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In 1995, World Championship Wrestling was looking for a way to compete with the World Wrestling Federation. The method they went with was to start a weekly show on TNT note designed to go head to head with their rival's flagship program. Thus, on September 4, 1995, WCW Monday Nitro aired its first episode from the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota.
Nitro was highly unconventional from Day 1. A majority of episodes opened with a match, making it much different than Raw—but in a good way, since the undercard matches had all the cruiserweights. Each one was on a level of quality that their competitors typically for reserved for pay-per-views. Plot twists were common, and since Raw was pre-taped at the time and Nitro was live, commentary on the latter would frequently leak results from the former's matches. Their uniqueness was furthered by the New World Order angle, as it blurred the line between kayfabe and reality.
All of this made for a winning formula for success. Famously and frequently stated by Eric Bischoff, Nitro beat Raw in the ratings for 84 weeks straight, and at one point was the most watched show on cable in the United States.
However, it wouldn't last. The nWo angle ran well beyond its welcome, and the Fingerpoke of Doom removed any sense of prestige from the title belts. Affecting WCW as a whole, the PPV-quality matches were able to draw ratings but left nothing notable to save for PPV. The last few years were a shadow of what the show once was. Bizarre twists, time-wasting filler, and a heel face revolving door that just wouldn't stop made for an almost Ed Woodian show.
Eventually, the WWF bought WCW. The last episode of Nitro aired on March 26, 2001, and the end of that episode served as a lead-in for the Invasion angle.
After Nitro ended, TNT wouldn't air any form of professional wrestling for over 18 years until All Elite Wrestling announced it would air its weekly prime-time television program on TNT in 2019. The weekly show, rumored to be airing on Tuesdays nights and titled Tuesday Night Dynamite, will premiere at some point in the fall.
This show contains examples of the following:
- The Bad Guy Wins: Part of the reason the nWo angle ran out of steam was because the bookers forgot that the heels are eventually supposed to lose. The nWo, on the other hand, kept dominating without anyone to stop them. The closest thing to a victory was Sting and Bret pounding the stuffing out of Hogan in 1997, and even then, the nWo kept splintering and re-forming.
- Bookends: The first and last Nitro both had Flair vs. Sting.
- The Cameo:
- After Bischoff pulled up stakes and moved to Orlando, several WCW wrestlers were given roles on Baywatch: Hogan, Flair, and Vader starred in the same episode, and Scott Steiner appeared in the last TV movie, White Thunder at Glacier Bay.
- Arliss was once a guest-commentator, newly-arrived in Orlando to hype the wrestling debut of Dennis Rodman. Note that it was not Robert Wuhl the actor who representing Rodman. It was Arliss. He spent the show trashing actual wrestlers and hyping Rodman as the biggest thing in wrestling. (He actually fell asleep on a turnbuckle and later sued the promotion.)
- This also likely served as Product Placement- at the time Turner and Time Warner had just completed their merger, meaning TNT and HBO were sister networks now and Time Warner likely wanted synergy between them.
- Conspicuous Consumption: Rewatching Nitros in the present day is a wistful, and slightly surreal, experience. So many limousines and pyros they could afford on every broadcast. Especially interesting is how WCW went overboard with the pyro for wrestlers' entrances. Pyro was a rare event in the WWF, even during the Monday Night Wars. (Kane, for example.) But in WCW, even midcarders like Buff Bagwell and the Misfits in Action had pyro. Talk about excess!
- Of course, it helped that Ted Turner (and then Time Warner) was bankrolling the whole thing...
- Continuity Reboot: A rare in-company example of this took place in April 2000. There was a concerted effort to try and shake off the badness that had accumulated in the last few angles. It didn't work.Dave Meltzer: The changes in Nitro remind me of putting a nice, fresh coat of paint on a house that had just been hit by a tornado.
- Cool vs. Awesome: Many a main event match was like this.
- Early Installment Weirdness: The first episode lacked the familiar red and black color-scheme, pyro and large diamond-plated WCW letters. Though the show was held at the Mall of America, which wouldn't have accommodated the latter two.
- Epic Fail: The January 4th 1999 episode of Nitro was the one where WCW arguably made two of their biggest-ever mistakes literally back-to-back. First, Eric Bischoff told Tony Schiavone to spoil the fact that Mick Foley was about to win the WWF Championship over on Raw, believing this would discourage viewers from changing the channel, only to completely misjudge Foley's popularitynote and send over 600,000 viewers across to his rivals instead (it sure "put some butts in seats"). Then after that, any viewers who switched back to Nitro after seeing Foley's win got the "privilege" of seeing... The Fingerpoke of Doom! And WCW would never recover.
- Fake Band:
- Fingerpoke of Doom: The trope namer. Kevin Nash laid down for Hulk Hogan after receiving a gentle poke in the chest, effectively making Hogan the World Heavyweight Champion again, as well as mocking the audience.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: Bischoff's obsession with tearing down the WWF backfired on him with the "That's gonna put some butts in the seats!" spoiler. Much earlier, Bischoff had made Vince shit bricks by spoiling pre-taped WWF matches at his own live events. Where he miscalculated on January 4, 1999 was that Mankind was no Shawn Michaels. To put it another way, Mankind was the underdog garbage wrestler, the long-shot contender. Fans were less likely to tune into Raw before Tony's comments. Even Russo, crazy and meta as he is, probably would have warned Bischoff not to do this.
- Hostile Show Takeover: The nWo existed to take over WCW and make it their own playground. They had some amount of success at this; they took over Nitro on two separate occasions, and put on their own pay-per-view event once.
- Insistent Terminology
- Bischoff insisted on the term "Cruiserweight" instead of "Light Heavyweight" because he felt the latter made the smaller wrestlers seem less important.
- After obtaining a memo from Turner, presumably intended for CNN, instructing them to use the word "international" instead of "foreign" on-air, WCW followed suit by referring to foreign objects as "international objects."
- Nothing Is the Same Anymore: When Hulk Hogan joined the nWo. It is one of the most memorable and well done turns in wrestling.
- Pun: Monday Nitro is pronounced almost exactly like Monday Night Raw.
- Remember the New Guy?: Related to the enforced method acting during the late 1990s and 2000s, WCW would sometimes debut new wrestlers or teams with no debut vignettes or promos, just as though they expected everyone to already know who they were and what they were about. Even David Arquette was introduced while feuding with Jeff Jarrett, whom he had never met. Later, Jeff explained that Arquette offended him by not inviting him to star in the movie — despite Jeff joining WCW well after it was filmed.
- Squash Match: Averted. The great appeal in Nitro's early years when compared to the product being put out on Raw was that, with the notable exception of matches featuring Goldberg, there were almost no squash matches. Nearly every match on the card was set as being between two more-or-less equal sides that were seen as having a respectable chance of winning. Compare this to the cards being put out on Raw circa 1995, where almost all matches except the main event featured dedicated jobbers to some degree.
- Stealth Pun: Nitro, which is often an abbreviation of nitroglycerin, aired on a network named TNT. (TNT themselves had used such a pun back in 1990 when their coverage of the NFL began.)
- Strictly Formula: In WCW's later years, the creative staff went back to the well a half dozen too many times by reviving the nWo seemingly every six months and booking matches and feuds between the same groups of wrestlers over and over again. As The Death of WCW put it, as great a match as Rey Mysterio Jr. and Juventud Guerrera could be, you can only watch so many variations week after week before it gets old. One of the main reasons why WCW fell in the ratings was because the bookers were dead set on running with a pat hand, keeping entire segments of the roster firmly segregated from each other in competition and not giving them the chance to compete against different opponents.
- Sure, Let's Go with That: Bischoff was put on the spot when asked what WCW needed to turn the tide by Turner. After some nervous stammering, he blurted out the first thing that came to mind: a Monday night time slot to compete head-to-head with Raw.
- Take That!: Nearly every episode would have at least one directed at the WWF.