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

WCW Monday Nitro 1996: The Pre-NWO days.

WCW continued their war with WWF Nitro in the early episodes of 1996. The January 8th episode hyped the upcoming Clash of the Champions wrestling event on TBS, Bischoff saying fans could watch it for free “Forget about the Royal Fumble,” referring to WWF’s upcoming January Pay Per View the Royal Rumble that Bischoff calls an “over priced PPV.” Clash of the Champions aired on January 23rd, the main event having the Giant and Ric Flair defeating Hogan and Savage. Also of note is Hogan’s entrance included his real life wife Linda, Woman (who formerly managed Ric Flair), Debra McMichael, two other women, and the WCW debut of Miss Elizabeth. This event had the only time WCW mentioned the WWF parody skits airing on Raw, and only back handedly. The WCW 900 number is plugged and one of the selling points is Mike Tenay interviewing Eric Bischoff about the WWF skits.

The taunting continued on 1/29 when Bischoff says “Forget about it Vince, get a job at a Pizza Parlor buddy.” Later former WWF women’s wrestler Madusa (known in WWF as Alundra Blayze) lost to Sherri Martel to which Bischoff says “Madusa should have stayed in the WWF she could have taken on 90% of the male athletes in that division.” Steve Mongo McMichaels adds “She’s a lot more of a man than Goldfarb I’ll tell you that,” referring to WWF star Golddust. Later Bischoff refers to Goldust as the “Rupal impersonator.”

A month later on February 26th Bischoff reffered to the “World Whining Federation.” “DQ Yokozuna in a handicapped match,‭ ‬Jake the Snake Roberts,‭ ‬you talk about picking up some bones here,‭ ‬over Isacc Yankem and Diesel over Bob Holly.‭ H‬e’s still around?”

A few months later on April 22 the broadcast opens with Bischoff “We are not like the world whining federation which a‭ ‬taped canned show,‭ ‬happened a couple weeks ago. Let me save you some time and put your remote control down.‭ T‬he‭ ‬Rupal impersonator, the transvestite Golddust defeats Savio, regains the intercontinental title YAWN‭ ‬Mankind‭ ‬defeats Auto Montoya,‭ ‬bigger yawn.‭ ‬And Vader defeats Batu Oh Boy”

A month before that one of the stranger WCW events occured with Uncensored 1996. The main event being a triple cage match between the Mega Powers, Hogan and Savage, vs the Alliance to End Hulkamania, which consisted Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, Meng, The Barbarian, Lex Luger, The Taskmaster, Z-Gangsta and The Ultimate Solution, with the now heel Woman, Miss Elizabeth and Jimmy Hart. Z-Gansta was actor Tiny Lister, known among wrestling fans as villain Zeus from Hogan’s WWF produced No Holds Barred Movie. The character Zeus even had a few appearances and matches in the WWF. On the 3/18 episode of Nitro Taskmaster Kevin Sullivan introduced Z-Gangsta saying “Everybody in the world knows this man and what he did to you in the late‭ ‬80s.”

There was another extremely large wrestler in the ring. His real name was Robert Swenson. Taskmaster, in the ring on live TV, called him the Final Solution. The character was not affiliated with Nazis in anyway, but apparently WCW creative weren’t aware that the Final Solution was the name for the Hitler’s plan to kill all the Jews. By the time the Pay Per View aired the next Sunday, the name was changed to Ultimate Solution. It would be Swenson’s last pro wrestling match (he had a brief wrestling career in the late 80s). A year later he went on to play Bane in the Batman and Robin movie, considered by many fans to be the worst comic book movie ever, (he also had a small role in the aforementioned No Holds Barred movie). Swenson passed away in August of 97, and was perhaps the most unlucky guy in the history of pop culture.

Even without the unspeakably offensive name this match is still known as one of the dumbest things ever in wrestling. Hogan and Savage of course beat the eight other wrestlers, but it is somewhat note worthy that it was Hogan’s last major match before his infamous heel turn. He had a handful of appearances in subsequent Nitro’s, but by mid April he was off the air for a few months. The real life reason was he was filming a movie, Santa with Muscles. There was no in ring story to explain his absence, looking back, one would think they could have had a brutal defeat of Hogan at Uncensored to have an in ring story for his absence.

Of course Hogan would return to WCW at the July PPV Bash at the Beach, and his return would mark one of the greatest moments in professional wrestling history.