Kayfabe Commentaries: WWF Timeline 1998: Vince Russo
Written by: Brian Bayless
This was released on February 2nd, 2016
The interview was conducted by Sean Oliver
It runs at three hours long
The interview starts with Sean asking Russo if he remembers the year 1998 as Russo talks about how it is rather fresh on his mind as he has been going through late 1997 episodes of RAW for his podcast.
Jeff Jarrett pinned Barry Windham on the January 5th episode of RAW with assistance from Jim Cornette to capture the NWA North American Title. When asked whose idea this was, Russo tells us that he was in the creative booking meetings and while he was moving towards the Attitude Era with Vince McMahon, Jim Cornette was sticking in his old-school roots. Russo then said he is going to be honest here and that he had an ulterior motive because while he wanted Cornette to be happy, thinking he would be if working with Windham and the Rock & Roll Express, he also knew this would fail. Russo thought by having it fail then Cornette could see where they were coming from with their ideas. Russo said he has nothing against Cornette or the style of wrestling of that era but that it was not going to work in 1998. On how Vince felt about this, Russo said that he believes Vince also saw where he was coming from with regards to Cornette’s dated booking.
Steve Austin won the Royal Rumble match and the right to wrestle for the WWF World Heavyweight Title at WrestleMania XIV. Russo then talks about how their is no such thing as a “push” in wrestling. He said there might be such a thing today but at this point and time the WWF was listening to the crowd every single week. Russo then talks about how while writing RAW, he would listen to the fans in the stands and heard what they wanted. Russo also brings up the data they had and how it showed the minute-by-minute ratings, which they used to dictate the show. Russo said without a doubt Austin was the most popular wrestler on the roster.
Shawn Michaels injuring himself in his casket match against the Undertaker at the Royal Rumble where he suffered two herniated discs along with a completely crushed disc in his back, leading to his retirement. Sean asks if there were any doubts to whether or not this was legitimate. Russo said that there were people who doubted Shawn and knew there was “nuclear heat” between Shawn and Vince because he acted as the liaison between the two. Russo puts over Shawn for being a company guy prior to the Attitude Era but once Austin became more popular, he could see Vince kick Michaels to the curb and that triggered Shawn’s anger. Russo thinks Shawn was justified in his anger as he carried the company during a bad time for the company. Russo then said that Vince gave Shawn less personal attention and gave that to Austin. Russo also tells a story of how around this time, Vince came up to him and said Austin is his number one priority when writing RAW.
Mike Tyson appeared on the January 19th episode of RAW and it ended with a pull apart brawl with Steve Austin. Russo is asked how this came about. He said that Vince believed that people would pay to see Tyson on PPV because he was banned from boxing at the time. Russo thought Vince had ulterior motives here and thought Vince wanted to manage Tyson if/when he returned to boxing, noting how Shane McMahon was with him 24/7 at the time. Russo also said that the Attitude Era probably does not kick off without Tyson.
On the February 2nd episode of RAW, Degeneration X gives their “State of the Union” address. Russo claimed this was his idea, stating that he saw the prior week that USA was having some “problems” and thought they should jump on that. Russo also said Vince was completely on board. Sean asks Russo if Vince shared the same vision as he did. Russo talks about how Vince does not have the ability to write a wrestling show and he would write everything and hand it to Vince, who would go through everything and would pick out little things in each segment and tweak it a bit. Russo said that he realized the genius of Vince, who could see things others could not see.
Russo is asked why Terry Funk was brought back as Chainsaw Charlie. He said that Jim Cornette was looking to bring back Funk to the company. Russo points out how he loves Funk and how he did a moonsault at age 54. Russo said that Funk and Vince had heat from years prior but Cornette suggested the idea of putting Funk in a box and leaving him ringside for the whole show and he would come out at the end, because as Cornette put it “anyone who comes out of a box is instantly over.” Russo said that he loves that quote while stating how he has no ill will at all towards Cornette. So, Vince took that idea and came up with an idea to put him in the box but when he comes out, it would be Chainsaw Charlie. Cornette was floored after hearing this suggestion as Russo even thought it was stupid but could pick up vibes from Vince that there was more than meets the eye and considers this similar to when Dusty Rhodes came into the WWF wearing polka dots.
Russo then talks about how Vince McMahon was very hands on in producing the New Age Outlaw segments. Vince said that he couldnt understand why the nWo was kicking their ass in the ratings because they had better and younger talent. At first, Russo told Vince the Outlaws were not over and didnt see that combination working. However, Vince saw them and believed it would work as Russo said he admits when he was wrong and he was wrong about the Outlaws.
Russo is asked why Tennessee Lee (Robert Fuller) didnt make it in the WWF. He said that when he was on TV, the ratings dropped significantly so there was no need to put him out there on a weekly basis before going into how wrestling today can be fixed if they just kept looking at the ratings to see which segments worked and what failed. Russo stays on the ratings subject and how when we he was in creative meetings, he stressed that all of their opinions did not matter, his included, because the ratings shows what is working. Russo even added that this all made their jobs easy and how Vince looked at them a lot as well.
When asked if Sable was easy to work with, Russo said yes. He then said she was the most attractive woman he’d ever seen and was nervous to even look at her. Russo talked about guys were jealous she was drawing but he never had a single issue with her in their WWF run. Russo said that some of the biggest names on the roster would get into Vince’s ear trying to put an end to her push but the ratings would increase when Sable was on TV and that is all he cared about.
Steve Austin beat Shawn Michaels for the World Heavyweight Title at WrestleMania XIV. Sean asks Russo if people were happy to see Shawn leave at that time. Russo said yes as the combination of his drug use and general unhappiness made it tough to be around him at that time. On the success of the show, Russo said that they never took time to bask in their success as they never stopped working, noting how they wrote the show on a week-to-week basis while constantly looking at the ratings. On the match itself, Russo talks about how he never knew how hurt Shawn was but recalls a spot where Shawn kipped up and he thought that there was no way he was hurt but then thought about how maybe it was all due to adrenaline.
LoD 2000 returned. When asked why, Russo said that Sable was getting over huge at the time and they gave her a ton of TV time as a result. However, Sunny was so jealous of this and a giant “headache” to deal with at the time. Russo said they decided to have her manage the Road Warriors so she could remain on TV weekly as a result but that did not stop her from complaining.
On Kane hitting Pete Rose with the tombstone piledriver, Russo laughs and said that Rose would do anything based on how much money you would give him.
Sean asks Russo if HHH was ready to step out and lead D-X. Russo talks about looking back and watching these shows and how Shawn was a megastar and HHH could have fallen flat on his face in trying to follow him as the leader but he managed to do fine in the role.
Regarding Dan Severn, Russo didnt think he “got it,” unlike Ken Shamrock when he came into the company. Russo said Severn never was able to pick up the entertainment aspect of the business.
The April 13th edition of RAW was the first time in 83 weeks that they beat WCW Nitro head-to-head in the ratings. On the show, they teased Steve Austin vs. Vince McMahon. Sean asks Russo why were they so great together. Russo said they two of the best performers in the history of wrestling and a lot of blue-collar workers lived vicariously through Austin at the time. Russo talks about how Austin got the crowd going mental, compared to today were some of the WWE roster cannot get any reaction as they are too busy trying to recite their lines.
Also on this episode of RAW, Gerald Brisco and Pat Patterson debut as Vince’s “stooges.” Russo said this was the most enjoyment he had on the show because they had no clue how good they were in that role. Russo said he produced their vignetttes.
When D-X invaded RAW and how they got a tank for the segment, Russo said there was a guy named Richie Curtis. He was a magician by day and would bring in any gimmicks at night, such as a car to fill up with concrete. Russo said he was writing the segment and to entertain himself, he wrote that D-X would show up in a rocket launcher, knowing there was no way it would happen. Vince read the script then gave it to Kevin Dunn and no one said anything. So, they get to the building and a rocket launcher was there. Russo said he was in disbelief. When asked if there was any good behind the scenes stuff, Russo said they had no idea what was going to happen and it made for great TV. Also, when asked, they never felt WCW would retaliate and start an invasion themselves.
Russo is asked about Chyna. He said that HHH dictated everything she did and if he had to talk about a segment with her, he would end up speaking with HHH.
In May, Russo was formally promoted from Magazine Editor to TV Writer and Assistant Booker to Vince McMahon. When asked what its like working for Vince, Russo said you are on call 24 hours a day. He recalls being with his kids in a movie theater on a Saturday afternoon to take a call. However, everytime he went to the office Vince’s car was always there and seeing that makes you want to work as hard as he did.
On Eric Bischoff challenging Vince McMahon to appear at the WCW Slamboree PPV, Russo said that Vince wanted to appear but the same exact day of the PPV, Stephanie was graduating from college and that was the only reason why he did not appear. Russo said that Vince was pissed because his “manhood” was challenged.
When Al Snow returned with the head gimmick, Russo said he was flipping through TV and saw him do that and showed it to Vince, who originally saw nothing in him. Russo said that Vince mainly cared about the top guys and he saw the midcarders as replaceable, something he heard rings true today. Russo then talks about the working arrangement the WWE had with ECW and was told if they wanted ECW talent to appear all he had to do was call Paul Heyman. Russo said he wanted the Dudley Boyz and Vince went to Heyman, who told Vince the Dudleys were not interested. Russo said they asked for another talent and Heyman said the same thing. Russo talks about a third party told them the Dudleys wanted to come to the WWE so he sent up a meeting and they came to the company.
Val Venis made his debut in May. Russo talks about meeting him and he kept talking about politics. Russo said he did not care about politics and claims to have never voted for a presidential election once in his life. Russo said he thought Venis looked like a “sleazy porn star” and went into Vince’s office and pitched the idea so they shot some vignettes. Russo said they got Jenna Jameson to do the vignettes and she was in the tub naked at Bruce Prichard’s house where they shot the footage. Russo showed Vince the vignettes and Vince killed everything Jameson was in because he thought she was ugly. Russo talked about how they spent a lot of money filming this stuff.
Russo talks about the Oddities. He said he was a huge Howard Stern fan and wanted to be like him and wishes he had Stern’s career. He was watching the “Wack Pack” guys and they were at the “Gorilla Position” with Paul Bearer, who when he saw the Wack Packers walk by told Russo said he “just succeeded in killing the wrestling business.” Russo said part of him felt horrible as Bearer was an iconic figure but another part felt it was a compliment because of the success the Stern show had and their characters, who were part of the show.
Vader unmasked on the May 31st edition of RAW. Russo tells a story of how they were one minute away from going live and Vader was nowhere to be found. Vince was going nuts as the pyro went off and the show began. The announcers were told to drag things out a bit but eventually his opponent (Kane) came out to the ring. All of a sudden, Vader comes out walking into things as it turns out he was underneath the stage stretching when the pyro went off and could barely even walk and had to go straight to the ring.
Edge made his debut. Russo said that originally, Edge’s character was going to not talk at the beginning but would over time and that all changed once Gangrel and Christian came on board as they started the Brood.
At the King of the Ring show, Mankind got tossed off of the top of the Cell through the Spanish announce table by the Undertaker in their Hell in a Cell match. Russo said he was horrified when he saw this and concerned for Mankind’s well-being. He talks about standing at the Gorilla position and Mankind was wheeled backstage and the doctor was looking at him backstage. He left and Russo was alone with Mankind, whose teeth were through his lip and looked horrible. Russo talks about how he was worried to death and Mankind looked up and asked “was it better than Shawn’s match” as all he cared about was wanting to top the Shawn/Taker Hell in a Cell match.
On Ken Shamrock winning the King of the Ring tournament and if he was planned to get a bigger push, Russo does not remember but talks about how looking back, he wished he could have been able to write a feud for Shamrock and Austin.
Next, Sean asks Russo about the Brawl for All tournament. He said that he was in the back when JBL carried on about how he could take on anyone in the company in a shoot fight. Russo talks about how he never cared for JBL, stating he was a bully. Russo said he pitched the idea for the Brawl for All to Vince, stating they would offer a bonus to get people to do it as he knew others were sick of hearing JBL run his mouth. He talks about Bart Gunn knocking about the Godfather and how he never saw someone get it that hard in his life. He also said the wrestlers themselves liked the fights. Russo said that Marc Mero was pissed and felt he got screwed when he fought Steve Blackman as the locker room did not like Mero due to Sable. Russo also talks about Jim Ross kept going on ad naseum about how Steve Williams would win to the point everyone got sick of hearing about it and rooted against Williams. Russo said before the tournament, he felt the Godfather would win the whole thing.
Russo talks about the D-X segment in which they parodied the Nation of Domination. He talks about how Road Dogg made D’Lo Brown’s career, something D’Lo himself told Russo. He then talks about going in, he knew this would be either really good or really bad but felt better about it when he saw them all in the ring. He does not believe the Nation of Domination were legitimately upset over the segment.
Ed Ferrara was hired by the WWE to write with Russo. He was writing shows for the USA Network at the time, most notably “Duckman.” Russo talks about they would watch Jerry Springer’s show while writing then eat lunch and write until 5pm the the next day they would go to Vince’s house and lay out the show to him. He has no idea how they do it today with 25-30 writers and barely get the show ready before it goes to air.
Russo gets off topic a bit and talks about how great Jerry Lawler and Jim Ross were as the announce team, saying that the announcing today is a joke and not even at the quality of a high school sports team.
The Godfather character made its debut on the July 27th edition of RAW. Russo said he did not create the character and thinks it was either Vince or the Godfather himself. Russo said that Tiger Ali Singh was a nice guy but there were problems on a “managerial” level that he was not sure about but it pretty much meant they could not push him on TV.
When asked how the idea of the “Sunday Night Heat” show came about, Russo said the product was hot and they wanted more shows. Russo said the show was not focused and put even further on the backburner after Smackdown came about.
Russo talks about Shane McMahon after he was asked about the wrestlers treated him. He tells a story about how Shane, on the day of the PPV in his first match against X Pac, handed him a 26 page match that he had written out step-by-step. Russo said that got around the locker room but once Shane went out and performed, he won over their respect.
Shane McMahon was promoted to President of New Media of Titan Sports. He was 28 years old. When asked if he was like his father, Russo said he was a workaholic like him but Shane was a lot more personable. Russo has no idea if they had a fallout or not and did not understand why they were not using him when he briefly returned in 2002.
On September 27th, the Hardy Boyz finally got a win on TV. Russo said that he had to beg Vince to sign them to a contract. Russo said that he was not one to judge wrestling ability to felt they were in the “jobber” role for long enough to deserve a bigger role. Russo said they had a cool look and doesnt think to this day anyone looks cooler than Jeff Hardy.
Russo is asked about Austin coming out to the ring in a zamboni. Russo said they wanted to give the crowd something they have never seen before and that was what they were trying to do.
Mankind debuted Mr. Socko on the September 29th edition of RAW at the bedside of Vince McMahon. Russo talks about people want to discredit him for various reasons but the bottom line was that the talent was so great but someone had to give them material on a weekly basis. He talks about the pressure of giving these guys material, because they were so good. Russo then talks about how they never buried the characters as he discusses a recent episode of RAW where Bray Wyatt watched as Roman Reigns pinned Luke Harper from a chair near the announcers table, never even budging once. Russo said that buries the Wyatt character because it would sit there in front of his guy while he is being pinned without trying to stop it from happening. Russo said you have to put yourself in the characters shoes and stay true to them. Russo then goes back to today and how there is no consistency to the characters and stories, which is why no one is getting over. When asked if the talent should know better, Russo said yes but these guys are afraid to lose their jobs. Russo said that the talent works just as hard now than they did back then but guys in the Attitude Era would speak up, noting how he once watched Shawn Michaels say “fuck you” right in the face off Vince.
Russo is asked about the angle in which Vince’s corvette was buried in cement. Russo said the car was not new but it was able to be driven. He then goes into how people criticize him for not being able to have the same success creatively in TNA as he stresses the importance of having a good budget. Russo tells a TNA story of how Tara (Victoria) had a spider, which had a handler. The handler got paid $200 to come to TV with the spider but after four weeks, TNA could not afford it any longer as Russo said TV needs to be a spectacle and when a company cannot afford anything, it limits you as a writer.
On the return of the Blue Blazer character for Owen Hart, Russo first talks about knowing Owen in real life and being unable to take him seriously as a bad ass because of how often he pulled pranks and how funny he was backstage. Russo felt the Blazer character was closer to who he really was.
Sean asks why it took the Rock so long to break out from the Nation of Domination. Russo said the story was still in motion and they wanted to milk it as long as they could before planning what he would do afterwards.
Regarding the angle where Austin made Vince piss his pants, Russo said that was all Vince’s idea as he talked about how much Vince loves potty humor and fart jokes.
On Mankind & Al Snow teaming up, Russo said they were great. Sean asks how much of what they did was ad-libbed as Russo said you just give those guys an outline and the key points to touch upon and they take care of the rest.
There was a report that on Tuesday October 27th, Austin called Vince at 11pm at night over concerns he had about his relationship with the WWE. It was also reported that earlier in the evening, Russo gave Austin details of what was planned for him the next two weeks of television. Russo talks about the situation and does not know if it was when Austin got the role in “Nash Bridges” and thinks he might have wanted to venture out into Hollywood and get out of his contract. Russo said he remembered Vince was not happy after the meeting.
When asked about the Hardcore Title getting added, Russo said gimmick matches are designed for the casual fan. He then adds if you are not a wrestling fans and flip the channels and see a “spectacle” with ladders and weapons it might grab your attention.
The Rock won the WWF World Heavyweight Title at the Survivor Series. Russo called that night and segment the “greatest piece of wrestling writing ever.” He said he worked on it with Ferrara and they were concise and that no one in the arena saw it coming.
On November 17th, Shawn Michaels was named the new commissioner. Russo said that he proposed to Vince that they should bring Shawn back because it was best for business. Russo recalls how they mixed up his show dates and Shawn came up to the arena and was told to go home, causing Shawn to cut a scathing promo on him. Russo then went to Vince, as he was shaking, then Vince told him that he wanted Shawn back so he can deal with it as Russo then realized that Shawn and Vince were still not on good terms.
Russo said that Vince taught both of his kids about the business buy putting them in different departments. He also believes that putting Stephanie in charge of creative was the biggest mistake he has ever made in the WWE and the company has never been able to recover. He talks about how he can write and produce talent but sucks at the business aspect himself as he talks about you cannot put someone in charge of creative if they are not creative themselves and you cannot turn back once you put her in charge because Vince will not humiliate her by taking the job away from his own daughter. Vince then said that the reason he did not go back in 2002 was due to Stephanie and how she talked down to him while they were on the speaker phone and knew the minute the call was over it was not going to work. Russo also said that Shane was the one who wanted him back.
He is asked about “pole” matches. Russo asks Sean to name three pole matches as he points out how you can only name about 3-5 pole matches and that people still remember them but there are not 100 of them like people claim.
“Wrestling with Shadows” debuts on the A&E Network. Russo talks about how all of the top guys are in the meeting with Vince, who was sporting a black eye. The point of the meeting was to sweep this incident under the rug and he was sitting there thinking how nuts it was to not use this for TV as it would get killer ratings. He said that turned into the promo in which Vince said “Bret screwed Bret.” Russo said it was not a work then tells a story. He was at Vince’s house with Cornette. Russo then said that Vince pulled him aside and wanted him to pick up the phone when Bret called and be quiet while they talked. Russo said that Bret shot down every idea Vince gave then they sat down after the call. Russo said he was pissed and told Vince to have Shawn put Bret in the Sharpshooter and ring the bell. A few days later, Russo watches the show as he had not heard from Vince and never knew the plans then saw Shawn put Bret in the move and that is when it happened. Russo then said a few days after the show, Owen called him up and was hysterical, stating Bret told him if he went back to the WWF he would disown him. Owen wanted Russo to talk to Bret and he did. Russo talked to Bret and told him he would have done the same thing Vince did as all he was trying to do was protect his company and everyone in it as Bret said stuff Russo did not want to repeat and how it was the hardest time for everyone.
On the Terri miscarriage angle, Russo said that he does not regret this story. He talked about how this happens a lot in shows and the WWF is entertainment before addressing those who state he takes credit for the good stuff but does not take blame for the “bad stuff” as Russo said this is all subjective and if he didnt think it was a good idea he never would have done it in the first place.
The finish talking about the year as Russo talks about his podcast and how the product today pales in comparison to 1998. Russo gives Jim Ross credit for putting together the best roster in wrestling history while talking about working for companies who did a terrible job at putting together a talented roster. Russo says the workers today in the WWE are all busting their ass but the difference is that they are not being given material that meets their talent.
Sean then asks Russo about how executives and others in the company today sit all over him. Russo said when he started the company was in such bad shape he gave a magazine writer (himself) a job of writing TV because he had nothing to lose. He then talks about how the WWE has had a 15 year drop in ratings since he left then talks about the ego of others for not giving people any credit. Russo said it gives him joy to put over others and cannot comprehend why Vince wants to do the opposite.
Final Thoughts: Well, this is a Russo interview so you are going to get an agenda (today’s product failing due to not paying attention to ratings and if he did something people do not like it was memorable and the fact you didnt like it is subjective). And Russo did take a credit for a lot of ideas as well. Besides that though, there was some good stuff here.
Unlike his 2000 WCW timeline, Russo is a lot more laid back here. And probably with good reason as 1998 WWE was a lot more successful. Russo did not seem angry here either and he was able to sit back and reflect. This timeline was much better than that one.
Overall, as far as a Russo interview (If you have seen any of them, you should know what to expect) it is one of his better ones. Still, he does push his agenda and takes credit for a lot of stuff happening that might make you roll your eyes. I’d recommend to seek this one out but be warned about what I have mentioned above.
Bob Colling Jr. View All
34-year-old currently living in Syracuse, New York. Long-time fan of the New York Mets, Chicago Bulls, and Minnesota Vikings. An avid fan of professional wrestling and write reviews/articles on the product. Usually focusing on old-school wrestling.