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Wrestling Counterprogramming: 5 Examples of Broadcasting Bellicosity

A report following the July 26th edition of NXT 2.0 by Wrestlenomics stated that NXT’s next Pay-Per-View (PPV) event will be broadcast on Sunday, September 4th. This just so happens to be the same date AEW is set to present their next PPV event All Out. Whilst this competitive televising may seem petty or shifty – or both – it is certainly nothing new, with wrestling counterprogramming with various cases cropping up over the past decades; here are five of them. 

WWF vs The NWA

The 1980s boom period for professional wrestling is largely attributed to the World Wrestling Federation due to its creation of larger-than-life characters. 

During that period, the WWF’s main competition came from the National Wrestling Alliance, more specifically Jim Crockett Promotions, whose top names included Ric Flair, Dusty Rhodes, The Rock’n’Roll Express, Barry Windham, and Nikita Koloff. The WWF tried to stifle their competition, as shown by the creation of the Survivor Series event.  

Garvin applies a Figure-Four Leglock on Flair, who - with a bloodied face - is writhing in pain.
In the main event of Starrcade ’87, Ric Flair won the NWA World Heavyweight title after beating “Hands Of Stone” Ronnie Garvin.

Created in 1987, Survivor Series was the second long-serving PPV event created by WWE and remains one of the ‘Big Four’ events even if its significance has taken a notable bruise over the decades. Despite its status, the whole concept was created just for counter-programming. 

See, ever since 1983, the NWA hosted the Starrcade Supercard on Thanksgiving. To counteract this, the WWF created Survivor Series in ‘87, largely built upon a titanic rematch encounter between Hulk Hogan and Andre The Giant from WrestleMania III.  

Hulk Hogan leads his team, title in hand as Andre is held back by his team.
Hogan and Andre lead respective teams. (Hogan teamed with: Bam Bam Bigelow, Don Muraco, Ken Patera, Paul Orndorff. Andre teamed with: Butch Reed, King Kong Bundy, One Man Gang, and Rick Rude.)

Not just that, but the tyrannical Vince McMahon – who had already made a name for himself as a monopolizing tycoon through the event known as ‘Black Saturday’ – also threatened cable providers. Those who aired Starrcade instead would lose out on WrestleMania, a big cash cow for PPV providers (note that Starrcade ‘87 was the NWA’s first PPV rather than a closed-circuit event). In the end, it worked with PW Torch stating that Starrcade saw a 3.30 buy rate compared to Survivor Series’ humungous 7.0, with 9/10 broadcasters opting to show the WWF’s event. 

In retaliation, Jim Crockett created the free TV specials: Clash Of The Champions, the first of which rivaled ‘Mania IV, trying to hinder and hurt the WWF PPV’s buys with big matches such as Barry Windham and Lex Luger vs Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard for the World Tag Team titles and NWA World Heavyweight title Sting vs Ric Flair main event.  

The WWF messed with the NWA before the NWA’s Chi-Town Rumble, the event with the first match of the classic Ricky Steamboat and Ric Flair trilogy. Two days prior, the WWF hosted a house show in the same state of Illinois, selling out the larger Rosemont Horizon arena. The same day as Chi-Town, the WWF aired a USA Network three-hour special WrestleMania V special; a further “f*ck you” was that the show saw the WWF debut of long-time NWA cohort Tony Schiavone. 

Steamboat locks Flair in a chickenwing, to which Flair yells.
(Photo courtesy of WWE.com)

WrestleMania V was countered with Clash Of The Champions VI: Ragin’ Cajun which included a two-out-of-three falls main event rematch between “The Dragon” and “The Nature Boy”. Funnily enough, sneaky Vince snuck in a WWF 900-number commercial into the NWA broadcast.  

WWF vs WCW

WWE programming went through a wealth of change during the mid-’90s to early ‘00s, for which WCW Nitro should be thanked. 1995 Raw was an hour-long, taped, and filled with squash matches but by the time WCW folded in 2001, the WWF’s Raw was two hours, live, and often main evented by the biggest stars (the latter point including the first segment to get over 10 million viewers being a 9.17-rated star-studded match where Vince McMahon, Steve Austin, and The Rock wrestled The Undertaker, Triple H, and Shane McMahon – yes, that was on RAW.). 

Steve Austin is about to slingshot Triple H; The Rock and Undertaker stand opposite one another as Michaels guest refereed.

The Monday Night Wars officially started on September 4th, 1995, a night when Raw was preempted (more on that later) to get a larger audience. Out of the gate, Nitro became a huge hit, with signs of a revolution such as the debut of WWF’s Lex Luger and WWF Women’s champion Madusa trashing her belt by dumping it into a ‘trash can’, as you Americans insist on calling it. As Jim Ross later claimed about WCW Nitro’s counterprogramming: “Ted Turner made a commitment to put Nitro on TNT because Turner wanted to beat McMahon…it was all about competing head-to-head with WWE.” 

For 83 consecutive weeks, Nitro beat Raw in the ratings, having initially beaten Raw after just three weeks on air. After the crucial creation of the NWO in 1996, Vince McMahon admitted to thinking: “Uh oh, now I’m really in trouble”, according to Jon Robinson’s The Attitude Era. After 83 weeks of dominance, WWF broke the streak on April 20th, aided by a high-profile match featuring Vince McMahon and Steve Austin. 

Hogan poses to the crowd, with hand to ear after the NWO formation.
The NWO changed everything for WCW during the Monday Night War. (Photo courtesy of IMDb)

Using the great illustrations of the book WWE 50 by Kevin Sullivan, the last time Nitro beat Raw was on October 26th. Nitro got a 5.06 to 4.48 for Raw. 

From then on, Raw beat Nitro. When WCW went into administration in 2001, Nitro was plateauing at around a 2 rating whilst Raw was seeing around 5-6. With Ted Turner backing WCW’s stay on TNT, when Time Warner merged with AOL, the writing was on the wall as World Championship Wrestling finally closed its doors. WCW lost but put up a more than valiant fight against the WWF. 

Sting and Ric Flair shake hands in the last ever WCW match.
The last ever WCW match was Sting vs Ric Flair. (Photo courtesy of WCW Worldwide on Tumblr)

Speaking of the Monday Night Wars… 

WWE vs TNA

The WWE vs TNA war from 2010 lasted just a matter of weeks as TNA made an unsuccessful attempt to move to Monday. 

In 2009, TNA was put under the tutelage of Eric Bischoff and Hulk Hogan. Subsequently, the product went under a period of change as new hands took over the promotion. Jeff Jarrett explained on his My World With Jeff Jarrett podcast “I’m positive Hulk really didn’t know what he was stepping into.”  

Hulk Hogan in all-black, cuts a promo in TNA alongside a suited Bischoff.
(Photo courtesy of Cultaholic)

Amongst the changes – such as converting the six-sided ring to a four-sided one – was moving TNA to Monday nights, the same time as Raw. 

The first Monday night TNA went down on January 4th, 2010 and the company went all out. Whilst it looked good on paper, with the return of Sting, Scott Hall, Jeff Hardy, and others, remember this is 2010; it is not a decade or a decade and a half earlier. Even the debuts were underwhelming: Orlando Jordan, Sean Morley, The Nasty Boys, anyone? Raw scored a 3.6 rating whilst TNA got a 1.5 (with TNA scoring an average of 2.2 million viewers, with perhaps as much as double that for total viewers). On that night, in his own words “Hell froze over” as Bret Hart made his first WWE appearance in more than 12 years. 

Bret Hart does his arm posturing to the crowd, adorned in his classic leather jacket and shades.

After the 1.5, TNA on Mondays never went over 1.0 for the new Monday Night Wars. In March, TNA relocated to Monday permanently although it only lasted eight weeks. TNA already dropped 1/3 of viewers from January. The 26th April edition saw a 0.95 rating before the next week losing 48% of viewers. 

On May 13th, TNA reverted to their original Thursday slot, with Dixie Carter, TNA president, saying:Our fans made it clear that they preferred the Thursday night time period. By moving to Thursdays, this is a win/win opportunity for both TNA and the fans. We are looking forward to delivering what the fans are asking for.” 

The move has been universally bashed with TNA nowhere near the popularity of WCW in 1995. Eric Bischoff claims the decision to move was not to rival Raw, however, but merely to garner a greater audience. 

WWE vs AEW

All Elite Wrestling may have only been created in 2019, less than five years ago, but already there has been a huge counterprogramming war between AEW and WWE, in particular WWE’s NXT. 

AEW’s primary show Dynamite first aired on October 2nd, 2019, in retaliation, NXT became two hours. TNT beat USA Network as AEW got 1.4 million compared to 891,000. NXT aired a match for nearly every title, Finn Balor’s debut, which was heavily endorsed on Twitter including a Tweet reading: “If you weren’t tuned in already, you REALLY need to turn on @USA_Network RIGHT NOW!“, and an appearance from celebrity Wale. 

Both Omega and Moxley writhe in pain after put through a glass table.
During the first-ever AEW Dynamite main event, Jon Moxley put Kenny Omega through a glass table.

Although the victors fluctuated in the early stages, AEW won nearly every week from 2020 onwards, winning every time except once in the key demographics.  

In July 2020, NXT hurriedly promoted a shoddily-created Great American Bash two-week special, which ‘just so happened to’ coincide with AEW’s Fyter Fest. A Gargano Christmas Special faced AEW’s Holiday Bash and New Year’s Evil was also competing against a special Dynamite show New Year’s Smash – both of which NXT lost. Even old PPV Halloween Havoc became a TV special to combat AEW.  

NXT, having won 10 times and lost 63 times – thereby losing about 84% of the times it faced off against AEW. Reflecting on the victory, Chris Jericho stated: Of course [we were] competitive. Yes, we wanted to beat NXT. Yes, we wanted to drive them screaming and yelling away from Wednesdays and we did that.” 

Jericho in white suit and neckchief cuts a promo.
(Photo courtesy of WhatCulture)

In October 2021, WWE SmackDown took the challenge to Rampage. Every time before and since, SmackDown runs until 10 pm with Rampage starting at the same time, ensuring no crossover between runtimes. Yet on October 15th, SmackDown aired an over-run nicknamed Supersized SmackDown – an extra half an hour of commercial-free material on Fox sister channel FS1 that included stars like Brock Lesnar, Edge, Roman Reigns, The Usos, Becky Lynch, Sasha Banks, Seth Rollins, and others to try to interest and attract viewers. Rampage opened with a white-hot CM Punk facing off against Matt Sydal. 

Brock Lesnar sits feet on desk as Roman stands for a contract signing.
The extended SmackDown featured a WWE contract signing. (Photo courtesy of Sportskeeda)

Embarrassingly for WWE, in this half an hour, AEW won the war getting an average of 578,000 viewers to WWE’s 314,000. 

WWF vs The SuperBowl

Not quite in the world of wrestling but if there is one thing Vince McMahon hates, it is more popular sports taking his place. 

Savage, in a dazzling glittery get-up gives a thumbs up as Raw opens with Vince McMahon and Rob Bartlett.
Raw was often preempted back in the day.

The WWF’s early broadcasts of Raw were certainly not a priority to its network at the time. Raw was preempted various times a year. Events such as the US Open Tennis tournament caused weeks of Raw to be canceled, sometimes for multiple weeks. Up until 2000, USA Network would also preempt Raw with the annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show every February, interrupting Raw’s airing twice a year, per Place To Be Nation. 

Bafflingly despite how commercialized, slow, and generally dull the whole thing is, one of the most popular events in all of sports is the Super Bowl. In fact, 29/30 of the most viewed US broadcasts of all time were SuperBowls (the other being the finale of comedy series M*A*S*H), with the event regularly passing 100 million viewers since 2010. So naturally, Vince decided to get all pissy about this and create Halftime Heat.  

Mankind and The Rock brawl in a kitchen in the empty arena match.
(Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated)

The WWF held three of these events in 1999, 2000, and 2019. The most famous was 1999 in which Mankind won his second WWF title by beating The Rock in an Empty Arena match. Bruce Prichard recalled that Vince McMahon thought: ‘Why in the hell aren’t we doing that?” in reaction to Fox’s alternate programming for the halftime slot. “Vinnie Mac” then continued: “Why can’t we promote to one event, we could pre-tape it but give the illusion that it’s live.'” 

2000 saw an in-studio interview with the then-off television Steve Austin who was recovering from neck surgery after being run over by Rikishi at Survivor Series. 2019’s NXT edition was filmed after TakeOver: Phoenix went off the air in which Aleister Black, Velveteen Dream, and Ricochet beat Johnny Gargano, Tomasso Ciampa, and Adam Cole. 

The trio of Aleister Black, Velveteen Dream, and Ricochet all pose in the ring.
(Photo courtesy of View From The Hawk’s Nest)

Not that this has harmed the SuperBowl one bit with the combined viewers of 1999, 2000, and 2019 is an estimated 270,000,000.  

 

We’ll have to see if, and if so how, NXT’s PPV will run alongside AEW’s All Out. How do you think both will perform, leave your thoughts in the comments below! 

Written by Griffin Kaye

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