The Importance of…5.11.08: WCW Saturday Night
Quick notes on the past week in wrestling
-Is it just me, or did Triple H completely steal Kennedy’s thunder in the opening segment of Raw Monday? I think Trips was trying to give him the rub by associating with him, but if Kennedy’s going to get over as an Austin-like face, he can’t go around having friends like that. And leaving Kennedy to his own devices, I’ve got a crazy feeling he just might be able to pull off the biggest face turn since John Cena in 2003.
-Speaking of Cena, I was a big proponent of his surprise return in January. With how little he has appeared on WWE TV, though, especially post-Wrestlemania, I worry he’s losing his heat. I guess we’ll have to see what happens when he resumes a full-time schedule after his movie’s done.
-Watching Impact the other night, the Immunity match with all the Knockouts really underscored part of why women’s wrestling works so much better in TNA than WWE. Sure, there’s the fact that the women are much better in ring performers. But beyond that, they’ve got personalities. It’s not just happy-go-lucky faces against mean heels. It’s no nonsense Jacqueline. It’s Austin-like ODB. It’s rocker Christy Hemme. It’s Bohemian Roxxi Leveaux. It’s the sorority girl witch Beautiful People. It’s never say die, plucky babyface Gail Kim. These may not be the most wildly inventive personas, but the sheer fact that each woman legitimately has a character makes the division infinitely more interesting than the competition.
On to our regular column…
Before Tuesdays went extreme, before Thursdays started feeling TNA’s impact, before Smackdown changed Friday nights, before the Monday night wars, and even before Vince McMahon thought of leaving his flagship show uncooked, one of the top wrestling shows in all the land resided on TBS, and went to the air each and every weekend. It was WCW Saturday Night. Born out of the ashes of Georgia Championship Wrestling and a failed attempt at promoting the WWF product on the Superstation, Saturday Night turned out to be one of the most important wrestling TV shows of all time.
WCW Saturday Night represents a truly remarkable transitional show in the world of pro wrestling. On one hand, it wasn’t altogether different from the WWF programming in syndication on the time. It aired over the weekend, and relatively early so the kids didn’t need to stay up late to see it. The show featured a lot of squash matches, building up everyone on the main roster to look like a star, and a believable contender on house shows and PPVs.
On the other hand, WCW was trying some new things. While this was an early evening program, the fact that it did happen on Saturday night made it a cool enough and convenient of time that a bunch of guys could get together to watch the show over some beers before heading out for the night (pure speculation, of course, given I was about 10 when the show was in its prime). In addition, the show did feature its share of significant matches and moments. Because Saturday Night was at its hottest before WCW was really competitive with WWF, you could tell the company felt a lot less pressure to hotshot their booking or go for shock value. This meant that Saturday Night was the platform for Ric Flair and Ricky Steamboat to have one of the last great technical rivalries in wrestling history, in their second go round in 1994. Of course, on the con side, WCW’s relative obscurity meant the powers that be were comfortable promoting a storyline that featured Cactus Jack wandering the streets in a powerbomb-induced state of amnesia. In either case, the company was thinking differently, and I’ll credit it for that.
WCW Saturday Night also has the dubious distinction of pioneering the interactive wrestling show. WWE has been giving fans voting rights for years now through Taboo Tuesday and Cyber Sunday. TNA tried its hand at such a show recently, on the first live Impact. Nearly a decade before any of this, though, WCW invited fans to call in to their show, and play matchmaker. The idea was years ahead of it’s time, though the execution left something to be desired. For one, fans needed to call a 900 number to vote. In addition, choices were limited, as fans had the opportunity to vote for one of a selection of faces, and one of a selection of heels to go head to head. I couldn’t help but question the validity of the voting when the ‘fans’ chose to have Dustin Rhodes main event one such show against Bunkhouse Buck. The match itself was lackluster, and made all the worse by the fact that the men were already in the middle of a lengthy feud, and had faced off numerous times. The icing on the cake, though, came in the revelation that wrestlers were cutting promos leading up to these fan selected matches a full week before the voting began. I’m not sure WCW even bothered with live broadcasts for some of these shows.
A less uncertain distinction of Saturday Night was that it was last place where Jesse “The Body” Ventura plied his trade as a commentator. Many remember Ventura’s mic work for the way he called some of the early Wrestlemanias. I would argue the guy was all the better in his early-nineties WCW run, making some truly horrific stuff watchable, and carrying Tony Schiavone to decent shows.
Finally, Saturday Night joined other WCW programming in being important for the way in which it inadvertently exposed the business and helping terminate kayfabe. This was a part of Eric Bischoff’s plan to save money and rebuild the company. Despite a rare few live episodes, WCW generally recorded several weeks of TV at a time in front of essentially the same audience, in the same arena at Universal Studios. It wasn’t altogether different from TNA’s current recording process, but was a bit more egregious in just how far ahead they taped, notoriously exposing title changes and heel-face turns by recording promos and matches out of sequence, effectively spoiling their own PPVs. This wasn’t quite the debacle it would have been today, with the IWC as prominent as it has grown. Nonetheless, this manner of doing business gave dirt sheets plenty of ammo, and inadvertently must have smartened up quite a few would-be-marks, who went to the matches.
Most fans don’t give WCW Saturday Night much thought today. It’s fair enough to say that a weekly show, aired on the weekend, prerecorded weeks in advance seems a bit irrelevant next to today’s style of televised wrestling. Nonetheless, for all of its highlights and lowlights, the show remains one of the most important in the history of the business.
That’s all for this column. Next week, we take a look at the importance of The I Quit Match. See you in seven.