The SmarK Rant for the Monday Night War – S01E03
“Embracing a New Attitude”
And now, time for another hour of navel-gazing about the Attitude Era and how everyone was bigger stars than today.
So back in 1995, Monday Nitro was launched in DIRECT COMPETITION to Monday Night RAW, and by 1996 they were winning handily. Mainly by acquiring former WWF stars while Vince developed his own young talent. Like Steve Austin and HHH, who obviously had never been in WCW before. This gives us some snark as they also put the Goon out there as an example of stuff that didn’t work. But really, that one was never intended to “work”, the whole point was to make a stupid TV jobber who could get beat and mean nothing.
WCW featured the nWo stirring things up and creating chaos, and we get Vince Russo to tell us that he knew the WWF was dead in the water because they just weren’t cool and edgy enough to compete. And if they had lost the war, they would have lost the entire company and gone out of business forever! OK, no. Yes, RAW might have been cancelled by USA, but the PPV and house show business was still worth millions of dollars a year. The chances of them “going out of business”, especially given that their crappy ad revenue deal with USA meant that the show was more of an informercial for the PPVs anyway, was pretty much zero.
Anyway, this leads to a discussion of Steve Austin and his feud with Brian Pillman and the infamous gun angle. We get clips of the classic Pillmanizing of the ankle, which leads to Austin trying a home invasion of Pillman’s house in Kentucky before the feed goes out with Pillman waving a gun around. Everyone puts this over as a big success that “created a lot of attention” but it barely made a blip in the ratings and nearly got the show thrown off USA. I’m sure if Twitter was around at the time they’d tout the social media numbers, though. They keep putting over how “it drew attention” and “a lot of people were talking” but it really made no difference and in fact could be classified as a giant failure in just about every way.
Back to Steve Austin, who ushers in the age of the anti-hero. So they show Goldust (debuted in 1995 before Austin was even in the company) as an example of this edgier stuff, at which point Vince informed us that he was moving the company in a different direction. That speech was December 1997, by the way, which is a year after Austin already took off. Vince’s bit about “no more good guys and bad guys” is particularly stupid sounding given how they’ve spent two decades following trying to make John Cena and Roman Reigns into GOOD GUYS.
Paul Heyman notes that it was risky because advertisers might panic and networks might rebel. Which they did, as they had to drastically start cutting back on the sleaze by early 2000. The narrator says that WWE was “incorporating a well balanced blend of genres into their product”. LOL.
Oh hey, let’s talk about D-X, which apparently begat Val Venis and Mark Henry. Apparently Vince McMahon was a pioneer of discovering that sex sells. Amazing that no one on TV ever made that connection before they did! We get some comments from Sunny and Jerry Lawler, but now Vince McMahon had perhaps gone too far for ratings. So we jump back and forth between 97-era and 2000-era with clips, and Jericho notes that Bischoff called a meeting and told everyone that the sponsors were going to rebel soon. Which they did! WWE makes WAAAAAAY more money off PG content than they did from the Jerry Springer stuff.
Anyway, onto Sable and a discussion of how WCW had become more “conservative”, with the usual complaining that standards and practices were interfering. Vince relates a story about Ted Turner calling him and complaining that RAW was winning because “they were showing more of the tit”.
We get some discussion of ECW and their influence, as they were a renegade, underground promotion. And WWE incorporated some of their stuff into their programming, such as Mick Foley dropping an elbow into a dumpster full of packing peanuts, an ECW classic if there ever was one. Or the Inferno match. So this leads to a discussion of the Hardcore title matches and table breaking, and of course Mick Foley. Unfortunately the revival of the 24/7 concept didn’t end up as fun.
They show the WCW version of the Hardcore division, which was a disappointment because they couldn’t do as much as violent crazy stuff, or when they did it turned into a disaster like the junkyard invitational match. Yeah, but that whole discussion is a more than a bit disingenuous, because that was Vince Russo taking his WWF ideas to WCW, which is a whole different discussion. Just saying “Oh, WCW was trying to copy the Hardcore division and failing” as if WWF never tried to copy the Cruiserweight division and failed, for example, is a ridiculously one-sided argument. Anyway, they move on and have the WCW guys note that they just couldn’t keep up with the amazing athleticism of the Hardyz and Dudleyz and Edge & Christian. Sure, go with that, even though WCW was already half in the grave by the time any of them got a push in the WWF.
Hey, let’s talk about the Rock, who just went out and flew by the seat of his pants every night. The Rock talking trash in his sleep is still hilarious. Vince says that when you have talent like the Rock, you just let him do what he wants. Well not anymore.
But while a young roster made RAW thrive, the aging roster and tired formula was killing Nitro, as they focused on the nWo to the detriment of the rest of the show. Stu Saks pops in and notes that it wasn’t the counter-culture anymore, it was just the culture. Heyman says that they got to the top and then decided to sit back and enjoy it, while Vince was coming to get them. This leads to Mr. McMahon and his evil boss character, an evil genius who got rich at the expense of all his talent under any circumstances. Yeah, “character”. We of course touch on the Austin-McMahon feud that’s been endlessly recapped and dissected already. This leads to the first win in two years, as they broke Nitro’s ratings streak in April 98. I just gotta say, Booker T being a complete kiss-ass in all these talking heads and completely burying WCW is particularly eye-roll inducing. Anyway, blah blah beer bath and monster truck and all the stuff we’ve seen a million times. Meanwhile, Sting gets set on fire and falls off the scaffolding in response, but Harvey Schiller quickly notes that once Time-Warner took over Turner’s company, there was much less love and patience for WCW. Really, despite the hours of discussion of what killed WCW in these shows, that’s ultimately the final answer.
Next time: D-Generation X. I’m prepping some extra blood pressure medication refills as we speak.