Conversations with Conrad and JIM HERD!

I heard rumbling a little while back that Conrad Thompson, mortgage man, podcast impresario and Flair family member, was launching a new podcast separate to anything he was doing with Brother Bruce, Eric Bischoff, Tony Skeevone or Jim Ross. Turns out he’s doing interviews with famous and infamous figures like former Executive Vice President of WCW at the start of the Turner years Jim Herd, who’s in his eighties. The trailer was juicy enough to promise some fun in the main interview, so here it is.

Herd in ’91, revealing that Ric Flair has left WCW:

Herd in ’20, shooting:

Herd starts by talking about having some involvement with Vince McMahon Sr. in 1962 in Philadelphia at “the Jungle” and how VKM took a lot of his dad’s animation and craziness.

Herd produced Wrestling at the Chase and makes special note of Wilbur Snyder as a forgotten great.

Herd was born in 1932 and is 88 now and not dead despite rumours to the contrary.

Herd and Turner had a relationship long before WCW, so when Turner purchased the NWA he wanted Herd in. Herd gives him props for building a number of sports packages with baseball, basketball, football, and wrestling needed to be part of that too.

He admits they couldn’t match Vince for booking as widely across the country, so they didn’t try to outreach themselves.

As far as Pizza Hut goes, he was asked to run some and was able to raise their profits by millions by doing a phone survey in the area and reacting to customer feedback for more cheese.

Jack Petrik, Herd’s partner in running WCW, was also from St. Louis and they went back years.

Herd retired from Pizza Hut in ’88 and was then brought into WCW later in the years, with Dusty Rhodes on the outs. He was bumped down to just performing, not booking, and left for the WWF.

Jim Crockett was supposed to work for Herd, but he still wanted to be in charge of the wrestling side while Herd ran the business. Turner didn’t like how Crockett booked, so he was out. He was a decent guy, but just not a great booker, with lazy, repetitive ideas. David carried on working for WCW for years setting up rings.

Jeff Carr was set the task of evaluating the shows against the WWF and decided it needed to be less interviews, more wrestling, away from the studios and into the arenas. Bill Watts was consulting too. Turner wanted less violence and blood and to make more money.

Innovations Herd brought in were better set decoration, ramps, pyro, and stuff to make the entrances better.

JJ Dillon going to the WWF was a loss, but not a big loss.

George Scott was brought in to book based off his prior success and connections with guys like Ricky Steamboat, who was the first big hire under the new regime. They hired Scott really to get Steamboat.

Was Steamboat beating Flair a reaction to the Jeff Carr survey feedback? Flair is kind of a controversial figure to Herd, “and I saw him on a show a month back and looked at his forehead and thought they must’ve taken a piece of his ass and put it on his head because all of the scarring was gone!”. Flair was uncontrollable out in public for Herd and Turner, so Herd had to try and control him.

Counter-programming each other in ’89 saw WCW be the first to blink, with WrestleWar on PPV being moved a month back from WrestleMania. However, they put on a Clash instead and George Scott failed to promote it properly, leading to his firing.

Herd was on the verge of signing Tony Schiavone to a new contract before he left for the WWF because of a perceived demotion. Herd admits it was a demotion, because Jim Ross was far better.

The Flair/Steamboat trilogy is still considered some of the greatest matches ever. This leads to a story about Herd suggesting that retiring Atlanta Falcons players try out wrestling, but the Steiners ate them up, so they lost interest. Herd loved the Steiners. He recalls them getting into an argument with Vader and taping him to the wall one time.

Terry Funk was offered a big payday to come back as the monster heel against Flair.

Herd made a comment about Flair to Eddie Gilbert that saw Flair go mad, so he appeased him by making him the booker “with a lot of help”. Because he didn’t want to lose he wasn’t the booker for long.

Usually, there was just one booker, but they started up a booking committee because Herd felt they needed a multitude of ideas. Jim Ross was a part of it, which further pissed off Schiavone.

Terry Funk put a plastic bag over Flair’s head and Turner wasn’t happy about it, so they had to curb the violence.

They discuss WNN (Wrestling News Network) with Gordon Solie, where even the WWF was covered, but there was dissatisfaction over it, so Joe Pedicino was drafted in to do Joe Pedicino Knows, but it wasn’t anything that ever worked.

Turner bought a bunch of movies and colourised them, so there was a feeling of needing to cross-promote them. Herd went with them as an idea to try. He denies ever wanting to change Ric Flair’s name to Spartacus or giving him an earring. Apparently Dusty wanted him to cut his hair in ’89, but Herd didn’t. Tom Zenk was supposed to be the Zodiac Man, with cardboard discs thrown out with star signs on them that you’d redeem at fast food restaurants, but Flair apparently thought that was meant to be him. The Hunchbacks were a joke idea.

Brad Armstrong was the Candy Man for a while in an attempt to appeal to kids and get a promotion with Hershey, but it went nowhere.

Talk is made of the companies they had relationships with, including Roos and Budweiser, which was a holy grail.

The Great Muta was a big star in ’89, but he wasn’t accepted by the locker room. Herd doesn’t know if that’s down to Gary Hart creating friction for him.

Herd really like Brian Pillman and wanted him to a big star.

Referring back to Herd’s interview with Dave Meltzer two decades ago, Herd is reminded that he said Eric Bischoff just bought away big stars from the WWF. Herd did try talking to Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage and Roddy Piper, with Savage being the main want. Petrik only wanted to offer him under half a million dollars, but Herd would’ve paid even more to bring him on, so it was an impasse.

Sting was the next big star, although the knee injury delayed it. Sting was intended to appeal to the ladies, but it wasn’t a successful campaign.

Herd tried to get Flair to drop the belt to Luger at a house show and he refused. Flair felt that Herd was trying to diminish him. Herd gives props to how hard Flair could and did work. The relationship was just too damaged to fix, so he was ready to be poached by the WWF.

Conrad brings up Ole Anderson coming up with the Black Scorpion off the top of his head as a Sting opponent. Herd regrets bringing in Ole as the booker because he was mean and unfriendly, so it didn’t motivate the troops and led to constant battles.

Dusty came back in early ’91. Herd insisted he retire but was willing for Dustin to come in with him, although he was an unproven commodity, but he turned out pretty good. However, Dusty pushed him too early.

Sid Vicious was an instant hit, but wanted a bigger contract and summers off to play softball. Herd says he had the best look of any wrestler he’d ever seen. They had back and forth negotiations and arguments before he went to the WWF and was never satisfied. Sid even threatened to throw him out the window if he didn’t get what he wanted. Herd said he’d have to do it before he got his pistol out of his briefcase, and that was that.

Lex Luger was made champion when Flair left. Herd denies wanting to cut Flair’s contract in half, but they did want him to take a cut. Luger was hard to deal with and his wife was even more opinionated. Flair was let go and left with the belt, leading to the lawsuit around that. Herd calls BS on Luger ever making more than Flair at any point. Ted Turner was pretty much stipulating the rules on who was placed where on the card and how much they got.

Herd also hated Flair’s attorney, who “lawyeresed me from the moment he came through the door”. He admits by the end it was a pissing contest and he was disappointed that Flair was so against him because he thought they were friends, but obviously they weren’t.

Conrad talks about how it was worth trying with Sting and Luger, even if it didn’t work. Herd talks about how actually decreasing the number of shows they did actually allowed them to stop losing money and start making money, because the costs weren’t as high for promotion and travel.

Was Dusty being back another reason Flair left? Dusty didn’t have the same energy he used to and while he can’t fault him for wanting his son to succeed, Dustin wasn’t experienced enough to get over.

Flair and Herd had a last gasp meeting to try and fix things with a one year contract for $700,000, with NDAs in place, but they couldn’t come to terms. TBS had put pressure on Herd to fix things, hence the attempt.

The Great American Bash was a big mess, so Herd quit talking to Steve Beverly, Dave Meltzer and Wade Keller. “Those guys dreamed what they wrote.” He admits that wrestling was “the world’s biggest lie”, but he got tired of the games with them. Seeing the big gold belt on WWF TV was a slap in the face. The whole kayfabe game was starting to wear on him, so he decided he’d “go back to making pizzas”.

Herd was at one point given an ultimatum of two weeks to work out how to turn things around. Herd knew the writing was on the wall and sensed Turner was about to be “Pacmanned” by Warner, which is what happened.

Around the same time, Herd got a black wreath from Jim Cornette to offer condolences on the “death of your wrestling company”. Herd denies Cornette and the Midnight Express were misused or unappreciated, but guys like him and Paul Heyman let their mouths get themselves into trouble. He thinks Bobby and Stan were too small to be big draws and that Corny couldn’t see that, so he was reticent to pay them so much as a package deal. He didn’t take great offence to the wreath and confirms he took it over to Jim Ross’ office. They just didn’t want him blading himself.

Herd did an interview with Steve Beverly in Matwatch and called Flair a massive liar, which had Jack Petrik nervous of Flair’s lawyer striking back at them. Herd admits he had a big mouth and probably did say that. Petrik couldn’t get his head around the nature of wrestling, so shut it off.

Herd had a meeting with Petrik in early ’92. He denies that he was offered a move to another part of Turner’s company. Wrestling was always shunned by the rest of the organisation. Petrik’s own dissatisfaction with wrestling manifested itself within Herd.

Herd took shots at Jim Crockett, Dusty Rhodes, Magnum TA and Jim Ross on the way out. He says it was because he felt unsupported by them and resented it. On the way out, it was a weight off his shoulders. He has fonder memories of VJM and Sam Muchnick and the NWA champions back in the day than this experience.

Conrad talks about how Herd gets a lot of stick from people in retrospect, but under his watch there were a lot of good matches with Flair, Steamboat, Sting and others. Herd puts it down to people writing the newsletters sharing their counter opinions. He has fondness for Ted Turner, but thought there were too many dreamers in wrestling.

His favourite story in wrestling is when Gene Kiniski was world champion and selling out the Kiel Auditorium, but always late, so he had the police hold him up one time to get him thinking he was going to be fined for being late again.

Jim Barnett was alright, quite levelheaded and a good person to speak to if you needed cooling off if you were frustrated.

Herd really regrets not being able to get Randy Savage into WCW because it would’ve really secured the kids for them.

Was Bonnie Steamboat responsible for Ricky not lasting long? Herd visited him during negotiations at his home and even then he felt Steamboat was done with the travelling and being away from home.

What’s his reaction to Paul Heyman’s success? He feels he was calmer than Corny and not as malicious.

Kevin Sullivan was the best idea man he had on the booking committee.

Herd talks about the Tully Blanchard return situation and puts the offer being pulled after his WWF drug test failure and Arn Anderson’s contract being cut on Jack Petrik. He thinks the whole situation was overblown and that Tully wasn’t the big star that everyone talks about. Arn and Tully were good midcard guys, but not people who could work on top for him.

El Gigante was signed in 1990 after being on the Argentinian basketball team. Hiro Matsuda hired to train him, but his heart wasn’t in it. It was a poor attempt to reproduce Andre the Giant. Matsuda just couldn’t do anything with him and gave up on him.

Robocop at Capital Combat was a Turner mandate. Some of the cross-promotion was one-sided, so they had stars from other shows on WCW but they would then not promote wrestling in the other shows. Wrestling needed to be part of the sports package to sell to the New York market, but didn’t get any appreciation or credit in return.

What does he think is the disconnect between good attendance at TV tapings and PPV and live TV shows and poor attendance at the house shows? They needed a Hulk Hogan and couldn’t build someone equivalent to him.

Herd thinks he had a great career based on producing and directing sports shows for years. He did his best to do justice to the games and the stars.

If he had the chance to do it over, would he still want to work for WCW? Definitely.

What’s his biggest regret regarding running WCW? He thinks if he had more direct access to Ted Turner, rather than going through Jack Petrik, it would’ve been better.

Does he keep up with wrestling these days? Not a lot, other than what he sees in the papers and hearing about wrestler deaths (earlier in the interview he asked if Sid and Lex were still alive or not, for instance).

Does he have any friends that are still in wrestling or ones that he’s lost? Not really, he never made “huggable” friends in wrestling. He mentions how he has a bunch of wrestling stuff that Conrad can have as he’s not going to be around forever, so he may as well have it.

What does he think about wrestling being on network TV? He can’t believe it and puts it down Vince’s brilliance.

What’s his relationship like with Vince? He’s never met him.

Was he ever warned about what the relationship might be like with Jim Crockett by Sam Muchnick or Larry Matysik? Not really, but it was cloudy from the start.

What’s his opinion of Flair now? A non-starter now, he was glad to see him on TV recently. “I’m glad he’s still alive and I’m glad I’m still alive!”

Would he be interested in doing a Last Dance style programme where they showed him clips of what others have had to say about him? He laughs it off and says not really – “I know what they’re going to say!”.

Conrad thanks him for his time and Herd says whatever anyone says it’s water off a duck’s back.

The Bottom Line: Age has definitely mellowed Jim Herd, but he was still sharp as a tack with some of his memories and responses, especially the ones I’ve quoted. I would’ve loved to have had this interview thirty years ago when he was still full of bluster and energy, but it was great to get him to speak in what will probably be his last interview, and fair play to Conrad, who wasn’t playing his full Conrad character from the Bruce shows, for getting it.