In his ‘The Way We Was‘ series, Jamie has taken us on an enjoyable journey through the world of wrestling in 1996. Inspired by that, we take a look back at one of the more ridiculous parts of the early Monday Night Wars, namely the Billionaire Ted skits aired by the WWE.
After years of getting his own way in the world of wrestling, the launch of WCW Nitro gave Vince McMahon the sort of competition that he hadn’t been accustomed to.
The second episode of Nitro was on September 11, 1995, in Miami. Although, the first time the shows went head to head: WWE’s episode of Raw was a pre-record and not live. This gave Eric Bischoff all the ammunition he needed…
Opening the show, Bischoff crowed, “In case you’re tempted to grab the remote control and check out the competition, don’t bother. It’s two or three weeks old. Shawn Michaels beats the big guy with a superkick that couldn’t earn a green belt at a YMCA. Stay right here. It’s live.”
The shots were fired!
Whatever Vince McMahon had thought previously, not only was the competition now real but he had a war on his hands.
The following morning, the Nielsen overnight ratings showed that Nitro had beaten Raw 2.5 to 2.3 — a difference of a few hundred thousand homes.
By the turn of the year, Vince needed to launch a fight back. His weapon of choice? Skits lampooning the owner of WCW and the Turner Network: Ted Turner.
Those around him made various attempts to talk him out of the move but Vince wouldn’t listen and dismissed their fears believing it would be a huge success. Something we’ve heard before…
The first episodes, which started airing in January 1996, were actually quite funny. An actor with a dreadful wig and an even worse suit, played Turner as he sat around a table featuring his top talents ‘The Huckster’ and ‘The Nacho Man’. There they watched some of the WWF talent on the screen and Huckster sighed, saying, “No way can I do that, brutha. At my age my feet don’t even leave the ground.”
But over the next six weeks, the vignettes went from funny to malicious. As the skits became more elaborate, more focus and resource was directed to them – even at the expense of the more important parts of the company’s product.
But what humour was left in the rivalry, and there was very little by this point, disappeared when McMahon directed his legal staff to send a brief to the Federal Trade Commission, arguing that merger talks between Turner and Time Warner be stopped because Turner was “engaged in a systematic plan to destroy the WWF.”
This was the moment it all become too much for the network that broadcast WWF Raw: The USA Network. Especially as Turner owned cable systems accounted for a significant number of the network’s viewers.
Following the skit that aired on the March 18 episode of Raw, which featured Turner as the Jack Nicholson character in A Few Good Men, Kay Koplovitz, the founder and President of the USA Network, decided things had gone far enough.
Koplovitz announced that not only would there be no more Billionaire Ted skits on her network but also that she wanted to see advance copies of Raw scripts. This was two-fold: not only were the skits a serious worry but so were Raw’s plunging ratings.
Eventually the skits stopped. The end came at WrestleMania XII, during the event’s pre-show, when all the characters were killed off.
Far more significant events occurred in wrestling in 1996 but few would be quite as ridiculous as these skits. While they were relatively funny when focusing on Hogan and Macho Man, they veered towards slanderous when it came to Ted Turner. Still, this war had a lot of gas left in the tank before it came to an end.