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.

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The Origin of the Monday Night Wars

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)

Sources

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