Wrestling was the number one television program for many weeks in the late 1990s. But there were two wrestling promotions vying for that top spot -Vince McMahon's WWE and Ted Turner's WCW. Each had its own show on Monday night show, thus the ratings rivalry was dubbed the Monday Night Wars.
In 2001, WCW was purchased by WWE and the story supposedly ended. But like most stories, there are many sides to tell.
On January 25th, the man who Ted Turner put in charge to run WCW, Eric Bischoff, will be in Philadelphia to tell his side of the story during a debate at Dave & Buster's on Columbus Boulevard.
His opponent will be Bruce Prichard, a former WWE executive, who was once known as 'McMahon's right-hand man.' He also portrayed the preacher Brother Love character in the 1980s.
The debate will be moderated by WWE Superstar, former WCW wrestler, and Fozzy frontman Chris Jericho, who also hosted the 2010 game show Downfall on ABC.
Tickets can be purchased at http://www.rfvideo.com/bischoffprichardshow.aspx
On a much-related note, WWE will be holding one of its biggest events of the year, Royal Rumble, in Philadelphia later that night.
6abc.com was able to speak with Eric on various issues ranging from the upcoming debate, 'Macho Man' Randy Savage, the downfall of WCW, creative control, his time as a performer in WWE, 'revisionist history,' Vince McMahon, Ted Turner, Philly fans, and his (in)famous broom audition for WWE in 1990.
So Eric, what is this debate all about?
Bruce Pritchard who was by all accounts the architect or the right-hand man, if you will, of Vince McMahon during the lead-up and probably the apex of the Monday Night Wars, he and I have come to know each other. We have worked together in WWE, we have together outside WWE. We have a tremendous amount of respect for each other, but we still have our own opinions and views of the world. It will be a real unique opportunity for the fans to ask questions and hear our respective opinions about the Monday Night Wars from totally opposite points of view.
Only 300 fans in attendance. That will be quite intimate.
Intimate is I guess a good word, hard to use that word in the context of a wrestling event. (Laughs) Nonetheless, it will be a very up close and personal kind of staging which I think is important.
Wrestling fans have their own questions. We've all seen as I refer to it the revisionist history that is spewed from WWE. They have the platform, they have the ability to kind of retell history from their perspective. They have the power to do that. They have the video footage they can manipulate and the facts they can manipulate so that the narrative suits their goal. But their narrative or their goal isn't necessarily the truth.
There's a whole different side to the Monday Night Wars that fans generally haven't been exposed to within the WWE and that's what Bruce and I are going to tackle and debate.
WWE'S MONDAY NIGHT WAR DOCUMENTARY SERIES
(WWE uses the singular 'war' rather than 'wars' as many others do)
Do you subscribe to the WWE Network? Something tells me you do not.
I do not, but I will be shortly because I intend to do as much research as I can on their version of the Monday Night Wars that I may not have seen. I've seen some of it, but I haven't seen all of it. I'm going to immerse myself in it.
Do you get royalties every time WWE shows a video of you?
It's a complex kind of an answer. I won't bore your readers. Suffice to say it is a complex licensing formula that, yes, it does result in a check. But the size of that check isn't nearly what people would like to think it is.
So are you not happy with WWE using video of you?
No, no, no. Let me make this very clear. I absolutely loved the time I worked at WWE. I have a tremendous amount of respect the McMahon family and the way they conduct business. I had a blast there and I'm very grateful for the opportunity I had to work there.
When I signed my agreement with them, I knew they would be able to use footage of me over and over and over again. I am grateful for it. So thank you very much.
Yeah, you are all over that Monday Night War documentary on WWE Network.
And I am. Unfortunately, it's an interview from 2003 so it's a little dated. But I'm grateful to be part of whatever they're doing. It's history. People will make up their own minds, they'll find their own information. I'm not too worried about.
DOWNFALL OF WCW
One of the things that is brought up a lot on the WWE Network's Monday Night War series is that you gave all the guys creative control and that was one of the big things that led to downfall of WCW.
That is an example of an absolute lie, a false narrative, something that's been exaggerated by so many people for so long and repeated by people so many times for so long that somehow it has become the truth. And it is not. It is not the truth.
The only person who had creative control was Hulk Hogan. I will readily admit that.That was the first time and the only time. There was meaningful consultation kind of in some, very few of the agreements, but the only person that had creative control was Hulk Hogan. Anybody that suggests otherwise is lying, ignorant, manipulating the facts. It's just not true.
So the fans in Philly can come to Dave & Buster's to get your side - the truth.
Like I said, when I was on my soapbox, so many people from talent and people trying to get attention, trying to get a headline, have said so many false things about WCW and my strategies and the real reasons behind so many different things. It's funny sometimes and that's one of the things I think people will have the opportunity to dig into at the debate.
During the Monday Night Wars, WCW was winning in the ratings for - what was it 83, 84 weeks in a row?
I don't keep count. 81. I've read 88. I've read 104. Pick a number. We were doing pretty well for a while.
I'm sure at the time you didn't think your ratings victories were going to end. Did you think you'd be on top forever?
No, that's not necessarily the truth. I knew early in 1998 when WWE was really starting to put pressure on me. They signed Mike Tyson which, by the way, I think was the big pivot point, it was the beginning - no matter what anybody says - it was the beginning of the Attitude Era which was kind of taking a look at the NWO and trying to put a WWE spin on it. The Attitude Era was really a replication of the NWO formula which was completely counterintuitive to everything the WWE had been doing up to that point.
But when WWE finally went 'ok, Nitro's got a formula. It's working. It's kicking our [expletive], we have to do our version of it,' it was really the Mike Tyson angle with Steve Austin and Vince McMahon that really was the pivot point.
During that time - it was the same time that AOL/Time-Warner was really heating up and there was a tremendous amount of political maneuvering behind the scenes. It was a combination of those two things that really led to what we know as the downfall of WCW.
Let's say there was no downfall and WCW won the war, do you think in 2015 you would still be in charge of WCW or do you think there would've come a time where you say 'I've had enough of this' and left?
I think I would've left. It wouldn't have lasted. The truth is Vince McMahon has been as successful as he has been and the most successful person in the history of this industry because he's been able to protect his autonomy, he's been able to remain in control of his brand, his message, his story, his characters, every aspect of this business.
In today's world, that would not be the case. Unless you were something as powerful and established as the WWE is, much like the NFL is, or Major League Baseball is, or the NBA is, when you have that much influence over a viewing audience you have an ability to exert a certain amount of leverage. If you don't have that ability, it will be very hard to survive, especially with a wrestling product because it's just not like any other kind of content.
So I don't think in today's environment the way things are run corporately, I wouldn't have survived. I needed to be working with someone like a Ted Turner, I needed to be working with an entrepreneur and a warrior and not a board of directors.
The execs really messed things up for you at WCW. Is that a fair statement?
Look, execs can save things. Executives and really smart people in a board room can reshape the world, but unfortunately with a product like wrestling which is so unique and such a niche product, that unless those people in the boardroom have some sense as to what it is and why people watch it and the psychology behind what has kept professional wrestling at the forefront of entertainment for so many decades, unless someone has the ability to see that, you're sitting in front of a boardroom of people that generally don't want to have anything to do with you. That's what makes it difficult. Wrestling has always been a very successful medium and genre and will continue to be so, but you've got to be in front of the right people.
I know sometimes it's tough for me to talk about the entertainment value of wrestling to non-wrestling fans, I can't imagine trying to talk these AOL executives into why wrestling should stay on their air.
I'll be honest with you, I really didn't get much of an opportunity to try and convince anybody at AOL of anything because in the food chain of life during the AOL-Time Warner merger, I was down there around the bottom of the sea along with amoeba and other low life forms. So I really didn't get an opportunity to speak to anybody at that time. By the way, AOL has proven to be the geniuses that they were and are and no longer really exist in the form it did during the merger. But it is what it is and I'm grateful for my experience there. I had a blast.
WORKING FOR WWE
So when you left WCW, you then ended up a couple years later working for the enemy, so to speak. What was your mindset like when you agreed to work at WWE?
At that time, I didn't feel like I was going to work for the enemy. First of all, I never really thought of WWE or WWF or Vince McMahon as the enemy. I thought of them as a competitor, I thought of them as number one, I thought of them as the number one I wanted to make the number two. But there was never really any emotion other than competiveness factored into it.
By the time I got the call from Vince McMahon about coming to work with him, I was excited. There was no residual, not even competiveness at that point. He already won. It was over. It was decided. He won. I lost. But it was cool to speak to him, I don't want to say as a peer, but kind of as a peer. There was no pretense or nuance, it was very honest and direct and it was fun.
During your visit on Stone Cold Steve Austin's podcast, you spoke about when your run ended on WWE. You were thrown into a trash dumpster by Vince McMahon. And you told Steve that was your idea!
Part of it was. The original storyline would have had John Cena put me in the trash. I looked at it on the script. I was kind of I don't want to say grateful because I enjoyed it as much as I did, but I knew it should be over. I didn't want to go out there and bore the audience with the same kind of storyline or angle or whatever, I just didn't want to do that anymore. I was really glad that my run was over, but I wanted it to be good. I wanted it to be almost as good as when I first showed up but I knew that would be hard to replicate. I wanted it to be good and have a meaning.
So when I looked at the script and it had Cena throw me into the dumpster, my first thought was that didn't make any sense. I didn't have any heat with Cena. The crowd will react that the good guy threw the bad guy in the garbage; that would be ok. But what they really wanted to see, which is what they really wanted to see in the beginning, they wanted to see Eric Bischoff vs. Vince McMahon. And they never got it. So I wanted to make it as close as I can. So I went to Vince and said rather than Cena, why don't you let him hit me and finish everything off, why don't you pick me up and you throw me into the trash so that the last thing the WWE fans see is what the WWE fans want? And he did. That was how we finished it. I thought it was appropriate and how good it could have been.
And you were all for being put into a dumpster? Did you have any reservations about that?
No. No. No. This is hopefully what fans at Dave & Buster's will hear and understand. When I went to work in the wresting business I was lowest form of talent on the planet. I knew my job was to do whatever was asked of me. That was my job. That was my work ethic. It's always been my work ethic. When you agree to work for someone, you agree to do what they ask you to do as long as you agree to take their money. As soon as you quit agreeing to take their money, you can quit agreeing to do what they ask you to do. So that's my philosophy.
So when I went to work for Vince McMahon, I knew my job wasn't to approve, create, add input, try to change, shape ideas. My job was to take whatever ideas they had and perform them as an actor to the best of my abilities. That was my job. So I never questioned anything that was put in front of me, other than how can I make this the best it can be.
That's a great attitude to have. I don't know what my thoughts would've been if I heard, 'we're going to throw you into the dumpster.'
You have to understand, this is the part that fans often get lost in. It's even more complex because my character is me. My character was Eric Bischoff who was the president of WCW. By the way, the reality was my name is Eric Bischoff and I was the president of WCW. It's unlike an actor who's playing a role where the world who sees it understands they're not really a drug-dealing murderer, you're really just a good actor. In wrestling, you play that aggressive, mean, abusive boss and you really are that guy. I hate you for real. That's also what made it fun. Being able to make it believable and real to people is part of what made me playing that character, and I'm sure to a large degree Vince McMahon playing his character, so much fun and so easy in some respects.
So it sounds like you had fun just being a performer in WWE and not making the decisions like you did in WCW.
Believe me, by the time I got to WWE, the last thing I wanted to do was have a discussion about creative or try to decide a good story from a bad story or have input into a scene or direct a shot, I was just happy to be a performer. I started out as a performer and I ended my career as a performer with WWE.
TED TURNER VS. VINCE McMAHON
Eric, you worked for both Ted Turner and Vince McMahon. Any similarities or differences between the two?
The truth is I had very little real conversation with Vince McMahon about anything related to story, creative, or ideas. In fact, I don't think had any. And other than the brief meeting with Ted Turner where I suggested to him what needed to happen in order for WCW to be competitive, I had very little direct one-on-one interface with Ted Turner. It's not like I went out to have cocktails and beers and lunch and breakfast and exchange business ideas with either one of them. It never happened.
So Ted wouldn't call you up and say 'good job Eric on the ratings this week?'
That happened occasionally. But it was never Ted by himself. Maybe once or twice. Generally, when I did hear from Ted Turner it was a conference call with Brad Siegel and Scott Sassa and couple other executives at Turner where he was congratulating, not me, but the team on the ratings. But that only happened probably four, five, six times. I may have had one or two phone calls from him directly early on and the rest of my meetings with him were with a management group environment not one-on-one.
Do you stay in contact with him?
No. I reached out to him four or five years after I left. I needed a favor and he was happy to oblige. I thanked him and that was probably the last time I had contact with him. Ted's busy. He's older. He's very engaged and deeply involved in his philanthropic things. He's very involved in raising bison around the world. So he's a pretty busy guy. I'm not sure if he'd have time for an e-mail from me.
You should try.
You never know. I follow him on Twitter!
Well, then you are connected!
Yeah, he's a Twitter buddy.
Now, would you say left on good terms with Vince?
I think so. I would imagine I did. I did everything I was asked to do to the best of my ability. Vince and I still exchange holiday greetings every once in a while. So I assume we're still on good terms.
So you still get Christmas cards from the McMahons?
No Christmas cards, but the occasional texts.
'MACHO MAN' RANDY SAVAGE
Big news came out from WWE recently, they are inducting the late 'Macho Man' Randy Savage who passed away in 2011 into their Hall of Fame. I know you worked with Randy for a good number of years in WCW. What was it like to work with the 'Macho Man?'
I loved working with Randy. Randy was nutty. He was so unique. He was intense. He was obsessive compulsive. He was a perfectionist's perfectionist. He was insecure. He was the greatest guy you'd ever meet. He'd do anything for you. He'd give you the shirt off his back. You can trust him to a fault. He was a very complex guy. With all of the challenges because of all the things I went through a moment ago cause of his personality, all the challenges that came along with that, I wouldn't trade a second of it. It was intense, but it was great.
So would you agree that this is deserved for 'Macho Man?'
You know, deserve, who's to determine that? It's the WWE Hall of Fame. They get to determine or their fan base, their universe, they get to determine. But based on everything that I've seen in terms of reaction, I think fans really wanted to see this. I applaud WWE and whoever was on the committee or the board who made the decision because it was a good one. I think it's nice to see healing. I think it's nice to see wounds heal, people come together and support the business. I'm happy to see it. It's good all the way around for everybody.
STONE COLD AND CHRIS JERICHO
Speaking of wounds healing, I know you and Steve Austin didn't necessarily see eye to eye for many years after he was fired while you were in charge of WCW, but you have been a guest on his podcast. It looks like with time, people are able to get back together again in the wrestling business.
Well, of course. By the way, Steve and I have put our history behind us a long time before the podcast. We worked together in WWE, we were in a match together in Montreal, we did a lot of things together to promote it. This says a lot about Steve Austin. Steve came to me right off the bat and we went off into a corner by ourselves, talked it out, and it was a very positive conversation. Steve was very positive and supportive. Obviously, so was I. Steve and I put our issues and differences behind us a longtime ago. But the podcast was fun because the audience got to hear that and hear both sides of our respective stories. Even though we put it all behind us, we still have our own perspectives. We were still living in our own shoes so our respective points of view are not necessarily aligned with what everybody thinks. I think that's what makes it interesting and fun.
There are indeed two sides to every story - which brings us back to this debate, January 25th at Dave & Buster's. It would be remiss of me not to mention the moderator of the debate, Chris Jericho, who worked for both you in WCW and Vince McMahon in WWE.
Not just to mention that, it's kind of a big deal. You know Chris and I have our own history and Chris and the WWE have their history. When Chris first stepped up and said 'let me moderate this thing because you two are out of control.' [Bruce and I] were stepping over each other on his [podcast]. Clearly, Chris understands there wasn't going to be any rhyme or reason to this effort, somebody had to referee it.
Chris is unique because he's been on both sides of the fence. He was there early on in WCW when we were just first starting to take control of Monday night and really starting to take on WWE in a big way. But he was also there on the downside when things were ugly. I can't think of a better moderator and I'm grateful that Chris stepped up.
And I'm sure even though he's moderating, if Chris Jericho has something to say, nothing will stop him from saying it.
It's Chris Jericho. My first thought was Jericho's moderating? This is going to be the Chris Jericho Show. Bruce and Bischoff are going to be ushering people back and forth from their seats. I know Chris. He's not shy. If he has an opinion, you're going to hear it. That's one of the reasons I was excited because honestly if Chris hears bull from me, I expect Chris to call it. I expect Chris to call me out and call Bruce out, too. I think that's what's going to make Dave & Buster's so much fun.
Switching back to the Monday Night War documentary, your audition tape for WWE in 1990 - the one where they had you sell a broom - was shown. It was mentioned in the documentary, because of that audition, you had a chip on shoulder towards WWE.
It's funny because I saw that clip. People send me stuff on Twitter. 'Look, Vince is making fun of you.' People have no idea. If you're an actor, if you're a performer, if you're going to audition, people make you improv, they make you adlib, they make you do all kinds of silly stuff. They make you do that to see how you're going to react to pressure and how loose you are and how confident you are. If you've been an actor or performer, or if you've auditioned for commercials, you understand that, you know that. So what Vince did or (producer) Kevin Dunn or whoever's running that thing, they did what they should have done. I was what I was. I said a long time ago, I would not have hired me back then. To me, I was grateful for the opportunity. I got to try out for WWE and for a brief period of time, I was able to imagine that I might have a gig for one of the biggest wrestling companies in the world.
In my opinion, you didn't do such a bad job selling the broom.
How good can anybody sell a broom? Unless you are the guy who sells the squeegees on the infomercials. I wasn't that guy. (Laughs)
Well, you ended up running your own wrestling company.
It worked out okay.
And now you are producing your own TV shows.
My partner, Jason Hervey, and I have been producing shows for the past 8 or 9 years. We have shows on Discovery, VH1, CMT, and you name it, we've probably done a show for them. We're very successful and grateful to my partner and the entire team that make BHE a big sucess.
So one of the major complaints wrestling fans have is that sometimes it feels like storylines aren't fully conceived and things are just going week to week without an endgame. When you were running WCW, how far in advance were storylines mapped out or did it depend on the characters and other circumstances?
There is no definitive answer to that. In general, I personally like to have things laid out six months in advance, the general arc of any story. Then I start breaking down the weekly episodes about a month in advance and adding significant details based on whatever variables. Variables can be from injuries, contract disputes, to seeing how the audience reacts to something that you might not have anticipated. We start out with a general arc and then try to maintain a weekly bible that breaks everything down to pretty manageable production elements.
In one of the archived interviews WWE showed, you say 'half of the time, I didn't know what was going to happen before I got into the building.'
And often you don't. You have injuries, you have contract disputes, you have ideas that would evolve. I've read the same is true for WWE. I've read the same things you've read where scripts change right up until the last minute, but that happens with television. That happens especially with live television. Much more with live television than taped because you have to adjust to certain realities that you don't have a chance to adjust for in postproduction. So it happens, but it's one of the reasons I love it.
Any expectations what the Philly crowd is going to be like?
I've been to Philadelphia enough and performed there enough, I know it's going to be a tough crowd. They're going to be direct. They're going to expect straightforward, direct responses. They're not going to take any bull or any song and dance. I expect a tough crowd. I expect them to be demanding. I expect them to be knowledgeable. If there's a great place to do this kind of thing and have a debate, it's Philadelphia.
And then after the debate, you'll be entering the WWE Royal Rumble, right?
Yeah, I don't think that's going to happen. It's a great thought.