SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
The following is the cover story of the Pro Wrestling Torch Newsletter regarding the Raw vs. Nitro ratings battle for the shows that aired 20 years ago today. It was a major turning point in what had been a one-sided battle up until this point.
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HEADLINE: Raw beats Nitro in last hour after “takeover” – The NWO’s “hostile takeover” angle bombs in the ratings, leaves WCW flat just six days before PPV
By Wade Keller, PWTorch editor
Consider all plans off. WCW experimented with the Dec. 22 Nitro and they got the answer they most feared — viewers apparently don’t want to watch an NWO program. The implications of the ratings could be major not just on what happens Sunday at Starrcade, but also on how the two prime time live WCW shows are formatted in 1998.
The last hour of Raw defeated the last hour of Nitro by two-tenths of a rating point. Raw has outdrawn Nitro a few times in a quarter hour match-up the last 18 months, but to have an entire hour of Raw outdraw Nitro is even more remarkable. Nitro began with its usual strong rating of a 4.0 for the first hour, but dropped to 3.6 when Raw and Monday Night Football began at 9 p.m. ET. Raw posted a relatively strong 3.0 rating for its first hour. The third hour of Nitro dropped dramatically to a 3.0 rating while Raw grew to a 3.2 rating in the head-to-head hour. Most departing Nitro viewers chose something other than Raw to watch since Raw only got 0.2 of the 0.6 drop in Nitro’s ratings.
The first hour of Nitro was typical with the usual PPV hype and a mix of a wide variety of match styles and interviews. At the start of the second hour of Nitro, the NWO began a “hostile takeover” of WCW Nitro. NWO members commandeered the broadcast table and eventually destroyed the WCW Nitro set and unrolled their own NWO Nitro banners.
The spectacle, which lasted 30 minutes, was meant to be a monumental occasion in the history of Monday Night Wrestling. Instead, it dragged quite a bit, lacked any wrestling action, interviews, or even announcing to put it all into perspective.
The last 90 minute of the show consisted of Eric Bischoff, Rick Rude, Kevin Nash, Bobby Heenan, and Mike Tenay announcing matches, but mainly ignoring the action in the ring and talking about the NWO takeover of Nitro. Without interviews, with rotating hosts, with an overabundance of Eric Bischoff’s presence, and incessant, nauseating, and boorish brown-nosing of Hulk Hogan, it was no surprise the ratings dropped.
The approach WCW took may appear boneheaded in retrospect, but it made some sense in theory and may be a mistake that will more than pay for itself in the long run. Had they not tested the “NWO Nitro” format, they may have had Larry Zbyszko lose to Bischoff at Starrcade and changed the format of the successful WCW Nitro to an NWO-based show. That could have led to the same drop in ratings, but it would have been tougher to recover from. With the information they have from the Dec. 22 near-debacle, Bischoff may cancel plans to switch the format of Nitro and save WCW from handing the WWF 25 percent of their audience.
In the short-run, not only did WCW suffer their first full hour ratings defeat in many months, but they lost nearly 25 percent of their usual audience just six days before what is supposed to be the biggest PPV in WCW history — in terms of hype, anticipation, and most importantly number of buys.
The last two hours, in some ways, seemed to be WCW’s way of “kissing Hogan’s ass into doing a job to Sting” — which may or may not happen. Bischoff heaped praise on Hogan as being the reason every wrestler had a job and every fan had oxygen to breath. To show their appreciation, Bischoff gave Hogan two motor cycles and a stretch limo with a hot tub in the backseat. Later in the show Bischoff said he wanted to give Hogan another gift. He said it is tough to buy something for someone who has three of everything. Bischoff said they made him a ring for his finger that is a replica of the WCW Hvt. Title belt. Bischoff held up the ring (it looked like a wrestling title belt for Mr. Hanky, the Christmas Pooh). Bischoff then dropped a huge banner replica of the Sports Illustrated cover that Hogan was on. Bischoff said Hogan is the only wrestler ever to make the cover of SI. Bischoff wasn’t done yet, as he dropped another huge banner, a photo of Hogan choking Sly Stallone in Rocky III.
The segments, though, were long, drawn out, boorish, and self-indulgent. It wasn’t just too much of Hogan, but again was too much of Bischoff for yet another week. Bischoff’s match against Zbyszko deserves to get a lot of hype because Bischoff has been an effective heel character with a lot of heat. But the hype for his match against Zbyszko has received probably more air time hype than Hogan vs. Sting in the last few weeks, much less all of the other wrestling matches on the card. There is tremendous locker room second-guessing of Bischoff because of how much air time he has been giving himself, especially the last two weeks, at the expense of other wrestlers. Bischoff has fallen prey to what virtually anyone in a power position does who puts himself on television. They become intoxicated with the fame and attention that comes with being on television and lose perspective on their airtime and overall value.
The show closed with what was supposed to be a hot final angle to entice purchases of Starrcade. Hogan and Bischoff came to the ring for what seemed like the tenth time on the show. Someone brought Hogan another gift, but Bischoff said it wasn’t from him. When Hogan opened the gift, it was a replica dummy head of Hogan (a scene out of the movie, “Seven.”) Hogan freaked out. Meanwhile, Bret Hart rode into the arena in the limo. He stepped into the aisleway and smirked at Hogan — ambiguously enough that it wasn’t clear whether he was with or against the NWO. Then Sting appeared at the top of the Nitro set and he slid on a rope toward the ring as the show ended.
But more people were watching Raw that hour climax with Shawn Michaels having a mock match against Hunter than the final angle leading into Starrcade. The gamble may have cost WCW big this week but may have taught them an important lesson before they made a bigger mistake by messing with the Nitro format in 1998.
If WCW takes the ratings drop seriously (not to mention the poor buyrate for NWO Souled Out earlier in the year), they may scrap plans to have one of the two live prime time shows in 1998 (Monday or Thursday) be an “NWO show.”
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