WCW Monday Nitro was a weekly professional wrestling telecast produced by World Championship Wrestling. The show aired Monday nights on TNT, going head-to-head with the World Wrestling Federation's Monday Night Raw from September 4, 1995 to March 26, 2001. Production ceased after WCW was purchased by the World Wrestling Federation. Nitro was created by Ted Turner and Eric Bischoff.
In mid-1996, Nitro went on to draw better ratings than the WWF for 84 continuous weeks on the strength of its WCW vs. nWo storyline, which still ranks as one of the biggest rivalries in professional wrestling history and helped usher in the Monday Night Wars. The winning streak in the ratings for Nitro lasted until April 13, 1998.
Besides broadcasting from various arenas and locations across the country (such as the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota, from which the very first episode of Nitro was broadcast), Nitro also did special broadcasts from the Disney-MGM Studios in Orlando in 1996, and did annual Spring Break-Out episodes from Panama City Beach, Florida starting in March 1997.
The name of the telecast was designed as a play on the name of the WWF's flagship telecast, Monday Night Raw.
The rights to WCW Monday Nitro now belong to World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE).
[hide]*1 First episode
The very first episode of Nitro was broadcast from the Mall of America in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The featured matches on the one-hour broadcast were Brian Pillman facing Jushin Liger, Ric Flair facing US Champion Sting, and WCW World Champion Hulk Hogan taking on Big Bubba Rogers. The show was also highlighted by the return of Lex Luger. Luger had previously been working with the World Wrestling Federation without a contract, but signed with WCW that morning following an appearance with WWF just the night before.
Monday Night WarsEdit
Main article: Monday Night WarsThe advent of WCW Monday Nitro brought with it an intense rivalry between WCW's Monday Nitro program and the WWF's Monday Night Raw program. This rivalry is known to wrestling fans as the "Monday Night Wars." Throughout the Monday Night Wars between Eric Bischoff and Vince McMahon, Nitro was gaining on its WWF counterpart popularity-wise. Soon Nitro would surpass Raw in the TV ratings. Monday Nitro beat Raw in the ratings for 84 consecutive weeks until Raw finally regained ground in the ratings war. At its peak, the rivalry resulted in performers on either show trading verbal insults and challenges. At one point, Eric Bischoff challenged Vince McMahon to face him in a match to be held at Slamboree 1998. McMahon never formally recognized the challenge and did not appear. Bischoff was declared the winner via countout.
Initially, Nitro became popular as result of WCW's extensive roster of stars. Randy Savage and Hulk Hogan, were some of the few stars signed with WCW and appearing on the Nitro program at this time. WCW's lineup of cruiserweights – smaller wrestlers known for their crowd-pleasing high-flying wrestling maneuvers provided a strong set of setup matches for their main events. With the introduction of the New World Order, Nitro started its unprecedented run of ratings domination. With former WWF wrestlers Scott Hall, Kevin Nash and Hogan (who was now calling himself Hollywood Hogan) as rebellious heels, the company seemed to have a winning story and a great future. Wrestling fans watched the show every week to see what the nWo would do next. Since Nitro was live and Raw was often taped, Nitro was seen as far less predictable and thus more entertaining than its WWF counterpart. And to join up to this success, WCW Nitro was given a third hour to run on from January 26, 1998.
WCW Monday Nitro also pulled in strong ratings in UK. It was once the third most watched show on satellite and cable TV only beaten by Raw and certain football matches, but unlike in the USA, it never beat Monday Night Raw in the then head-to-head "Friday Night Wars" in the UK. This was despite the fact that Raw aired on a subscription channel whereas Nitro aired on TNT , a basic Sky and cable channel. However, Raw being on Sky Sports was much more heavily promoted in the media through advertisements and TV guide listings, whereas Nitro being on TNT did not receive the same amount of promotion. It is likely many people were unaware at Nitro's peak that it was on. (On screen tv guides did not exist back then as they do now on Sky. Similarly the listings for the channel TNT received little media coverage in comparison to Sky Sports.) TNT in Britain would only start at 9pm after the end of Cartoon Network in the late 90s. Nitro was its flagship show and was the only actual TV show on the network. The network showed classic movies like TCM in North America rather than standard broadcast TV shows. TNT in Britain is now named TCM. From 2000 until its end in March 2001 Nitro in Britain moved to Bravo where it moved to 10pm directly head to head with Raw instead of the usual hour head start. Nitro would air in the United Kingdom four days after its live US airing from its first showing in late 1995 until it moved to the Bravo network in 2000. It then was two weeks behind the US airings until it went back to four days again in early 2001. It stayed this way until WCW's demise. The last Nitro was shown head to head with Raw meaning the crossover did work the same as it did in the USA as both channels aired at the same time in the same "simulcast" style as was in the USA.
Eric Bischoff's on-camera roleEdit
Eric Bischoff soon became the voice of Nitro (in perhaps, a subtle knock on Vince McMahon, who often appeared on camera as a commentator) and began to air Nitro a couple of minutes before Raw so he could give away the results of the WWF program so fans had no point to see the competition. Nitro would be expanded to a three-hour show, starting from the January 26, 1998 edition, unprecedented for live, weekly wrestling program.
Raw gains groundEdit
While Raw was taking a new approach to programming with its "WWF Attitude", Nitro would start producing lackluster shows with the same storylines. Older stars such as Hogan and Nash frequented the main events, while younger talent such as Chris Jericho, Rey Mysterio, Jr., Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero were not given opportunities to advance in the company. Hogan and the rest of the nWo almost never lost and the once elite group was now bloated in size and recruiting midcard wrestlers. The only newcomers elevated to main event status at this time were Goldberg and Diamond Dallas Page. Goldberg's main event match with Hogan on the July 6, 1998 edition of Nitro from the Georgia Dome in Atlanta won the ratings battle from WWF for the week, but some observers felt that WCW could have made millions if they saved the Goldberg/Hogan match for an eventual pay-per-view event.
The D-X/Norfolk, Virginia incidentEdit
Meanwhile, on Raw, fans were immersed in the feud between WWF owner Vince McMahon and Stone Cold Steve Austin. New talent such as Triple H and his D-Generation X faction, and later Mankind and The Rock were elevated to main event status on WWF's program. Things got so heated between the two programs that D-X was sent to Atlanta to film a segment near Turner's headquarters for a "war" storyline that was done when both shows were in nearby areas on the same night (Raw in Hampton, Virginia and Nitro in nearby Norfolk), sending D-X to the Norfolk Scope arena which Nitro was broadcasting from and interacting with WCW fans.
With Raw starting to beat Nitro in the ratings on a consistent basis, Bischoff and WCW officials attempted to use a series of "quick fixes" to regain ground in the ratings war. All these attempts would win them short-term ratings victories, but the WWF continued its steady climb to ratings dominance. Nitro's inability to create new stars was its ultimate undoing, while the WWF had invested in younger talent like The Rock, Triple H, the Hardy Boyz, Edge and Christian and Kurt Angle, WCW continued to rely on established stars like Hulk Hogan, Macho Man Randy Savage and The Outsiders to support ratings, causing much unease among the younger and less well known members of the roster. This was illustrated most clearly in 1999, when former WCW mid-carder Chris Jericho signed with the WWF and immediately started a feud with The Rock, when months earlier he had been told he was too small to sell tickets in WCW.
January 4, 1999 broadcastEdit
Bischoff's "tried and true" tactic of giving away the results from taped Raw shows backfired on January 4, 1999. Mick Foley, who had wrestled for WCW during the early 1990s as Cactus Jack, won the WWF Title as Mankind on Raw. Nitro announcer Tony Schiavone sarcastically mentioned "that'll sure put some butts in the seats." The comment, however, backfired and Nitro would lose the ratings battle that night. The next week, and for months after, many fans in the Raw audience brought signs which read, "Mick Foley put my ass in this seat!" In the meantime, while Foley's title win was airing, Nitro was highlighted by the now-infamous "Fingerpoke of Doom", a WCW Title match in which Nash, who had won the championship belt from Goldberg at the Starrcade PPV event two weeks before, blatantly laid down for Hogan after he poked him in the chest. The incident damaged the credibility of the WCW Title almost beyond repair, and the damage done to WCW was, in the mind of some, exacerbated when Hogan and Nash immediately announced the reformation of the nWo, which by that time was widely perceived as a stale storyline which marked the beginning of the end for WCW.
Vince Russo and Ed FerraraEdit
Former WWF writers Vince Russo and Ed Ferrara were also hired to fix the company but may have increased the gap between the two Monday night programs. They attempted to make Nitro more like Raw with edgier storylines, lengthier non-wrestling segments and an increased amount of sexuality on the show. Through this, Nitro would become a two-hour program, with the second hour competing with Raw. The 2-hour format also hurt the program as an entire hour of advertising revenue was lost. Bischoff would be brought back to WCW and attempted to team with Russo to fix the ills of Nitro and WCW – taking Nitro off the air for one week to reboot the program, but all this was to no avail. The once highly rated Nitro became deprived of wrestlers, with its most capable young stars signing with the WWF and its current roster of talent being constantly misused. Eventually, Time Warner sold the company to the World Wrestling Federation.
The Night of Champions – Final broadcastEdit
To attract adolescent viewers, Monday Nitro was telecast every year during Spring Break from Panama City Beach, Florida, because university students were a high-value demographic audience group for WCW. There, WCW originated from a well-known nightclub, "Club La Vela" to get in touch with those viewers.
The final edition of WCW Monday Nitro which aired on March 26, 2001 from Panama City Beach, Florida, was dubbed "The Night of Champions". The show began with Vince McMahon appearing via satellite from Gund Arena in Cleveland, Ohio, the site of that Monday's RAW is WAR broadcast on TNN. McMahon announced his purchase of WCW to the crowd at Club La Vela and appeared in vignettes throughout the show, including one where he terminated WCW's Jeff Jarrett due to bad blood the two had had in the past.
The show was unique in that all of WCW's major championships were defended that night and in almost all of the matches on the show, the faces won (traditionally WCW was seen as the promotion where heels were often the top stars as opposed to the WWF, where faces were often the top stars). In addition, various WCW wrestlers were interviewed giving their honest, out-of-character responses to the selling of WCW.
Just as it had been on the initial Nitro, the final match of the final Nitro was between long-time WCW rivals Ric Flair and Sting, a match that was more informal than their usual encounters (Sting and Flair were seen smiling and nodding respectfully towards each other through out the match). Sting won using his finishing move, the Scorpion Deathlock. After the match, the two competitors stood in the middle of the ring and embraced to show respect for one another.
The show ended with a simulcast on Raw on TNN with an appearance by Vince's son Shane McMahon on Nitro. Shane would interrupt his father's gloating over the WCW purchase to explain that Shane was the one who actually owned WCW (this was just part of the storyline, as the WWF as a whole was the true owner of WCW), as part of the set up of their match at WrestleMania X-Seven and of what would later become WWF's "Invasion" storyline. In addition to the tape library and other intellectual properties, WWF would also buy a few selected contracts of the WCW talent, keeping many of the younger stars. The main event included WCW World Heavyweight Champion Scott Steiner versus WCW United States Champion Booker T, with Booker T defeating Steiner to win his fourth WCW world championship (Booker T would eventually sign with the WWF and take both titles with him there, winning the renamed WCW Championship a fifth time before it was retired).
Other notable momentsEdit
When then-WWF Women's Champion Alundra Blayze signed with WCW in 1995 (going back to her old name of "Madusa"), she brought the WWF Women's title belt with her and threw it in a trash can on Nitro (the first week that Nitro started before the top of the hour), and the title itself would become inactive for the next three years. Many cite this incident as one of the causes of the infamous Montreal Screwjob. This infamous event would be parodied by WCW on a 2000 edition of Nitro, when Scott Hall threw the WCW World Television Championship in the trash and weeks later on an edition of WCW Saturday Night, "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan found it and claimed it.
The only wrestler to appear on both Nitro and Raw on the same night was Rick Rude. Rude was able to appear on both shows because he was not under contract with the WWF at the time, appearing on a handshake deal with McMahon on Raw – which was still pre-recorded at the time while Nitro was broadcast live.
The January 13, 1997 episode of Nitro ended with the first two minutes of the Hollywood Hulk Hogan vs. The Giant main event. Before the show went off the air, commentator Tony Schiavone announced the match was to continue during the commercial breaks of The New Adventures of Robin Hood, which premiered that night after Nitro. This resulted in the premiere episode of Robin Hood receiving high ratings due to WCW fans being lured in to watch the show for the Hogan/Giant match.
WWE Classics On Demand / WWE Home VideoEdit
Since buying the WCW video library, WWE Home Video has included many Nitro matches and segments on some of their Superstar biography DVD sets. Episodes are also streamed on WWE Classics on Demand, as part of The Monday Night Wars feature.
While the service does show episodes of Nitro, they are often edited. Some WCW entrance theme music tracks are replaced with stock WWE music. Beginning in July 2007, WWE Classics on Demand began deleting content from episodes of Nitro, as matches and some references to Chris Benoit are removed. Benoit is sometimes shown in segments where he is not the main issue of the segment. This was in lieu of the controversy surrounding the deaths of Benoit and his family on June 24 of that year.
In April 2009, WWE Classics went back to the first episodes that aired in September 1995. These shows alternate with the current Nitro airings (Dec. 1997 and onwards).
- Eric Bischoff (1995–1996)
- Steve "Mongo" McMichael (1995–1996)
- Gene Okerlund (Interviewer – 1995–2001)
- Bobby "The Brain" Heenan (1995–2000)
- "The Living Legend" Larry Zbyszko (1996–1999, 2000-2001)
- Tony Schiavone (1995–2001)
- Mike Tenay (1996–2001)
- Scott Hudson (1999–2001)
- Mark Madden (2000–2001)