I’ve been a pro wrestling fan since about the time I’ve been 10. I claim that it’s because it’s in the blood as both my grandfathers were fans and yes, I know it’s not real. Since I’ve been a fan, there have been two big booms in wrestling popularity: the Rock N Wrestling boom powered by Hulk Hogan in the mid-1980s and the Monday Night Wars in the late 1990s. While wrestling reached new heights with the Monday Night Wars, I believe that it has hurt pro wrestling in the long run,
The Monday Night Wars was a weekly ratings battle between the World Wrestling Federation (now known as the WWE) and World Championship Wrestling as they went head to head with WWE’s Raw facing WCW’s Nitro from 1995-2001. The Monday Night Wars brought tremendous ratings growth and increased pay per view buys and house show attendance. The war ended when Turner Networks decided to cancel all of its WCW programming and sold WCW to the WWE. The competititon increased viewership and when the war was over, more than half the audience left and never came back.
While the Monday Night Wars gave a boost to the popularity of pro wrestling for a 5-year boom, I believe it hurt the business in the long run. First off, prior to the Monday Night Wars, all shows including WWF’s Raw had “squash” matches where star wrestlers would face off against preliminary wrestlers known as “enhancement” talent. The squash matches meant that the only time you could see top-notch matches was by buying the pay per view or going to a live show. The Monday Night Wars started the habit of only showing star matches, which gave fans less incentive to buy the pay per view or attend a live event because they could watch weekly great matches on basic cable.
It also created a glut of wrestling shows on TV as both WWE and WCW added multiple two hours shows per week. The WWE to this day has 5 hours of live programming each week, which is too much television for any fan to watch and again, devalues the point of buying the pay per view.
Another problem is that the Monday Night Wars totally exposed the business by breaking kayfabe, i.e, admitting that wrestling is fake. We all know that wrestling isn’t real, but the point here is that the Monday Night Wars broke the fourth wall by admitting to all its viewers that what they were seeing was fake. Wrestling works best when viewers still have the impression that what they see might be real.
I think the worst thing that Monday Night Wars did was changing the way wrestling was “booked” (plotted). Wrestling used to be booked by executives who were former or current wrestlers. The Monday Night Wars introduced the professional writers, who most of the time, had no wrestling experience. Writing for WWE Raw is a little different than writing for The Bold and The Beautiful. Wrestling feuds booked by the old bookers were simple and the way writers book wrestling, it leads to less coherent and superfluous storylines. Writers also don’t seem to have a handle on what fans want.
I think while the Monday Night War was the biggest boom in pro wrestling history in terms of pay per view buys and merchandise sales, I think it hurt wrestling in the long run.