Sunday, April 1, 2007

Reflections on Bischoff's Prime Time

The element of suprise--today it seems like a staple of professional wrestling. The success of this entertainment business just doesn't seem to be able to live without it. But after reading Bischoff's take on the rise of WCW Monday Nitro, it appears that this was not always the case.

With the WWE established well as a veritable institution of professional wrestling, the up and coming WCW could not exactly go head-to-head with McMahon's wrestling giant. What it could do--what it in fact did--was come in at an angle...a rather unexpected, even extreme, angle.

The success of the WCW hinged on Bischoff's ability to comman professional wrestling as a businessman in the entertainment business. Although run under Turner sports, Bischoff knew his product would fair better if managed as a form of entertainment. As the head of the WCW, Bischoff knew his limits and the limits of his program. When prompted to compete against the WWE, Bischoff suggested a prime time slot. Much to his own surprise, Turner granted him the time, but this merely put them on the same playing field as their competition.

The war Bischoff waged against the WWE was based on his ability to differentiate his product to give his audience spectacles the likes of which had never been seen before. The mainstay of his program was the live broadcasting of every Nitro show. What better way to deliver the element of surprise than to let unravel before a live stage?

Today it seems wrestling could never have survived without the unpredictability of its characters and the spontaneity of its matches. Its truly something we have taken for granted. With the heavy promoting that wrestling was used to, however, and the vestiges of the formulaic travelling show, we can understand and appreciate the novelty of Bischoff's vision of the WCW.

4 comments:

BMN said...

I have not read Bischoff's book, but I definitely think he "on the fly" booked WCW to death. That being said, for 1996, there was nothing more exciting than the anticipation of what might happen on Nitro. When the surprises ceased to be surprising, the company ran out of steam.

BMN

Sam Ford said...

Bischoff and the Russo writing style of WWE a couple of years later put wrestling in this hyper-fast mode of storytelling, though, where you ended up with so many surrpsies that you didn't end up remembering any of them.

Back in the 80s or the early 90s, when a big angle happened, fans remembered it for years. In the Bischoff era, so many things were hyped as being big and uncontrollable that it all became an unmemorable mess at a certain point.

That's not to say that Bischoff wasn't right, and he certainly did more than almost anyone to improve the quality of the weekly shows across the board. But I think it has to be tempered with a realization that good storytelling also requires some degree of resonance about what just happened rather than moving through one surprise after another so fast none of it is surprising anymore.

David O'Hara said...

" Today it seems wrestling could never have survived without the unpredictability of its characters and the spontaneity of its matches. "

Monday Night Raw is doing in the solid 3.8-4.0 rating range right now. Most of their characters are pretty predictable, and a handful are solidly developed. For instance, one can pretty much guess what reaction a John Cena or an Undertaker might have while watching them perform.

With respect to the spontaneity of the matches, you bring up a good point that the Japanese and Mexican wrestlers, as well as the American junior heavyweights, WCW hired formed a strong foundational element of Nitro. It was the matches toward the top of the card that were usually awful, predictable, and only fleetingly important.


"Its truly something we have taken for granted. With the heavy promoting that wrestling was used to, however, and the vestiges of the formulaic travelling show, we can understand and appreciate the novelty of Bischoff's vision of the WCW."

This sounds like the rosy red account Bischoff wants you to walk away with. Yes, he did have some really novel ideas for WCW (eg, taking the syndicated shows out of dark arenas, snatching up big-name talent, Nitro, the NWO) but he deserves a great deal of condemnation for his incredibly inept management of that company. From guaranteed contracts, to letting Hulk Hogan and others shadow-run WCW, to paying over a million dollars to KISS to use their likeness for a gimmick that never drew a dime. I can go on.

Sam Ford said...

Well, David, we did read Bischoff's book tempered with The Death of WCW, The Monday Night War, and Ole Anderson's Inside Out, all of which were more than content to explain how stupid of an organization WCW was. In history, there's probably more of a chance of Bischoff's creative accomplishments NOT being remembered than being viewed with rose-colored glasses, especially since WCW's fall was so terrible.