Paradigm Shifts: A Brief History of the Life, Death and Rebirth of Pro Wrestling on TNT in the US from WCW’s Demise to AEW’s First Show on Television

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Wednesday, October 2, 2019, marks the first time in 6764 days professional wrestling has aired on the TNT network; it’s also been that long since the Monday Night Wars officially ended even though the meaningful battles ceased well before. Over eighteen and a half years have passed since the name on the contract read McMahon, and WCW was no more. How did the Wrestling Wars start, end, and (possibly) begin again?

WWF Monday Night Raw premiered on January 11, 1993. It was the first live weekly wrestling show with true national television reach. Shortly after its debut, costs prohibited going live so multiple weeks of Raw were taped at the Manhattan Center in New York City and subsequently shown in the 8pm Eastern slot on the USA network.

In 1995, the recently promoted Executive Producer of WCW, Eric Bischoff, found himself in a meeting with Ted Turner. Turner asked him how WCW could become competitive with WWF; Bischoff responded that they needed prime time. His off-the-cuff proposal was granted with a Monday night slot on TNT, thus kicking off the Monday night war.

The first WCW Nitro emanated from the Mall of America in Minneapolis, Minnesota on September 4th, 1995. The first shot fired was the appearance of Lex Luger, who had wrestled for WWF the night before. Luger’s contract had lapsed and he signed with WCW the day of the Nitro premiere on TNT.

Many memorable moments occurred during the Monday Night Wars and both companies pushed to newer heights in ratings and revenue. WCW actually defeated WWF in the ratings for 83 consecutive weeks. The shows gradually increased in length from one hour, to two hours, to three, in Nitro’s case. (The WWF would change its name to WWE after a trademark lawsuit from the World Wildlife Federation, and would later increase to three hours each Monday after the wars had ended).

There were too many memorable moments to detail here as the companies battled for supremacy. However, it was a golden age for wrestling fans as both companies pushed the envelope to outdo one another. Which brings us to present times.

The current era of wrestling started fairly innocuously. Renowned wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer was asked on Twitter about the drawing power of independent wrestlers, people who weren’t signed to a major company. A follower asked if any independent company could draw 10,000 fans. Meltzer replied, “Not any time soon.” Cody Rhodes, a second-generation star who had recently departed from WWE responded emphatically to Meltzer: “I’ll take that bet Dave.”

At that time, Cody was wrestling in the Ring of Honor (ROH) promotion. It wasn’t an independent, per se, as it was (and is) owned by the Sinclair broadcast group. They had national syndication but at the time didn’t have a national weekly television slot.

Cody huddled with his new friends the Young Bucks and Kenny Omega, and they hatched a plan to do a one-off independent show to try to prove Meltzer wrong. This was the birth of All-In, a supershow in the Chicago, Illinois area intended to sell 10,000 seats. Later, pay-per-view (PPV) distribution was added as the show sold out in under 30 minutes. It was obvious from the response that a hunger existed in the wrestling audience for an alternative to WWE.

Also involved in All-In was Tony Khan, the sports analytics guru and wrestling superfan, and son of the incredibly successful businessman Shahid Khan. In fact, Tony Khan financed the private jet that allowed Chris Jericho to make an appearance at All-In and still honor his concert obligations with his band Fozzy in Merriam, Kansas that night.

Since All-In, it has become obvious that a hunger exists for a different type of pro wrestling than what WWE offers. AEW launched in May with the Double or Nothing pay-per-view from Las Vegas’ MGM Grand Garden Arena. More events followed with Fyter Fest, a co-promotion with the CEO Gaming convention, and Fight For the Fallen, a fundraiser to combat gun violence in Jacksonville, Florida. The culminating event prior to AEW’s television debut was a PPV from the same arena as All-In. The show, entitled All Out, set the stage for the debut of the TNT weekly program Dynamite from 8-10pm Eastern beginning October 2nd, 2019.

I had originally intended to end here. However, WWE has taken steps to add their developmental territory, NXT, to directly oppose AEW by being televised on the USA network on Wednesday nights also from 8-10pm Eastern. Both promotions cater to the same fans who want more serious pro wrestling. Though the principal players deny it, we have a new wrestling war on our hands.

Enjoy.