And Another Thing: Russo: The Other White Vince
Posted by Hyatte on 04.30.2001
It couldn't be more fitting to take a moment before the page turns and reflect on Vince Russo, a man who serves as one of the bigger focal points in the saga of the Monday Night Wars, one of the bigger ones.
I don't regret any choices I have made, including crowning David Arquette the WCW champion. Life is all about living, learning, and overcoming. I wouldn't be who I am today if it wasn't for my experience in the WCW.
More so than any single event in the history of sports entertainment, the purchase of World Championship Wrestling by the World Wrestling Federation has and will remodel the business for all time. Wrestlemania has now become the last party of the old regime. The final period on the final sentence of the final paragraph of the chapter "The Monday Night Wars" in the ongoing history of Professional Wrestling. It began on Monday, April 2nd at nine p.m. EST, when we all turned the page. Each week we sit back and read as the next chapter gets written. The future is now. It's all very exciting.
It couldn't be more fitting to take a moment before the page turns and reflect on Vince Russo, a man who serves as one of the bigger focal points in the saga of the Monday Night Wars, one of the bigger ones. Vince Russo figured heavily in wrestling's evolution, and ended up taking a bad rap for it. He has been called a genius, a traitor, a loud mouth, a savior, a gloryhog, a liar, and a failure, all within a space of two years. He took one company to amazing heights, yet was thrown out of another not once, but twice. His flair for outrageous storytelling caused WCW more headaches than Vince McMahon, Steve Austin, and the Rock combined, both as a competitor and as an employee. He changed the way the WWF presents it's product and tried to make WCW a viable alternative. Yet, in the end, he'll be looked at as a failure. A convenient target for WCW finger pointers who are looking for an excuse as to why they lost their company and an overblown con man to millions of fans who were the first to scream Russo Sucks the moment he walked out of a WWF writer's meeting and into WCW. Russo is to blame. Russo blew it. Russo can't save WCW. Russo is a slap to the face of any wrestling fan out there!
It is simple. People tear others down only to build themselves up. I refuse to play that childish game. However, I will say it right now... looking back, creatively there is nothing that I would have done differently.
Nobody was happier when Russo's WCW flopped than wrestling fans. Nothing Russo did could satisfy us. Trotting out half naked girls was wildly cheered on Raw, yet was heavily booed on Nitro. He built up new stars on RAW, such as Val Venis and Hardcore Holly and the fans took notice. When he tried to build up WCW new talent, such as Disco Inferno and Hugh Morrus, the fans barely paid attention. Every move was criticized, each plotline sniffed at. Anything new, different, or energetic was immediately second guessed. It's fair to say that Vince Russo's WCW tenure was doomed from the start. The fans gave him only the briefest of chances to win them over, and were only too happy to shut him down after a mere few weeks.
Ratings talk. Make no bones about it... sports entertainment is a business... ratings equal money. Vince wanted ratings - the USA network wanted ratings - the advertisers wanted ratings - and the licensees wanted ratings. It is business... and whether you agree or disagree... my job was to get the numbers. -- I never wanted to be an on-air talent. That is why I did the Powers that Be gimmick - the only reason I eventually went on-air was because so much pressure was being put on me for ratings. Sometimes if you have to depend on somebody, then there is nobody better than yourself.
The fans can't take full blame, however. WCW is guilty for Russo's failure as well. Going from a highly organized infrastructure where all final decisions came from one man to a chaotic mess filled with such political maneuvering that final approval came from whoever had the most influence that week had to be a major culture shock to Russo. Eric Bischoff, laughable as a true leader even during the very height of WCW's success, had been replaced by a gaggle of Turner Network Accountants who kept a closer eye on the budget than on content. Veterans controlled the shows, retired veterans who now worked behind the scenes saw Bischoff's dismissal as a chance to finally take over the role as head booker and control the company. When WCW announced the hiring of the WWF's top writer and one of the biggest reasons why Vince McMahon regained the ratings title, these people, who saw Russo as the ultimate outsider that didn't belong immediately began plotting to make sure his stay would be a brief one. WCW was more than just a ship without a Captain. It was a ship filled with thieves, liars, and hypocrites, all of whom wanted to be Captain, and almost one of them wanting the new guy. Russo was so used to the WWF way of running a show that he never thought to grow eyes on the back of his head for his new job. He never saw the mutiny coming.
(Question) Do you regret going to WCW?
Russo was sucker punched right out of WCW by a group of writers, led by JJ Dillon and Kevin Sullivan, just a few months after arriving. One moment, Russo was busy re-forming an NWO-like power base consisting of Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, Jeff Jarrett, and Bret Hart--the next, he was sitting at home watching in amazement as all his storylines were washed away to make room for Ric Flair and Lex Luger's "Team Package" to become the core Heel faction. Russo's modern day vision quickly became deleted for a more old school style of wrestling. Within barely a week, history was effectively re-written and WCW wiped away all traces of Russo's fingerprints on it's angles and gimmicks. Fans were asked to forget about the "Powers That Be", the "Filthy Animals", and anything else Russo had cooking. Russo came, Russo saw, and Russo got his ass kicked. All for the simple crime of wanting to make WCW a competitor again. After a few months of some of the most horrible programming a professional wrestling company has ever put on television, WCW put an end to the seized reign and re-instated Russo as the company's principal Head Writer. As an added bonus, WCW brought back Eric Bischoff to run things in a more organized fashion. WCW spent two full weeks assaulted all forms of media in promoting this union. All WCW television shows were pre-empted for a week in order to reflect on what these two had done in the past, and speculate on how glorious WCW will be on what they will do in the future. With Eric Bischoff running things, Vince Russo will now have the opportunity to really sock it to Vince McMahon. WCW was back!
(on mistakes) I don't feel I made any - and I am not blaming anyone else. If I had to do it all over again - I would make the same exact decisions. I have never publicly or privately blamed anyone for the failure of WCW. WCW failed for many reasons - it wasn't just one person or one set of circumstances - it was many many things. If you - or anyone else - wants to blame me for the failure of WCW, knock yourselves out. I can wake up every morning, look in the mirror and know that I did everything humanly possible to make WCW a success - it just didn't happen. But, I never have and never will point the finger at anybody. It was a joint effort.
Russo's second reign lasted longer, and had more long lasting effects on the company as a whole. Bischoff didn't last much past a couple of months, however. Having learned nothing from his past, Bischoff still maintained that the veteran stars should be given the brightest spotlight and supported them fully. Russo felt that the younger stars should be given the torch to carry for a while. The two constantly butted heads over this, until Bischoff decided that he had enough and walked away. Russo now had total control (or as much control as he could under the tight scrutiny of TNT censors, who famously do not have the same "attitude" over the questionable content as the censors at USA did) to mold WCW into a fighting company. A company that could not only challenge the WWF, but knock it off the ratings mountain once again, and once and for all. This was Russo's big chance, he had most of the talent and pretty much all of the staff behind him. It was now time to put up or shut up.
Here we go... Ric Flair was going to uncover the fact that I... was indeed... the father of Stacy's child. This bombshell would have turned David Flair against me. After being put in my place by David, he was finally going to forgive Stacy, and David and Stacy were finally going to get married. However, after they were legally married, I was going to return with a second bombshell. That bombshell was that Stacy was the result of a one night Ric Flair fling some 21 years ago. In other words, it was going to be discovered that Stacy was Ric's actual daughter. So the situation was, that David and Stacy, who were now married, were indeed step-brother and step-sister.
Very recent history told the tale. AOL merged with Time Warner and wanted no part of this "rasslin'" business. The bottom fell out from under him and WCW was put up for sale. Eric Bischoff hooked up with group of buyers and tried to purchase the company, but in the greatest irony of all, they couldn't quite come up with the funds to buy their way out of the financial hole that Bischoff himself played a huge part in digging for the company. Blaming uptight executives who just wanted to get the company out of their hair as smoothly as possible, Russo left WCW once again. His two biggest successes in WCW, the fall of Hulk Hogan and the rise of Booker T, will not be credited to him. Hulk Hogan will surely be back in one form or another, and Booker T will always be looked at as a guy whose time had simply come. No one will ever remember the man who pushed him into his first WCW title reign, coincidentally, on the same night that Hogan was pushed out of WCW once and for all. It was all Russo's idea, but people will be too busy blaming him to remember that.
(on blame) Because unfortunately, many of them are led by writers who only can dream about what I accomplished. And it is too bad that so many of them take shots at me. If they spent more time trying to achieve their own goals rather than blame the world's problems on Vince Russo - they would get to where they are trying to go much quicker.
Russo's WCW tenure is ultimately seen as a failure. The truth is that it isn't, not really. Yes, WCW didn't succeed under his pen as much as he thought it would--as much as he promised it would, but it didn't fail. People wanted him to fail the moment he boarded that plane to Atlanta and never looked North again. They blame him for WCW only because they don't want to come right out and say the truth, that he leaving the WWF is the blame for the WWF losing it's "attitude". After washing Russo's taint off and cleaning itself up for it's new Viacom partners, the WWF went back to a more family-friendly style of programming. It's not squeaky clean, Disney-fied crap though, the WWF still books a generous helping of manic bumps, lewd innuendoes, and the occasional half-naked beauties to keep the 18-35 male demo interested, but it's also gone back to simpler themes. Heels act like Heels, Faces act like Faces, and feuds are made just because one guy looked at the other guy the wrong way. It's okay for kids to watch WWF TV again, just make sure Mom and dad check in on them once every 15 minutes or so.
I strongly believe that in order to remain successful - sports entertainment once again needs to reinvent itself. In other words, I think it needs to become more reality based. Unfortunately, from what I have seen, it seems to be going in the opposite direction.
People want to blame Russo's desertion on why the WWF lost it's "attitude", but to do that would be to admit that Vince McMahon needed someone's help to steer him back on top--to think of Vince McMahon as flawed--that is something most wrestling fans cannot do. So they blame Russo for failing in WCW, really only because they have to blame him for something. His work in WCW is just the most convenient target.
I accomplished everything I set out to do. I know the impact that I had on the sports entertainment business, and that is all that really matters to me.
Luckily, he makes it easy to dislike him. As much as he says that he put his motor-mouth, Nuw Yawk, jive talking, obnoxious character on television as a matter of necessity, he seems to have relished the role so much that he can't get out of it. Russo baits us, he teases us, he challenges us to respect him. He'll be the first to tell you how he personally re-shaped sports entertainment in the 90's and he'll be the last to admit that he did anything wrong. The pride he has in him is borderline narcissistic. He wants to be the man we all love to hate, but he forgets that we never knew the guy behind the character. In the WWF, he never became an on-air figure, his behavior since indicates that this was the real reason why he left.
The fans are everything. It is just that simple. The key to my success wasn't luck as some teenage newsletter writers would want you to believe. The key to my success was listening to the fans. If you wanted it... I gave it to you. If you weren't buying it, I killed it. From day one, in this business - the fans have always dictated the direction for me. Unfortunately, today I don't believe that is the case. It was ALWAYS a priority to me to go out into the crowd and listen to the fans when I was in the WWF. Once I was on camera, it was my priority to go into the Internet room after every show to get the response of the fans. I can confidently say that that no longer takes place in the current business. Again, that is just my opinion.
It's easy to hate Vince Russo. It's easy to blame him. He makes it easy. Beat him all you want. Laugh at him, tease him, vent pure bile at him. He is arrogant. He is a loud mouth, and he refuses to publicly admit that anything he's done might have been a mistake in judgment. He screams that "WCW wouldn't let me do this" and "Vince McMahon wouldn't let me do that" and is convinced that only his vision of the future can save wrestling. He still acts the Heel, after all. Heels are supposed to be booed and despised.
Just, while you're booing this Heel and wishing him a painful death, stop for a minute and thank him for helping create the last seven years of some very cool, very fun wrestling. Stop the gimmick, stop the ongoing story of Vince Russo: Mega Heel, and acknowledge that he's done a lot to help wrestling into the new Millennium.
It's ironic that the man who thinks "reality" themes are the future is the one who never breaks kayfabe, even online.
This is Hyatte too.