EDITOR'S NOTE: Eric Benner is SLAM! Wrestling's regular Friday columnist.
Friday, March 12, 1998
A conspiracy of conspiracies
Before you fall off your chair, if you've never heard of this theory before, hear me out. I always make some amount of sense, right?
Now, the bottom line is: I've heard way too much about this particular scenario not to at least address it. Of course, it's not always a theory that includes Bret. In fact, the most frequent version of it that crosses my desk involves only Hogan, or Hogan and Kevin Nash, or, perhaps most plausibly, Hollywood Hogan, Kevin Nash, and Paul Wight. But if we're going to give credence to a possibility which is based on only the most circumstantial evidence, we may as well throw in the Bret Hart work thing, too, and see what we get.
Granted, I could receive rumours in my mailbox a hundred times a day, every day for a month, and still not believe it. It has to come from somewhere credible first. I've met and frequently emailed Harris Black, who sent me this particular email, and I know he's a smart guy, but more importantly, this issue has been addressed frequently by Mike Samuda, one of my former web-masters. Not only is he right on the money almost all the time, but he's backed by Dave Meltzer, who I would name as professional wrestling's best and most reliable source. He runs a pay newsletter entitled the Wrestling Observer and a 1-900 line by the same name. I don't know who he knows, but he has great insight into all the action. Point is: when Meltzer talks, I listen.
That's not to say that Dave Meltzer, or Mike Samuda for that matter, or even Harris Black, are suggesting that all of this is actually true. It's more of a fun possibility to examine. Even if it were true, anyway, we'd have no idea to what extent it were true or who to blame.
I think I'll save the Bret Hart part of the idea until the end, since I know so many readers out there are touchy about the subject (rightly so). Plus I wrote about it before -- Nov. 30: The verdict: Bret-McMahon was a work
Hogan switched over from the WWF to WCW about half a decade ago, and he wrestled there with Randy Savage for about two years. Following that, Eric Bischoff, who had signed both Hogan and Savage, brought in some more post-WWF talent in Kevin Nash and Scott Hall. We all know what has happened since then, but how does that affect our theory? Well, members of the clique from the WWF, who were let go because their unprofessionalism took away from the show (refusal to job, who to fight, and so on), formed a new clique with Hogan in WCW. They took care of their friends and have buried everybody else. That particular piece of the story is undeniable and continues today, with Kevin Nash as lead booker, now, but Hogan right at his ear.
Additionally, we are all familiar with Bret Hart's emergence on the scene in late 1997. I won't go over that in great detail, but the major players involved on the WWF side were Shawn Michaels and Vince McMahon, who seemingly collaborated, if not to screw him in his final match, then to make his working life hell. McMahon even went on record at one point, saying that Shawn had "seven good years left to Bret's three" and that he "had to go with Shawn." Well, Shawn was almost as injured then (after his Hell in the Cell match) as he is now, so it's arguable that McMahon made that up.
Let me outline the scenario for you, and put all the pieces together, from the hypothetical perspective of this whole thing being true:
Hogan and McMahon are on top of the WWF hill. Hogan says he's going to WCW. They're offering too much money to turn down. McMahon says that the WWF is in bad straights now, but that they'll be out of it soon if things go right [they have]. He says go, take them for all they're worth, place yourself in an important position behind the scenes, and when things start to pick up here, destroy them. Savage goes with Hogan, probably more for the money than anything else.
Then the clique more or less takes over the WWF -- them being Michaels and Nash and Hall and Hunter Hearst Helmsley. At the time, Nash and Scott Hall were certainly bigger than Helmsely and as big as Michaels. This time, though, the switch would have been less about the money and more about power. If we go, they may have told McMahon, we could consolidate Hogan's power at the top. Maybe they ran the nWo idea over with McMahon. He might have complemented on the idea as a great one to get them in with Bischoff and achieve success at first, but one which would ultimately not provide good wrestling matches and consequently one which could run WCW well into the ground.
Two years or so later, the Michaels and Hart match takes place at Survivor Series. Maybe the whole thing was fake (bear with me, I am aware of my readership's concensus). Perhaps the anxiety between Hart and Michaels was false to begin with, and that they were working with Vince McMahon in a plausible way to get Hart into WCW. Their setup would not have been one to fool the fans with; rather, it would have been a method of convincing Bischoff that Hart was a major steal, which he wasn't. I have no idea why this would be important to the plan. Drain Bischoff's funds? Maybe they thought Hart would assume more importance than he did? Who knows?
Assuming all of this to be true, which I am not advocating, the situation we have now is that four of the WWF's informants and spies are running the show down south, perhaps intending to make some kind of triumphant return to the WWF, where they would end off their careers, richer and more successful than ever.
What makes this theory plausible?
It would mean more money for all involved. For the wrestlers, out of Bischoff's pocket, and for McMahon, temporary savings.
It would explain the absolutely horrid booking in WCW, and I think that this is the strongest point in favour. Many cannot believe that WCW could be so bad given their very talented roster, and that the only way for it to be so deplorable would be if someone were doing this on purpose.
All of the little catch-phrases and signs exchanged by WWF clique members Shawn Michaels, Hunter Hearst Helmsley, Sean Waltman/X-Pac and WCW members Scott Hall and Kevin Nash, all on national television and to the dismay of Bischoff and the 'dismay' of McMahon.
Paul Wight, a close friend of Hogan's (to my knowledge), was encouraged, by Hogan, and according to some, introduced to McMahon by Hogan, then pushed over to the WWF, where, according to Hogan, Wight would have more success, and perhaps, would be followed later by Hogan and the boys.
Then there's the horrible booking of WCW home-grown stars Ric Flair, Sting, Diamond Dallas Page, and so on. When 'the clique' were to leave WCW, they would be leaving behind improperly pushed stars and a much less appealing organization to the viewer as a consequence of that.
I'm not really biased for or against this idea, so here are the 'facts' that make this idea implausible:
Does anyone really believe that the Bret Hart thing could have been a work and that he could even possibly be on good terms with those guys?
In theory, the WCW half of the clique could just milk that company dry until they retire. If Nash's the head booker and making over a million a year, why would he want to go to the WWF, where he'd work twice the dates at a lower salary with far less power?
McMahon seems to have proven himself wary of old stars. Almost everyone, at least everyone in the limelight, in the WWF is young and will hit their prime in the future, not the distant past. He's also cheaper than Harry Sinden (long-time general manager of the Boston Bruins, who will win the Stanley Cup this year if I have any say).
I believe that the presence of Scott Hall, Kevin Nash, and Shawn Michaels in the WWF were a legitimate detraction to the quality of wrestling we'd see - they still exhibited cliquish behaviour back then. Why would Vince want that again?
There are any number of reasons to support or deny this theory, but I think it's worth voicing, if nothing else than the entertainment value of a 'what if?' situation. And personally, it gives me solace to know that someone is ruining WCW on purpose, instead of by accident. If it were put to a vote though, I'd like to hear all your thoughts (of course). For now, I'll abstain.
Here's the rest of that reader mailbag thinamajig. By the way, the amount of letters I put in usually depends on the amount I get. If lots of people are enthused enough to write me mail, I'll be enthused enough to put more in. When I get tons of mail, I put five or six in - otherwise it's two or three. So get writing!
*I enjoy your column very much. My question is why does WCW have such lousy storylines and booking? In WCW why do the wrestlers make such important decisions? To me it seems obvious that no wrestler should have that much power. To leave the booking and storyline generation to a wrestler is silly, it should be done by writers and executives. A wrestler is too close to the action, he's biased towards his friends, (ex.Hogan & Nash ) it doesn't make sense.*
Jeff Lewis, from email@example.com, writes:
*I've been a loyal reader of your columns ever since you showed up on SLAM!. South of the border here in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA, I find myself surfing Canadian sites for solid wrestling news and commentary. Anyway, I really enjoyed your column on Nielsen ratings and what they mean. As a former mass communications student, I check the ratings almost weekly. A few additions to your comments:
Pro wrestling has achieved "appointment television" status, which makes advertisers drool, no matter what the audience size. The Nitro/Raw phenomenon is full of "me and my buddies catch it every week" stories. A show that can consistently deliver the same viewers each week (and over time, broaden the base without losing the core) is a smart advertising buy.
WWF has a lot more at stake with ratings than WCW. Since WCW is owned and operated by Turner, and broadcast on Turner stations, production costs are lower, and the broadcaster is more willing to stick it out through lean times, since it is more cost-effective. Since USA has to buy WWF's show, and then try to make a profit off the advertising, certain ratings goals must be reached, regardless of how many people are watching Nitro.
All "ratings war" talk aside, neither show is in any type of danger. Though Nitro is usually the second-highest rated show in the Monday night wars, Nitro is also usually the second-or third-highest rated show on basic cable. Only new episodes of "South Park" on Comedy Central and "Rugrats" on Nickelodeon pull the numbers WCW and WWF get.
Head-to-head ratings comparisons aren't quite as meaningful as many pundits suggest. In some markets, the air times vary. In Phoenix, Arizona, USA, for example, the major cable carrier picks up the TNT East Coast Feed, and the Mountain feed for USA Network. In English, that means a wrestling fan in Arizona can catch Nitro from 6-9 local time, then switch over to USA from 9-11 for Raw.
The actual number of viewers may be higher than the ratings indicate. In many cases, seven people watching one Neilsen TV is recorded as one viewer. (This is an argument frequently used by the NFL, NBA, and American college sports) I think most Neilsen tracking is done by "people-meters" now (the show watched is recorded by the remote control used to tune in), but in the "diary" era (where Nielsen subjects would write down what they watched, and mail it to Neilsen), subjects where prone to fabricate their viewing habits to "look good". Now that wrestling is cool, long-time viewers may just now be admitting that they tune in.
Pro wrestling has gained a large enough audience to eat into the NFL's numbers. ABC's "Monday Night Football" - the flagship TV program of American football - has suffered ratings decline over the last two seasons, especially last fall. Many experts pin it on wrestling, as the two shows draw the same type of audience. To combat the problem, MNF is changing their broadcast booth lineup next season for the second time in two years, in the past, the standard shelf life of an MNF announcer is about 10-15 years. (This is not all a bad thing. Much to the delight on MNF viewers, ABC canned Dan Dierdorf, a man that can only be described as "the Tony Schiavone of the NFL". If only Nitro viewers could be so lucky....) The NFL players aren't doing much to help the problem, as more and more of them are caught doing crotch chops and signaling for diamond cutters on the field and the sidelines during games :-). John Randle, an All-Pro Minnesota Viking and huge fan favorite here, usually wears an Austin 3:16 or n.W.o T-shirt under his game jersey and pads.
Well, I've gone on long enough. Keep up the good work - I like the Friday release date of your columns, BTW. I do most of my wrestling Web reading on Friday afternoons/early evenings - it's a nice way to wrap up the work week, and to find out what to anticipate on PPVs and weekly shows.*
Thanks for the info, Jeff. It's most appreciated. I, too, am a follower of the ratings, but more out of a duty to keep myself informed as I write this column than anything else. Everything you wrote makes sense and much of it is consistent with what I knew. Whatever wasn't, well, that's what I call learning. Thanks. Hope the readers enjoyed this one, too.
Well, it's time for me to pack up. I realize that this has been a particularly long column [editor: no kidding!], and as always, I'd like to hear your thoughts about that. The thing with me is, when I have a lot to say, I say a lot. Or write, as the case may be. The power of condensing is within my grasp, but I get a lot of mail asking me to write more every week. So how was this? Too much for your attention span? Not enough? Just right? Let me know!
In the meantine, have a great week and I'll see you in seven. Later.
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