The saying that “things come in threes” wasn’t a good omen for Turner-owned WCW: After three years at a three-hour running time, TNT’s Monday night program “Nitro” was given the three count.
On Monday, World Championship Wrestling quietly cut back its wrestling program by an hour, ending the sports entertainment show at 10 p.m. instead of the usual 11 p.m. It thus ends one hour of direct competition with the red-hot World Wrestling Federation, which airs 9-11 p.m. on USA Network.
The move had been considered for several months after the series was regularly beaten in the timeslot by the WWF for a year and a half.
The shift effectively ends a long strategy by Turner to attack the WWF head-to-head. Turner launched the series as a Monday night hourly show on Sept. 4, 1995, directly opposite the WWF’s program “Raw.”
“Nitro’s” debut immediately made an impact on the wrestling wars as well as TNT’s ratings, prompting sister station TBS to later launch its own grappling show “Thunder” on Thursdays.
Turner’s company soared after signing former WWF stars Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage and Kevin Nash.
WCW’s success even begat rumors of a WWF financial collapse after WCW’s “Nitro” scored ratings as high as a 7 during a two-year reign atop the cable charts. The program expanded to two hours in May 1996 and grew to three hours in January 1997.
But too much of a good thing may have hurt the WCW when ratings eventually bottomed out in late 1998 while the WWF’s numbers exploded with a new crop of wrestlers.
After ratings for “Nitro” finally dipped into the 2s last year, Turner eventually pulled WCW president Eric Bischoff out of the organization. “Thunder” was subsequently moved from its Thursday slot to Wednesday to avoid the WWF’s “Smackdown” on UPN.
According to execs at Turner, the hour cut was made not to run from Vince McMahon’s WWF, but to ease the load on “Nitro’s” writers and workers and create a more coherent show.
” ‘WCW Monday Nitro’s’ new two-hour format is ideal for creating a stronger, fast-paced program,” said Bischoff’s successor, Bill Busch, exec VP and GM of WCW. ” ‘Nitro’ will have more action in storylines, in a compact high-energy presentation that will increase the impact and excitement for TNT viewers.”