Lets get this out of the way right now. If you’re coming here to read another person bashing Vince Russo, and read about how he ruined WCW, or ruined the wrestling business, you’ve come to the wrong place. Not only do I understand Vince Russo’s philosophy on professional wrestling, in many cases I agree with it, and embrace it. I know, especially coming from those who write about the wrestling business, that I’m in a very small minority. But, the fact remains, I like Vince Russo. *no homo*
With that out of the way, this is easily one of my favourite “Timeline” DVD releases. For those unfamiliar with the concept of this release, Kayfabe Commentaries, as hosted by Sean Oliver, speaks with an influential figure from a particular period of time, and review the major events that happened during that period of time. There are several excellent Timeline releases, including releases from the WWF in 1994 with Sean Waltman (X-Pac), 1995 with Kevin Nash (Diesel), 1997 with Jim Cornette, and WCW releases including 1988 with J.J. Dillon, and 1996 with Kevin Sullivan, amongst several others. I’ll spend some time reviewing those in future columns, as well.
But today, we’re here to talk about your good friend, and mine, Vince Russo. Russo, as the head writer for the World Wrestling Federation in the mid-to-late 90’s, was ultra successful.
While people will throw stones saying that the Attitude era wouldn’t have been successful without the massively popular and talented likes of The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, D-Generation-X, Mick Foley, The Undertaker, and even Vince McMahon himself, I argue that the Attitude Era would have never happened, or at least not been nearly as successful, without Vince Russo. Russo brought edginess to a product that had grown stale. He brought realism, in the World Wrestling Federation, to stories that in prior years had featured wrestling garbage men, and plumbers. And with that edginess, and realism was born an era that is still fondly remembered and spoken about to this very day.
So, it was was to the wrestling world’s surprise that the man who bore the Attitude Era left the company in which it was created in late 1999, headed to the fierce rival promotion, World Championship Wrestling. As the story goes, Vince McMahon had recently inked a deal with UPN for a new 2-hour television show called SmackDown. This doubled Russo’s (and his counter-part Ed Ferrara’s) workload, without a pay increase. It was at that point that Russo decided to negotiate with WCW to see if he could get a better deal, and escape the 24/7 workload that Vince McMahon had expected (and as rumour has it, continues to expect) of his writing staff. The deal was signed, quickly, and Russo left the WWF with very little notice, headed to the “greener pastures” of WCW. On WCW’s end of the stick, things weren’t rosy either. After posting the most profitable year in profitable year in professional wrestling history in 1998, 1999 stood to be the first time the company had lost money in a number of years. Upon hearing that their rival’s head writer, and creator of arguably the most successful professional wrestling programming in history, was available to be signed to a contract, they immediately inked him to a 3-year contract, hoping to turn around their own sinking ship (and by sinking ship, I mean company that’s still drawing a huge live television rating on TNT, but posting a monetarily unsuccessful year).
Of course, the year 2000 is widely regarded as the year WCW sunk the ship, going from a company that nearly bankrupt the World Wrestling Federation in 1997 to a company that stood to post a $67-million loss at the end of 2000. So where did it all go wrong? What happened to the mighty World Championship Wrestling organization, and how does Vince Russo fit into that puzzle?
This DVD goes a mile in terms of explaining Vince Russo’s mindset during his run in WCW in the year 2000. I have seen a number of Vince Russo shoot interviews in the past several years, but this is the first that I feel really dives in deep to Vince Russo’s frame of mind, and where he was coming from while booking one of the biggest, most successful wrestling companies in history, and his successes and failures.
There are a number of really interesting stories that come out in this DVD, not the least of which is the incident that happens between Hulk Hogan, Jeff Jarrett, and Russo himself at the
Bash at the Beach in 2000. Without going into too much detail, Russo gives a great behind-the-scenes look, through his own eyes, in dealing with Hulk Hogan, and the political games that were played at the time. Is this the “truth” in the matter of what actually happened? Likely not, however, this is the closest we have gotten yet, and I think likely the closest we ever will get to what truly happened that day.
And although this DVD is primarily in focus of what happened in WCW in the year 2000, a number of more recent stories find their way into this DVD, as well, including the challenges Russo faced booking and writing for Total Non-Stop Action Wrestling recently, as well. You really get to pry into the mind of one of the most influential figures in professional wrestling of the past 20 years. Russo spends a lot of time speaking on the difficultly of writing for today’s young and upcoming superstars, and their seeming obsession with the “dirt sheets”.
Enough cannot be said for Sean Oliver, the host of the DVD, either. Oliver guides Russo, week-by-week, through everything that happened in WCW, at the time, and isn’t afraid to ask the “hard” questions. What is Russo’s “obsession” with ‘object on a pole’ matches? Why did he put the Oklahoma character on the air? Who does he think is responsible for the demise of WCW? All of that is asked, and answered, in this DVD feature, and much more.
This release isn’t without it’s faults, though. There are a few instances where Russo contradicts himself (namely saying that everyone reads the internet, and they decided to book as such, then in the next question saying that the internet fans only represent a very small portion of the audience), and other’s where he “forgets” the details of some controversial decisions. I feel like if this DVD was filmed, and released, nearer to the time WCW went out of business, there would have been more “gore”, in that the wounds would still be fresh, and details easily “forgotten” over the course of time would have been told in vivid detail. That said, this is easily the most comprehensive, and compelling shoot interview with Vince Russo to date, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Although Russo goes out of his way to express that this will be that last wrestling interview that he ever does, host Sean Oliver asks if Russo would be willing to come back to do a Timeline piece on the WWF in 1998, which Russo seemingly agrees to. Regardless, if this is Russo’s last interview, this is a must have piece in your collection. The total runtime is a little over 2 hours, however, due to it’s compelling and riveting nature, this piece seemingly flies by, and leaves you wanting to hear more.
You can get your own copy by visiting www.KayfabeCommentaries.com.