Event Type: Live call-in show.
Date: October 5th, 1996.
Aired On: USA Network (Live).
Nelson Rating: Unknown.
Location: Stamford, Connecticut (Titan Towers Headquarters).
[Note: Version being reviewed is the original uncut version.]
On September 21st, 1996 the World Wrestling Federation debuted a live, phone-in (“interactive”), wrestling show on the USA Network. It was hosted and produced right within the Titan Towers in Stamford, Connecticut. Not only could viewers call in with questions, but they could also submit them via fax and their then WWF AOL chatroom. Promotional videos aired weeks prior to the debut on Raw promising to “change sports entertainment forever.”
Livewire had succeded “WWF Mania” – a recap show that ran from 1993 to 1996 that would also occasionally host viewer phone calls, and towards it’s later years, also take a more “reality” based arch in its approach. This was more or less a trial period for the company as it would start to become aware that a lot of what had been featured over the past few years was becoming stale and stagnant to viewers.
WCW had already begun using more advanced storylines giving fans more credit for being aware of behind the scenes working of the companies, it’s staff and performers. ECW had used this same approach almost since it’s debut, but especially post 1994 as it broke its ties from the National Wrestling Aliance in a “shoot” based storyline featuring Shane Douglas that had drawn a lot of attention to the promotion within wrestling circles as being unique and innovative. With the landscape changing in United States pro-wrestling, the WWF’s “Livewire” show was a major step towards the “Attitude-era” that would soon come to fruition and launch the company back to forefront of American pro-wrestling.
This particular episode being looked at today is week #2 of the show. It’s been said in its debut episode, all viewer phone calls were unscreened. What was heard on the air was 100% organic and unscripted. Moving into the October 5th, 1996th edition – the forumula changes a bit as the show leeps into a more “worked shoot” approach on its presentation as it’s apparent most of what took place, including the “viewer phone calls” were planned ahead of time – but with the intentions of still appearing to be unplanned.
Right away we’re treated to a clip of a heel Jim Ross ranting to Gorilla Monsoon on the past week’s episode of Raw about how he was fired by Vince McMahon, asking Gorilla if Vince had ever ruined his life. These comments were based on Jim actually getting fired from the company because he had leaked information to wrestling “dirtsheet” writers. He was rehired in 1996 with numerous on-air”shoot” complaints about the company, most of which as evidenced by his passionate delivery – were probably fairly close to his actual feelings at the time. It would be storylines like this acknowledging Vince as the owner that would start laying the foundation for the very successful “Mr. McMahon” character that would really start to take shape about a year later.
The host for week number two is Dok Hendrix, Jim Cornette, and Sunny. Around this time it’d mostly be Todd Pentengill and Sunny – but for whatever reason Todd’s absense isn’t explained. I’d imagine it has a lot to do with this particular episode’s goal of being very reality based, as Todd’s on air personailty was a glorified comedy host.
Dok promises the viewers any questions they want to be asked on today’s show will be answered including an appearance by chairman of the board, Vince McMahon and jokes that he will be on vacation in Jamacia when the time comes to field the questions. The hosts continue to run down what’s expected for the show as they get interupted by WWF Magazine editor at the time, “Vic Venom (Vince Russo), who would not too long after this get himself a spot on the creative time as a head writer of WWF RAW during the wrestling-boom in the later 90’s.
[Note: I’ve read numerous times that this was Vince Russo’s first appearance on WWF television. This is NOT true. He had appeared on “WWF Mania” in 1994 as himself for in angle involving Bret and Owen Hart with an article he wrote in WWF Magazine.]
Vince, er, “Vic” begins stating that the WWF Livewire show sucks. He attacks the company for calling Michael Hayes “Dok Hendrix” stating that he used to be a legend while name dropping the Fabulous Freebirds – Haye’s very successful tag-team outside of the WWF and now is made to look like a cartoon character. Dok shoots a look off camera acting shocked that the fourth-wall had just been broken. Sunny is angry. Cornette laughs amusingly the entire time. Dok threatens Vic saying he nor any other wrestling journalist would want to meet the “real” Michael P.S. Hayes breaking his Dok Hendrix persona. Vic tells Cornette he’s also bored with his same old “racket” (Get it? He carries a tennis racket.) he’s seen on Raw the last few weeks. Cornette rips into him calling him a New York Yankee dressed like Al Pacino in a bad gangster movie. Pretty spot on.
Dok steps back into full character making some cheesy remark about Venom’s “morning breath.” (This was a morning show..) We’re shown a clip of Vader beating Shawn Michaels in a tag match, where afterwords “Psycho” Sid and Goldust run out and Michaels plus Vader clear house. Cornette says that’s two times now Vader has beaten Shawn in a tag match, and he will do the same to Sid at In Your House: Buried Alive that they were building Vader up for.
Sunny calls Cornette over to answer a offensive question asked by a fan in the WWF AOL chatroom questioning his managerial duties to Vader. We are then treated to very early “Internet Wrestling Community” induced rage by Cornette that die-hard wrestling fans would enjoy for years to come as he proceeds to ask Sunny how he can type up a response.
Dok starts to take phone calls. Two callers ask questions related to McMahon’s firing of Jim Ross in what is the first real time the company began to make jokes at the expense of Jim, that’d become more commonplace in future angles to come.
Joining the program is Vince McMahon. Vic instantly lashes at Vince with Vince showing trying to maintain his anger. Vic tells Vince he has been scared to put him on television as he is the only one the company “telling him how it is.” As with most topics brought up in this program, there’s an underlying truth to those comments as Russo’s bold suggestions to Vince during this time period are what gave him the opportunity to do move up in the company and be apart of things like this segment. Although one must wonder if Russo had not tried to put himself over so much with the trial run of the Vic Venom character here if he could have done more with this angle, perhaps moving onto a heel manager role or early authority figure.
Vic asks Vince how the Livewire show could be so awful. The ironic part being this segment and early months of this show weren’t. Vince replies with baby-face mannered replies saying the WWF is an open forum, hence why Vic gets to speak his mind on the live show. Cornette and Venom trade insults. Vic tells Jim it’s 1996 and people are sick of his ideas. (Still a large criticism of Jim today) Cornette cleverly congratulates Venom for knowing the year, asking him if he also knows what the temperature is obviously catching Russo completely off guard. What makes these exchanges so great is that historically these two men have never gotten along, and continue not to as of the time of this being written nearly twenty years later.
For about the sixth time, Vince is asked about Ross’ firing. It seems to me that Vince really wanted to push the idea of acknowledging well-known inner workings of the business like Ross being fired at the time. Unfortunately, despite I think doing an incredible job of being a heel, Ross’ stint of being on air villain wouldn’t last much longer than this. Vince explains the first time Ross was “let go”, his contract had actually just expired. The second time, it was because of Jim “talking to wrong people” — mentioned above. These are both true. Dok even brings up the people being “dirtsheet” writers. Vince says Ross’ credibility was questioned afterwords. Dok asks Vince if he thinks Ross is better than Jim on play-by-play announcing than McMahon. Vince dances around the question, than states he thinks that he is better than Jim (that answer alone shows Vince’s still somewhat stubborn mindset at the time as Ross would eventually, and deserving take over that head role.) Jim says Vince gives a lot of second chances. Vince says Cornette should know all about that, in another awesome and obviously unscripted moment.
A caller proceeds to ask Vince about the “fake” Razor and Diesel. Vince says whether they’re the real characters or not, it’s how they perform in the ring that matters. (I think time told that one quite quickly.) A question from the “chatroom” asks Vince about ECW, and if they plan on invading the WWF like the NWO was ECW. After hearing a canned question stated like that, I would have to imagine they had much higher NWO-esque hopes for that cross-promotional angle than what had actually happened as this was still in the early stages of it.
Vince says that ECW, Ross, and Russo are all trying to get attention at the expense of the WWF with it all coming down to ego – pointing at Russo. He does also call Russo a talented writer. Venom asks Vince that if Ross is such a good commentator, why he was put “second string” behind Vince, as Vince hosts the MAIN, prime-time, show — Raw.
Before Vince can answer the last question, a caller interupts the lines. It’s “Bruce from Conneticut” in a very familar voice that ECW fans at the time would recognize as owner, Paul Heyman. This is probably the most remembered and talked about segment on any LiveWire throughout the show’s entire run, and with good reason as Heyman proceeds to rip into Vince as everyone in the headquarter’s quickly realize who’s making the phone call.
Heyman accuses Vince of stealing ECW’s style, performers, and ideas. He asks why Vince is afraid to encourage viewers to watch ECW. Vince says he doesn’t have to hide who he is, but they quickly cut him off the lines after telling an angry and shocked Sunny to “shut the F up!” in an all around hilarious moment.
Another calls asks about Ross. This is really getting too much mentioning of Ross. Especially with little payoff. This time they discuss his Bell’s Palsy. Vince says he doesn’t known of any other organization that would allow a performer to be on air with the disorder. Russo pokes fun of Jim’s “saggy” voice. The reason why this was brought up so much, is when Ross’ contact first expired in 1994, Jim suffered Bell’s Palsy right as he was let go of the company, and it had been rumored it was directly because of that. I believe Vince booked it this way to try to save face (no pun, c’mon now) from the situation but explanations fell so short of being compassionate and typically very close to his real thoughts, that this ignited the slow burn to the heel corporate McMahon we would see in the future.
We get what I believe to be is the first non-planted caller of this show asking what Vince plans to do “to make the WWF a power house again” – basically admitting to its losing battle to the WCW for the first time that I’m aware of. He says big changes are coming, along with new talent, and even mentions he doesn’t know what Vic Venom plays to do in the WWF. I wouldn’t have minded seeing this WWF-controlled early version of Russo on television as I believe there must have been plans for it, but am ultimately glad after seeing his WCW run that he was kept behind the scenes when more started being asked of him. As controversial as Russo can be, I don’t think anyone could deny that Vince obviously did think pretty highly of “Venom”‘s opinions during this period as up until this point was probably the harshest a talent (is that the right word for him at this point?) had ever been able to rip into McMahon.
Another most-likely, panned caller, asks Vince McMahon’s thoughts on Ted Turner. Vince brings up the infamous “Black Saturday” deal, stating that although they did business together in the past, he doesn’t like Turner’s ethic. Dok brings up Ted wanting to buy the WWF and asking Vince if because he turned down the offer, it created a personal vendetta for Ted to try to put the WWF out of business using his wallet. Dok then says he worked for World Championship Wrestling for five years and never seen a profit. He wonders how that can work in a business sense – implying that Ted was funding WCW despite profit loss to spite Vince. The truth being somewhere in between as although Ted probably didn’t like Vince, he also did legitimately enjoy the wrestling business.
A call about Bret Hart returning occurs. Vince says hopefully at Survivor Series. This happened. Vince changes the topic to Shawn Michaels, “the man who beat Bret Hart”. A promo putting over Shawn as a hard working WWF champion airs showing clips of him making television show appearances and greeting fans as his duty of champion. Shawn was very vocal about how much this time period wore him down, and they decided to incorporate his complaints of being over worked into his feud with Vader.
Vic accuses Shawn of falling into the “corporate puppet” trap (a reference to a promo Diesel cut in 1995 on Raw blaming McMahon for his lackluster run as champion) that Hulk Hogan did.
A promo for Mr. Perfect’s return to ring is aired. A caller asks if Perfect will be in-ring shape. He was, although his return didn’t make much of a splash. Vic asks Vince if Perfect being brought back is to up the ratings. Sadly I don’t think Henning ever affected them that much. Even with his jump to WCW not long after.
A caller asks Sunny if she’ll ever wrestle Sable. An eight year old’s (wet) dream fantasy match that’d be teased for the next few years in WWF Magazine and occasionally on-air as both women were incredibly over at the time.
Dok says we’re almost out of time, and we can have one more caller. The caller asks about whether there will ever be a “24/7 wrestling network” — and Vince’s thoughts on Eric Bishcoff. Vince says that although the WWF owns a large library of content, you’d have to have Ted Turner’s wallet in order to do that – which I believe confirms that this is an idea Vince had been thinking of for many years before the WWE Network ever came to creation. I also theorize that a paranoid Vince was worried with WCW’s gaining power and Ted Turner’s access to cable networks/gigantic wallet that Ted may at some point would in fact grant permission to WCW to allow it to have an all-wrestling network with the unprecedented success it had been having – while always keeping the idea in his head and unburying it well after the WWE had won the “Monday Night Wars.”
Dok says we are out of time and they will see us next week!
Wow. What a show. Livewire’s odd mix of kayfabe and shoot “worked-shoot” storytelling was so astonishingly ahead of its time. Not only is the “call-in” format very popular to this day for thousands of wrestling podcasts, but all the reality-based programming we see from the WWE now can surely be traced back to a show like this, which is among the first in the United States to really “pull back the curtain.”
Not only was it a huge time for wrestling with the Monday Night Wars and pro-wrestling’s boom period really about to ignite that this episode does a great job at capitulating, but it’s a glimpse of everything to come that I think really makes it quite special. From Vince Russo having a bigger hand in creative, to Vince’s passive aggressive answers that would start building his huge heel boss character, to seeing Cornette cut his shoot-style promos fans still love to hear from him to this day, to the company just acknowledging its’s criticisms in a more honest, up-front, manner – this show is a great watch for any die-hard wrestling fan. Having Vince McMahon, Jim Cornette, Tammy Sytch, heel Jim Ross, early Vince Russo, Jim Cornette, and Paul Heyman all get to talk on the same show should be selling point enough, but I’ll say it anyways; if you can find an original copy of this (as of writing no Livewire’s have been uploaded to the WWE Network) — do yourself a favor and watch this.