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OOLD SCHOOL: THE MONDAY NIGHT WARS  
RAW vs. Nitro: An Introduction 
Final Edition / August 7, 2003

by Rick Scaia
Exclusive to OnlineOnslaught.com

 

[Note from the present day: it was an annual tradition, first at WrestleManiacs and then at WrestleLine, for me to publish a RAW vs. Nitro retrospective every September to commemorate the start of the Monday Night Wars on September 4, 1995.  Then, WCW went out of business in 2001, and the tradition died.  But here, on our usual sanctioned "OOld School" day, we're gonna go back and revive it!

My detailed final edition of the the Monday Night Wars feature will be published in serial fashion over the next few Thursdays.  The publication schedule means that the final parts will be posted here at OO on Thursday, September 4: the exact 8 year anniversary of the beginning of the RAW vs. Nitro battle!

I've been meaning for almost two years now to publish this feature at OO, and having a weekly throwback column has finally motivated me to dust it off, reformat it, and present it here for posterity.  It has been polished and corrected a bit since 2001 -- most references should be current, though I refused to change "WWF" to "WWE" at any point along the way -- and should stand as my "final word" on the Monday wars.  Enjoy.]

Introduction:  A Prelude to War
Monday Night Wrestling Before 1995 (Part One of Eight)

What a wild ride it was...  it took over five and a half years, but the fabled Monday Night Wrestling War concluded in a most unexpected way: the WWF and it's trend-setting Monday Night RAW didn't just win and send the competition packing.  And WCW, with its upstart Monday Nitro, didn't just bow out and fade away after two-plus years of receiving spankings in the ratings.  Nope, this ordeal ended with the WWF buying its competition outright, and with Vince and Shane McMahon participating in the final angle ever to be seen on WCW Nitro.  

It's hard to believe that it's been 8 years since this whole ordeal got underway on September 4, 1995, and that wrestling's fan base has been built up to such great heights and then been torn part of the way back down that there's a good chance that many of the fans of today were not following the sport back then.  So it's with the hope of giving younger/newer fans a deeper understanding of the now-concluded Monday Night battles (and in hopes of providing deeper context for long-time fans) that I present this multi-part series chronicling the Monday Night War.  

On March 26, 2001, the on-going WWF vs. WCW struggle for YOUR attention on Monday nights came to a close. The 291 week confrontation (which included 253 head-to-head battles, as well as 38 unopposed nights split between the two promotions) wasn't always been the lop-sided forgone conclusion it had become towards the end, either. With WWF RAW ending the War in the middle of a massive winning streak, it's easy to forget that WCW Nitro dominated a near two-year-long stretch of the ratings battle themselves, and that other periods of the Monday Night War were intensely competitive. In any case, the competition ultimately seemed to serve to make BOTH shows better, which is something we, as fans, certainly appreciated.

While the head-to-head battle started in September, 1995 -- when WCW, under the command of Eric Bischoff, launched "WCW Monday Nitro" to go head-to-head with the WWF's established flagship program "WWF Monday Night RAW" -- the real story of the War for Monday Night goes back even further: to January, 1993.

The Monday night slot captured Bischoff's attention because of the remarkable success the WWF had after converting their Monday night program from a studio-based highlights and recap show to a "live" in-arena program each week.

For nearly a decade, the WWF's two-hour Prime Time Wrestling was a staple for the USA Network, and featured desk-bound hosts (most notably the Gorilla Monsoon/Bobby Heenan duo) introducing matches and segments, most of which had previously aired on other WWF shows. PTW experimented with other formats, including a live audience and in-studio guests (which never really worked as well as it did for the old Tuesday Night Titans hour, which was pulled from USA in the mid 80's), and a "roundtable" of announcers or wrestlers introducing and debating various matches and current events.

But there was no denying that no matter what format they tried, the PTW audience was shrinking. So as 1992 drew to a close, in an effort to bolster the wrestling audience for USA Network, the WWF totally rethought their concept for Monday night wrestling. They understood a couple key things: First, cable was now available in an overwhelming majority of US homes, so there was no longer any reason to keep the WWF cable programming secondary to syndicated programming. Both now reached a substantial audience. And second, with wrestling in a mainstream free-fall, it'd be more important than ever to cater to the "hardcore" wrestling fans. This group of fans may be generally loyal to the business, but were also quite often jaded and unlikely to watch weekly programming if they "already knew" what was going to happen.

With those two realizations, the WWF decided to create a new hour of "event" programming each week, and placed it in the old Monday timeslot. The show was dubbed Monday Night RAW. Instead of re-hashes of the syndicated programs, the cable show would be a place where new matches and new storylines took place. And to prevent jaded "hardcore" fans from bailing out on the show, RAW was live from New York City's Manhattan Center every two or three weeks to maintain its air of unpredictability.

The show started out red hot, and grew back a significant Monday night wrestling audience with such memorable moments as Sean "X-Pac" Waltman's debut as a tough luck jobber who, in only his third match in the WWF, scored a huge upset win over Razor Ramon. RAW also entertained hardcore fans with longer, more competitive matches, including an incredible pair of Shawn Michaels vs. Marty Jannetty IC Title matches that both garnered "Match of the Year" votes for 1993.

But after the hot start, RAW cooled off. It became impractical to continue to pull the crew off the road in whatever region they were in to do tapings in NYC.  With that decision to no longer tape RAW exclusively at the Manhattan Center, the show lost it's unique, intimate feel. Almost simultaneously, instead of being live every 2 or 3 weeks, RAW was aired live only once a month, because of a WWF money-saving decision to tape all of its TV for a given month in one 3 day spurt. All this was coupled with the losses of top stars like Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage, who'd accepted offers to jump to WCW.

RAW was vulnerable, and Eric Bischoff, who had already taken big chances on hiring high price performers away from the WWF, decided to take one more chance: he asked Turner executives about going head-to-head with the WWF on Monday nights. He'd competed with, and beaten, the WWF in battles for top name stars. He had the stars that once belonged to the WWE, now he merely needed the venue to showcase them.  With the blessing of the Turner Broadcasting juggernaut, Bischoff would battle with the WWF for an audience Titan had been attracting every Monday night for years.

Fans, experts, and even some wrestlers thought Bischoff's plan was doomed to fail. The WWF had created the audience, they'd been on Monday night's longer, and their name was still synonymous with "pro wrestling" in the mainstream audience's eyes. The most common opinion as WCW got closer and closer to launching Nitro was that Turner executives were basically giving Bischoff just enough rope to hang himself. They'd let him spend huge amounts of money to sign Hogan and Savage, with little improvement in the company's performance. So now, they'd let him have a three month test run on Monday nights... and if his show tanked, everybody expected Bischoff to be out of a job.

Suffice to say, the fans, experts, and wrestlers were wrong. Eric Bischoff's present value to WCW and the wrestling industry is a matter for much debate.  But nothing can detract from the foresight and testicular fortitude he displayed by deciding to go heads-up with the WWF, firing the initial salvos in the Monday Night War. It all started on September 4, 1995.

Continued in "RAW vs. Nitro: Year One"....

OO Monday Night Wars in Review
Intro --/-- Year One --/-- Year Two --/-- Year Three
Year Four --/-- Year Five --/-- Year Six --/-- Conclusion

E-MAIL RICK
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