to the NWO and how Bischoff thought DX was a NWO ripoff.

WCW eventually signed Rick Rude, leading to one of the more peculiar incidents of the Monday Night Wars. Raw still taped some of its episodes, and Nitro was always live. On 11/17/97, Rick Rude became the only person to ever appear on Monday Night Raw and on Monday Nitro in the same night. Both segments were at the opening of the show, with Nitro pulling a 4.1 rating and Raw doing a 3.1.

The following year, on 2/2/98, DX responded on air to a letter the USA network sent to WWF about the content of their show. USA threatened to suspend the show over it’s racy content. DX read the letter on air, saying all the specific vulgar words they were not supposed to say (bleeped out of course). Apparently the USA network loved this bit, and from there Vince gave the group more creative freedom.

Shawn Michael’s departure from wrestling is covered as he left due to a back injury. From here HHH took charge of DX and took in a returning Sean Waltman/Xpac/Syxx Pac from the WCW. The night after Wrestlemania XIV X-Pac goes off on Hogan and Bischoff. Hogan is shown on WCW programming saying Sean “couldn’t cut the mustard.”

The incident where DX tried to invade a WCW show is profiled. They were in a tank that came right up to a WCW arena but couldn’t get through the door. Nash says he was on the other side of that door but some old man wouldn’t open it. HHH said he had no plan if they actually got in, and said to Vince what if WCW sends guys to a Raw show. Vince, always forward thinking, figured let them in. What show would you watch?

As a response Eric Bischoff issued an open challenge to Vince McMahon at a PPV, but of course McMahon never accepted. The DX imitation of the Nation is shown before wrapping up. It doesn’t really cover how DX eventually split up, but it shows a lot of great highlights and effectively shows how they fit into the story of the Monday Night Wars.

Monday Night Wars Documentary Review Episode 3: Embracing Attitude

The Attitude Era is considered by many fans to be the WWF’s greatest era, featuring the height of Stone Cold Steve Austin’s popularity, along with the Rock, Mankind, and DX.

This episode opens with the more cartoon-ish gimmicks of the pre-Attitude WWF, such as the Sultan, Steve Austin’s Ring Master gimmick, and Ron Simmons in that goofy looking helmet.

Eric Bischoff was riding high with Monday Nitro and the NWO story line. At the time he believed WWF would never recover. Someone warned him that WWF was about to try Howard Stern/Shock Jock type programming, but he dismissed that thinking it would never work.

The Austin/Pillman gun incident is covered, where they filmed a segment at Brian Pillman’s home during which he fired a gun at Austin. Hugely controversial at the time, Vince apologized on air the next week. However, announcer Jim Ross said they got a 75% positive response from their audience to that segment.

Sports journalist Bill Apter is interviewed for this documentary. He supplies a few quotes as it is explained that from here the WWF roster became more edgy. Acts like the black militant group the Nation of Domination formed, as well as De-generation X.

Vince McMahon’s opening speech on the 12/15/97 edition of Raw is shown, where he explains how his programming will now be more contemporary, and away from the older formula of good guys vs bad guys.

By January of 1998 Raw was still losing the ratings battle to Nitro but was on the rise with its new edgier gimmicks like Val Venis (basically a porn star), sexual chocolate Mark Henry, Mr. Ass (Billy Gunn), and the pimp character the Godfather.

Meanwhile, Eric Bischoff still wasn’t impressed. Jericho says that Bischoff was telling people in six months McMahon will lose his TV sponsors and go out of business. Meanwhile Sable (who is not interviewed here) is shown on TV guide, and Nash says that she beat any segment Nitro had at that point.

Just as WWF was embracing the Attitude Era, the corporate structure of Turner Broadcasting was becoming more restrictive on WCW. Standards and Practice representatives were in the WCW creative rooms while porn star Jenna Jameson did a segment with Val Venis on Raw, and WWF introduced their hardcore title.

WCW embarrassingly tried to compete with the Attitude Era while wearing the Standards and Practices handcuffs. They tried their own hardcore title, and we see that clip where Terry Funk almost legitimately almost got kicked in the head by a horse. We also see the infamous junkyard invitational, the viagra on a pole match, and Judy Bagwell on a forklift match. WCW Stunt Coordinator Ellis Edwards is interviewed here and says “I would tell them the things I would do in the stunt business and they would write it into the storyline.” This is the one part of the episode I would have liked to have seen more elaborated. I would have like to have seen who thought of trying to have a WCW Hardcore title and how they balanced that with standards and practices, etc.

This episode layed out the interesting parallels of the shifting creative direction of WWF that mirrored the more restrictive environment of WCW, but I would have like to have seen more of the struggles that came with the latter.

Monday Night Wars Documentary Review Episode 2: The Rise of the NWO.

Episode 2 of the Monday Night Wars documentary on the WWE network covers the NWO, the heel stable led by a villainous Hogan that pushed WCW Nitro ahead of WWF Raw in the ratings.

After a short recap this episode starts out with the careers of Scott Hall/Razor Ramone, and Kevin Nash/Diesel. Both of them were formerly in WCW but floundered there. Nash’s various horrible gimmicks are shown, such as Oz. He’s on camera saying those were the worst 3 years of his life. It also shows the cartoonish gimmicks WWF was still using, such as Doink the Clown, and some character in a Bison outfit. Eventually Hall and Nash became big stars in the WWF, as older stars like Hogan and Savage went to WCW, and WWF began focusing more on younger talent.

However, as WCW was having success with its older talent, it started needing some younger blood as well. Nash and Hall’s contracts were both up within 6 days of each other. The contract negotiations are covered, and it’s interesting to see the conflict between the loyalty to WWF and not really wanting to go to WCW, and the lure of money and family pressures, especially from Nash. It’s noted that they were offered around1.2 million for around 120-150 days of work. They said guys might have made that in WWF but worked 300 days.

Documentation is shown on screen for how WWF sued WCW for copyright infringement as Vince McMahon alleged that WCW portrayed Hall and Nash basically as Razor Ramone and Diesel. Hall is shown talking about carving people up and doing his toothpick bit on both WCW and WWF programming. They don’t talk about how the lawsuit turned out. I’d read somewhere that one of the results was that WWF would have first dibs if WCW was up for sale, but I’d like to get that confirmed.

As Nash and Hall were having success in WCW, the story line teased of a third man that would join them. Meanwhile Hogan was not getting the crowd reactions he once had in the 80s. Kevin Sullivan is on camera saying he was in Hogan’s ear telling him to turn heel. He told him to look at WWF’s Undertaker, a dark foreboding undead character is their hero. Bischoff went to Hogan’s house talking to him about it Hogan’s responded with “Until you walk a mile in my red and yellow boots you’ll just never really understand.” And showed him the door.

Originally the NWO’s third man was going to be Sting, but Hogan called Bischoff to inform him that he in fact was the third man. This led to perhaps the greatest heel turn in history as Hogan joined Hall and Nash at Bash at the Beach in July of 1996.

In WWF Hall and Nash’s wrestling gimmicks were Razor Ramon and Diesel. WWF attempted to stir things up by having other wrestlers play those gimmicks. This tactic is portrayed as not being received well, and Nash says it led to WCW offering them an even more lucrative contract, thinking they actually were going to leave.

New Japan pro wrestling had a similar NWO type story that Bischoff is said to have borrowed from. This episode lightly touches on this, as well as the backstage resentment at how the NWO ran over everyone in the ring. The NWO’s own PPV Souled Out is mentioned, I would have liked to have heard more about that. It’s also a great mystery to me why the NWO never actually had their own television show. I know Bischoff talked about it and wanted it, but I never heard anywhere why that never happened.

This new type of story line with the New World Order is shown to lead into WWF creating the attitude era, which is the topic of the next episode.

The Monday Night Wars Documentary Episode One Review: The War Begins.

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.