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What Bischoff and others in WCW wanted to create with Nitro was something that didn't look like wrestling that viewers had seen before. The big thing that came up in the preparations for the first show, and probably the one word that defined what Nitro would become was - "unpredictability".
Wrestling up until this stage on television was pretty formulaic. WCW Saturday Night, even if it improved in 1995, was a horridly rigid show by modern standards, embracing a squash match -> promo format ad nauseum. It was a format the audience was used to and was clearly effective to a point, even if it was incredibly played out.
With the introduction of Monday Night Raw in 1993, Vince McMahon and the WWF made strides to step out of this traditional format. Even if it paled in comparison to what would become of Nitro in 1995, or Raw itself in 1997/8 - the program attempted to become more "episodic" - stitching storylines throughout shows and paying off some smaller angles on television, using matches opposing name talent.
And it was working. Raw in 1995 had been doing record ratings in the admittedly short run. The numbers on the television for main events like Diesel vs Bam Bam Bigelow and The Undertaker vs Jeff Jarrett belied the company’s fortunes in almost every other metric. Make no mistake about it – a WCW Saturday Night like program on a Monday would've died a death.
What Bischoff created in the early days of Nitro, when it was a one hour format, was 100mph television. Angles would come and go, matches end and interviews begin in the blink of an eye. It wasn't always good – it didn't have to be – the attention just moved to something else. The first Nitro was an absolute barrage of angles, there was no time or scope for recaps. For a show to be "must watch", Bischoff wanted to create the sense that anything could happen at any time.
It all started with Lex Luger, a present that fell into Bischoff's lap just days before the start of the first Nitro. Originally Vader was lined up for the spot against Hogan that would headline the second show (the first up against Raw), but Vader got suspended after a fight with Paul Orndorff. Luger, working without a contract with the WWF, was perfect fodder for the spot.
He literally walked out on Nitro. Before the show closing angle his involvement was literally – walk out, walk back in again.
Fifteen minutes into your debut show and you've just told your audience anything can happen. It was perfect. By the way, the match that Luger walked out onto? Ric Flair vs Sting. A megamatch if WCW wanted/needed it to be. In the case of the first Nitro it was a throwaway five minute match with almost no build.
And this would be the theme for Nitro going forward. Big name matchups every single week. It was a format that Raw quickly tried to keep pace with, even if the depth and balance of its roster made this quite difficult. The first Nitro in October advertised Lex Luger vs Randy Savage and Ric Flair vs Arn Anderson. At a time when both companies were struggling to one degree or another on pay per view, it seemed like suicide. In many ways, it was.
Who knows what the fallout of the acceleration to the “big match” format would’ve been had WCW not have exploded in 1996, and Raw hadn’t followed two years later? Maybe it’s taken 20 years for the flames to finally die out on the format, maybe the audience are finally starting to fully burn out on the format? But when you care predominantly about a TV rating, in an era that can handle wrestling and that breakneck speed, against an opposition floundering on its arse. You could pick holes in it until the cows come home but who cares? In 1995 the time was right and Eric Bischoff struck gold.