WCW Monday Nitro was a weekly professional wrestling program 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 WWF. 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. This lasted until April 13, 1998, when the WWF's "Attitude Era" saw a heated rivalry between the villainous WWF Chairman Vince McMahon and fan favorite Stone Cold Steve Austin dominating WWF programming, as well as characters such as Mankind, The Rock and a new incarnation of the popular faction D-Generation X shifting momentum in the WWF's favor.
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's Hollywood Studios|Disney-MGM Studios in Orlando in 1996, and did annual Spring Break-Out episodes from Panama City Beach, Florida starting in March 1997.
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 Rodgers. 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 Wars
The advent of WCW Monday Nitro brought with it an intense rivalry between WCW's Monday night 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 extremely popular with WCW's extensive roster of stars. Randy Savage, Hulk Hogan, and Sting 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 nWo, 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 WWE counterpart.
WCW Monday Nitro also pulled in strong ratings in the 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 British Sky Broadcasting and cable channel.TNT in the UK 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 the UK is now named TCM. From 2000 until its end in March 2001 Nitro in the UK moved to Bravo where it moved to 10pm directly head to head with Raw instead of the usual hour head start.
Eric Bischoff's on-camera role
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, unprecedented for live, weekly wrestling program.
RAW gains ground
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. 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 incident
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, 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 the same area on the same night (RAW in Hampton, Virginia and Nitro in nearby Norfolk), sending D-X to the Norfolk Scope arena 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. Signings of wrestlers such as Warrior and several top ECW stars did nothing to stop their ratings slide. 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 broadcast
Bischoff's "tried & 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's gonna put some butts in the seats. Heh." The moment that Schiavone insulted Foley, over 600,000 viewers changed channels to watch Raw. (On the "Monday Night WAR" DVD, Mick Foley relates this quote almost word for word). 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 "The Fingerpoke of Doom", a WCW World Heavyweight Title match in which Nash, who had won the championship from Goldberg at their Starrcade PPV event (WCW's equivalent to WWE's WrestleMania) two weeks before, blatantly laid down for Hogan after he poked him in the chest. The incident damaged the credibility of the WCW World Heavyweight 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.
Vince Russo and Ed Ferrara
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. Fans had a negative reaction to the direction Russo was bringing the show in and it was reflected in the low ratings for the program. 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. WCW's sharp decline in revenue and ratings would lead to Time Warner's sale of the company to the rival World Wrestling Federation.
The Night of Champions - Final broadcast
To attract adolescent viewers, Monday Nitro was telecast every year during Spring Break from Panama City Beach, Florida, because students on universities was 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 in Cleveland, Ohio (the site of that nights edition of Monday Night Raw) making a short statement about his recent purchase of WCW. 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 very first 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 throughout 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 of RAW on TNN with an appearance by Vince's own 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 but passing on many key players, who had more expensive contracts. Some key players, like Booker T, would eventually accept contract buy-outs to take the smaller contracts offered by the WWF/E. The main event included WCW World Heavyweight Champion Scott Steiner vs. WCW United States Champion Booker T. The 'Night of Champions' name and concept is now used as an annual pay-per-view by WWE.
Other notable moments
When then WWF Women's Champion Alundra Blayze signed with WCW in 1995 (going back to her old name of "Madusa"), she brought the belt with her and threw it in the trash 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. This infamous event would be parodied by WCW on the November 29th, 1999 edition of Nitro, when Scott Hall threw the WCW World Television Championship in the trash and "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan found it three months later on the February 16th, 2000 episode of WCW Saturday Night and claimed it.
The only wrestler to appear on both WCW Monday Nitro and WWF Monday Night RAW on the same night was Rick Rude. He appeared at the RAW taping the previous Tuesday despite not having a WWF contract and signed with WCW in time to appear at Nitro on Monday. Rude was able to appear on WCW because he was not under a contract to the WWF at the time, appearing on a handshake deal with McMahon.
- Eric Bischoff (1995-1996)
- Steve McMichael (1995-1996)
- Gene Okerlund (Interviewer - 1995-2001)
- Bobby Heenan (1995-2000)
- Larry Zbyszko (1996-1999)
- Tony Schiavone (1996-2001)
- Mike Tenay (1996-2001)
- Scott Hudson (1999-2001)
- Mark Madden (2000-2001)