In April 1999, Entertainment Weekly asked its readers what many were surely wondering to themselves: How did wrestling get so big?
As a consequence of the heated ratings competition between World Championship Wrestling (WCW) and the World Wrestling Federation (WWF), the spectacle had taken over Monday nights on prime-time cable television. But in a departure from the family-friendly programming produced by the last industry boom – the 1980s wave, which made household names of Hulk Hogan, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, and Andre the Giant – the new era of wrestling combined stunning athleticism with a raunchy sex appeal, engrossing story lines, and novel production techniques that reflected a changing society and its shifting values.
Once again, wrestling was a ubiquitous phenomenon – only this time, it seemed as though the fad would never end. With both WCW and WWF expanding into other forms of entertainment – movies, video games, music, and the like – the potential for growth appeared to be limitless.
But with uncertainty surrounding its corporate future, and increasingly uninspired programming eroding its audience, WCW stood on the verge of collapse. Three years into a five-year plan devised by its charismatic leader – a former Blue Ribbon Foods salesman named Eric Bischoff – the company whose unexpected ascension initiated the entire boom was operating on borrowed time.
For by the end of the five-year plan, WCW ceased to exist.
But Nitro is a story about much more than WCW and the Monday Night Wars. It is a story of an era, a time in which the media and cultural landscape precipitated – and later supported – pro wrestling’s mainstream popularity. It is a story of how a company made in the image of an intuitively brilliant risk-taker betrayed its original promise. It is a story of how a handful of men, each struggling with their own limitations, facilitated a public obsession that changed television forever.
*Features interviews and comments from 120+ WCW/TBS employees*