WWE seems to be getting out of their near decade long funk with the invention of their show NXT which centers around “rookies” and younger talent. The one constant that kept the WWF (before it was called WWE) alive in their war with WCW was their ability to push (which means spotlight) new talent, either out of necessity or by crowd reaction. WCW kept the same guys on the top of the card for too long, which led to their long, arduous decline in 1999. It didn’t have to be this way, WCW could have kept their talent fresh for years and possibly have survived the AOL/Time Warner merger in 2001 had they done more with their tv programs.
WCW had a talent roster second to none with over TWO HUNDRED wrestlers under contract from 1995 to 2000, thanks in large part to the unlimited resources from media mogul Ted Turner (of TBS and TNT cable channels). In late 1995, WCW had 5 television programs per week. WCW Nitro which aired on Monday nights on TNT, WCW Pro which aired Saturday mornings in syndication on TBS, WCW Saturday Night which aired at 6:05 PM on TBS, WCW Worldwide which aired Sunday mornings on TBS, and WCW Main Event which aired 6:05 PM on TBS. With two-hundred workers on the roster and 5 tv shows, what could go wrong? The problem was by 1997, senior vice president Eric Bischoff focused squarely on Nitro, paying no attention to the other four shows. Pro, Saturday Night and Worldwide featured filler matches from lower card wrestlers and Main Event was a recap show that recapped the highlights from Nitro. The fact that nothing important happened on the other four shows, ratings plummeted out of sight. WCW added yet another show in January of 1998 called Thunder which aired on Thursdays at 8:05 on TBS. WCW Nitro went from 8-10 into a ridiculous three hour show from 8 to 11 pm. Without going into the complete death of WCW, Thunder was a B show for about 6 months before it became another filler show and the company went out of business in March of 2001. It could have been saved if they had some innovative ideas to use their talent.
WCW Pro could have been NXT twenty years ago if they wanted to be. WCW had the “Power Plant” in Georgia which was a training facility designed to train new talent. Instead of having worthless filler matches, Pro should have been centered around the Power Plant guys. They could have done personality profiles on the rookies and trainers. Sgt Buddy Lee Parker was the head trainer and the show could have had him as the on air “commissioner” of sorts. They could have had guys like “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan and Bunkhouse Buck as guest trainers instead of rot on Saturday Nights like they did for real. It didn’t have to be just rookies, they could have had talent exchanges with the various independent promotions in the Georgia, Carolina, Tennessee and Florida areas. What this would have done was brought in fresh talent to get their start, taking a look at guys that could potentially get over (which was a term for getting popular). Think NXT only 20 years ago. They also could have utilized the male managers such as the nefarious Colonel Parker or the babyface (good guy) Teddy Long. Bring them in to cut promos for the guys that aren’t good at them yet. For example, in February 1996 a twenty two year old “rookie” named Damon Striker made his WCW debut getting crushed on WCW Pro. He made other appearances for Pro in early 1997 under the name Sexton Hardcastle before realizing he was never going to be used in WCW. He contacted WWF and after wrestling under his real name in January 1998, he was given a new gimmick in May of 98. His real name was Adam Copeland and his gimmick name was Edge, who from 1998 to 2011 was one of the most successful wrestlers for WWF/E. If WCW had Pro as a training ground instead of a wasted filler show, he could have been spotlighted in 1996, used his legitimate talent for wrestling and promos (a term for talking on television) and could have been a “bright star” in the mold of Chris Jericho and Alex Wright. He could have been having five star matches with Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit in WCW instead of WWE. All in all, the combination of spotlighting rookies, bringing in veterans off the roster to give them something to do and most importantly, MENTIONING WHAT HAPPENED ON PRO ON NITRO, Pro could have been a ratings grabber instead of a waste of time.
The important thing is its one thing to have a good show, its another thing to promote it. Like I said, by 1997 WCW was allergic to promoting any show other than Nitro, which wasn’t uncommon as WWF ignored their syndicated weekend shows as well. The only difference was WWF could afford to do so by 1998, WCW couldn’t. WCW never should have launched Thunder in 1998 because they never had to. All they had to do was make Saturday Night worth watching. When WCW first launched Nitro, Saturday Night had been their main show for decades. For the first year or so, Nitro was the A show with Saturday Night being the B show. You still had to watch Saturday Night in order to understand the upcoming Nitro. By the time the nWo angle launched in the summer of 1996, Saturday Night became less important as Eric Bischoff either stopped using his top stars on Saturday Night or they flat out refused (sadly, some wrestlers had that kind of control in their contract). Either way, by the middle of 1997, you never saw a Ric Flair, Hulk Hogan, Scott Hall, Kevin Nash or anyone remotely near the main event level, nor did anyone on Nitro mentioned what happened on Saturday Night. Bischoff could have salvaged Saturday Night by keeping it a B show but also highlighting feuds that were going on over at Pro and Worldwide (which I’ll get to in a moment). If Pro and Worldwide were doing well, and fans were clamoring for Damon Striker, stick him on Saturday Night in a Television title match with Lord Steven Regal. No, Striker doesn’t have to win, but beating up Regal for ten minutes up until the time limit draw would get fans talking. If the top stars refuse to work Saturday Night, Bischoff said “Alright, I’ll get some guys who will, and don’t come crying to me if they get more over than you.” Now you got young and hungry guys from Pro, the international stars from Worldwide and your mid-carders looking for a shot at the top, Saturday Night would have been a good ratings draw as well. Once again, they key was mentioning what happened on the show on Nitro.
The problem with the weekend shows was that they were taped in advance. The problem with that was if something happened on Nitro, it wasn’t acknowledged in the wrestling part of the program. For example, one night on Nitro the wrestler Big Bubba (Bossman) left the Dungeon of Doom stable for the nWo. That weekend on Worldwide he was still in his Dungeon gear and came out to his Dungeron theme since the show was taped in advance. As I mentioned before, Worldwide had also been on TBS for decades and by the mid 90’s, it was more worthless filler. I will give credit, at least they TRIED to use the “worldwide” part of their name in 1997, highlighting the Mexican wrestlers as well as legitimate Japanese women talent. They still wasted a major opportunity to keep the show relevant, here’s how they could have made it special. The show was called Worldwide, so make it a truly international show. Have international commentator Mike Tenay for play by play with a bi-lingual guest announcer every week such as the Japanese Sonny Ono or one of the top stars of Mexico like Rey Mysterio Jr or Konnan. Instead of worthless filler matches like Jim Duggan vs Jerry Flynn, make it all about the international stars. Highlight the Mexican luchadors, the British stretchers, the Japanese contingent and anyone else they could bring in. Eric Bischoff had deals with Mexican promotions as well as New Japan Pro Wrestling to talent exchange and he should have kept with it. Worldwide could have had a segment where they gave results of big matches in Mexico and Japan. Not only that, they could have broadcasted the show in so many different countries, gaining international exposure. They also could have worked storylines such as a “World Cup” tournament where a representative from Japan, Mexico, the US, England, Ireland, Puerto Rico, Germany and Russia battled and the finals could have been on Nitro or pay-per-view. Another example is the wrestler Ultimo Dragon. He was Japanese born but he made his name in Mexico. They could have written a storyline for a Mexico vs Japan tag team match but the suspense would be what side would Dragon be on? He could have been on Mexico’s team but at the Nitro or pay-per-view, he could either help Mexico win or turn on them to help Japan win. Either scenario could have worked but it would have been heavily hyped on Worldwide, Saturday Night and Nitro. They also could have had a Pro vs Worldwide crossover where rookies and lunchadors would battle on Nitro and Saturday Night, keeping a fresh perspective on each show. You don’t want to overuse talent by having them appear on every show, but if you harness the exposure it would have worked perfectly.
Which leads us to Main Event, which was once the B show from 1988-93 but became mostly a recap show by 1994. They could have kept it a recap show since most folks go on vacation or miss the shows due to other circumstances. Or they could have done something different, either host a live action Q and A (think WWF Livewire) or THAT’S where you have your filler matches. They could have made it nWo Main Event and kept it truly an nWo show with profiles, garbage matches and vignettes. Either way, they could have kept the show relevant one way or another.
The bottom line was, every show would have been different and fans would have a different reason to tune in. Now the big criticism of all these ideas would be, “Hogan and the top stars would never allow all these rookies and luchadors to take their top spots.” The solution is simple, if you’re Eric Bischoff, do you want to pay Hogan $3.5 million a year to work half a schedule or do you want to pay Bill Goldberg, Edge and Chris Benoit $300K apiece to work a full one and draw pretty much the same ratings? Bischoff could sit the top stars down and tell them either play ball, or go home and collect your guaranteed contracts. That way the established stars create new stars or simply go away. It’s a shame things turned out the way they did. If WCW was still around, WWE wouldn’t have turned into the clown show its become. Maybe someday another billionaire will bankroll a guy with a clue, and a new company will rise from the ashes.
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