On Monday night, WWE gave us a sneak peek at a long-awaited program for the WWE Network: The Monday Night War. This is a weekly documentary series intended to provide a look at the famous television battle between WCW Monday Nitro and WWF Raw Is War.
The first episode of the Monday Night War did not focus on many specific items within the war, instead it was more of an overview of both companies’ histories and an overall look at the beginnings of the war. Only at the very end of this episode are we given a glimpse at what the rest of the series will offer when it debuts in August.
The show takes a timeline approach, wherein you’re taken on a bit of history lesson learning of the early days of wrestling television on TBS and USA. Vince McMahon was interviewed about his relationships with Ted Turner and how they affected his approach to television. We were shown how Vince had early ties with Turner but eventually split because Turner decided he did not want Vince having programming on USA as well as TBS.
Eventually, Jim Crockett Promotions (the closest regional rival to the then-global WWF) was unable to survive and Ted Turner took it over to create WCW. After a few years of management changes, WCW finally settled on Eric Bischoff as its leader. Eric made immediate changes, and wanted to make WCW a more appealing television product.
WWF decided it wanted to bring on a youth movement, and that meant ridding their roster of many aging stars such as Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage, in favor of the younger Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels. Monday Night Raw rose around this time, as a huge departure of their previous Prime Time Wrestling programming as more edgy, live, intimate show.
WCW and Eric Bischoff eventually decided the only way they’d be able to compete with McMahon’s WWF would be to go head-to-head against Raw with a show of their own. In this episode of the Monday Night War, this leads us up to the first edition of Nitro that promised to be a bit different than Raw, including going live every week. What is interesting about the way they edit these history segments together is the interviews they use. A lot of the interviews are very recent but some are a decade or more older. The footage they used for Eric Bischoff’s interviews is quite old and has been used in previous documentaries but Ted Turner’s is somehow the worst of them all and looks to be from a VHS camcorder.
Nitro’s debut was considered a success, in large part because of Lex Luger’s debut with the promotion. Luger, a prominent WWF star at the time, came out in the middle of a match between Hulk Hogan and Big Bubba Rogers, a big surprise for the time. No one, not even top WWF officials knew Luger would be departing the company. This coup was portrayed as a bit of an unfair win over WWF because Luger did not give notice and the debut of Nitro aired against the Westminster Dog Show. While a fair statement that doesn’t change the outcome, USA Network would have been airing the U.S. Open instead of the dog show.
At this point, we get our first glimpse at a segment-by-segment breakdown of the show. We see how Bischoff tried to take cheap shots using Nitro against Raw by revealing results before the taped Raw show had a chance to air. Eric talks about how some fans resented him for doing it, but it worked so he kept doing it. A graphic is shown with the rating and a timer, showing exactly how fans reacted with their remote controls to Bischoff’s spoilers. That is a very neat touch, and exactly the type of analysis I was hoping for from this show.
Once we’ve moved on from that, we are quickly shown how Raw and Nitro traded ratings victories almost week by week up until 1996. One more pivotal moment that Nitro tried to do to garner more Raw viewers was to have Madusa (or Alundra Blayze in WWF) drop the WWF Women’s Championship in a trash can on live television. That was a cool moment that really showed how much ambition Eric Bischoff had at the time to make Nitro feel like “anything really could happen.”
When it became clear that Bischoff was not going to stop with his cheap tricks, Vince McMahon felt it was his responsibility to respond and did so with parody skits featuring the “Nacho Man”, the “Huckster” and “Scheme Gene”. In taking potshots at his competition, Vince legitimized the threat of WCW but also showed he wasn’t going to just lie down while WCW took over.
At this point, the episode of the Monday Night War begins to wind down by showing us a recap of the episode along with a big preview of the upcoming series. Interviews with current and past superstars really makes you believe this war was as important as it actually was. Current WWE Superstar Ryback even shared a story about how he was a strict WWF viewer but flipped over to Nitro once and was hooked from then on.
This episode showed great promise for the potential of original programming on the WWE Network, something I think the Network needs to take off at the level WWE would like it to. I’d say it’s definitely worth the time to sit down and watch if you have the Network, and probably worth signing up for the current free trial for. Now, would it be too much to ask for a few Nitros to be put up alongside this new content?