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Andy QuannMarch 7th, 2021BlogComments Off on Were the Monday Night Wars actually any good?

Were the Monday Night Wars actually any good?

The Monday Night War between WCW and the then WWF led to the biggest boom in Pro Wrestling in history.  Or was it?

After discovering a random episode of Saturday Night’s Main Event (9th edition) on the 1st March 1987, I found out that it drew a 10.6 TV Rating. The highest Raw rating during the Attitude Era was 8.09.

The August 31, 1998 episode of Nitro scored the highest rating in WCW history with a 6.0.

Neither of these compares to a random date in 1987 that I stumbled across.

So when people look at the period of 1996 – 2001 – they look at it with fondness, saying it was the biggest wrestling period in history. However, I ask – were those five years actually that good for the business long term? First, we need to discuss the ratings.


  • Ratings were great…or were they?

It has been well discussed in DVDs, documentaries and podcasts that the war centred around ratings based on the Nielson System. Additionally, it has been well documented that WCW Nitro defeated Raw in the ratings for 83 weeks. Heck, Eric Bischoff has a podcast with that as its name.

However, the system of measuring the ratings has been noted to be flawed. Guy Evans in his book, Nitro: The Incredible Rise and Inevitable Collapse of Ted Turner’s WCW, Evans states that:

According to the Nielsen numbers, 4.7% of the television audience (on average) watched wrestling on September 11th, 1995, the first head-to-head ratings battle. Interestingly, however, many believed (including Bischoff himself) that the percentage was misleading. “There was a ton of duplication in that number,” Bischoff said years later, referencing the phenomenon of viewers switching back-and-forth.

(Credit: Nitro: The Incredible Rise and Inevitable Collapse of Ted Turner’s WCW, Page 49)

 In this case, “duplication” meant that some audience members, through their decision to rapidly change programs, could effectively be accounted for twice in the rating

(Credit: Nitro: The Incredible Rise and Inevitable Collapse of Ted Turner’s WCW, Page 50)

It has also been noted in his book that:

“the television ratings business was done in 15-minute intervals. If you had a viewer for eight or more minutes of that time period, you got credited for the whole 15 minutes…”

(Credit Nitro: The Incredible Rise and Inevitable Collapse of Ted Turner’s WCW, Page 30)

Taking these into account this means that:

  1. It is entirely possible that the actual audience watching wrestling on Monday nights was far less than what the ratings would have people believed;
  2. Leading to wrestling, not being as popular as people think it was during the time period.
  3. It is possible that the majority of the audience were the same fans (at least during that specific given night).
  4. The wrestling industry has been trying to reach heights that were non-existent to begin with or unattainable for the past 25+ years.

Proving these without a time machine is obviously very difficult, if not impossible.

The only comparisons we can do is first of all showing the overall ratings of Raw from Jan 1996 and comparing those. Below is a graph of mostly every single episode of raw and it’s rating until April 2017, with over 21 years worth of data:

Click to enlarge:
Raw Ratings from 1996 2017 PNG

As you can see the ratings spike during the Monday Night Wars and have been in steady decline since, roughly RAW in 2017 had the same ratings RAW had in 1996.

Granted in 2017 (just like today) media consumption has clearly changed with the advances of the internet since 1996 including, social media, streaming, YouTube, Netflix, etc.

So let’s compare 2000 (in blue) with 2001 (in red) between April and December of both years:

Click to enlarge:
2000 vs 2001 PNG


As you can see the ratings book a plunge after WCW was bought out by WWE after 2001. This could be because viewers had changed channels so much between WCW and WWE that it skewed the ratings.

However, there are other factors to consider including:

  • Bad creative: Austin siding with Vince & Hunter, The Invasion (Austin turning Face and Heel again), disappointment with the Invasion never living up to expectations;
  • Leading to people not watching the product anymore.
  • Legitimately people liking only WCW and moving on and/or not willing to watch WWE.

It has been argued by Bryan Alvarez and RD Reynolds that:

“Raw and Nitro didn’t split a finite group of wrestling fans, but instead spent the next several years creating millions and millions of new viewers. The Monday-night wrestling audience grew from about 4 million in 1995 to more than 12 million at its peak in 1998…”

This statement was made before the revelations of Guy Evans. One may argue that the figure that was made by Alvarez and Reynolds was not entirely accurate if it’s based on a slightly flawed system.

However, Evans notes in Nitro that an experiment that took place:

“…a Los Angeles TV station once aired a series on ‘Nielsen families’, who subsequently tuned in with undivided attention. Needless to say, the station numbers skyrocketed overnight.

(Credit: Nitro: The Incredible Rise and Inevitable Collapse of Ted Turner’s WCW, Page 30)

If we take into account the experiment that a Los Angeles TV Station did, having total undivided viewership, that should, in theory, give a higher rating – then without any competition – the ratings for 2001 post-WCW must be a truer version of the more accurate for at least the final year of the Monday Night War.

However, viewership is as follows:

W/E 2nd April 2000 6.64 W/E 1st April 2001 4.7
W/E 9th April 2000 6.44 W/E 8th April 2001 5.65
W/E 16th April 2000 6.17 W/E 15th April 2001 5.4
W/E 23rd April 2000 6.75 W/E 22nd April 2001 5.05
W/E 30th April 2000 7.15 W/E 29th April 2001 5.1
W/E 7th May 2000 7.4 W/E 6th May 2001 4.98
W/E 14th May 2000 6.23 W/E 13th May 2001 4.55
W/E 21st May 2000 6.16 W/E 20th May 2001 4.5
W/E 28th May 2000 7.07 W/E 27th May 2001 4.2
W/E 4th June 2000 6.41 W/E 3rd June 2001 4.2
W/E 11th June 2000 5.95 W/E 10th June 2001 4.3
W/E 18th June 2000 6.84 W/E 17th June 2001 4.1
W/E 25th June 2000 5.79 W/E 24th June 2001 4.2
W/E 2nd July 2000 6.35 W/E 1st July 2001 4.65
W/E 9th July 2000 5.25 W/E 8th July 2001 4.65
W/E 16th July 2000 6 W/E 15th July 2001 4.7
W/E 23rd July 2000 6.2 W/E 22nd July 2001 5
W/E 30th July 2000 6.9 W/E 29th July 2001 5.4
W/E 6th August 2000 6.4 W/E 5th August 2001 5.7
W/E 13th August 2000 6.25 W/E 12th August 2001 5.4
W/E 20th August 2000 5.9 W/E 19th August 2001 5.2
W/E 27th August 2000 6.26 W/E 26th August 2001 5.15
W/E 3rd September 2000 4.95 W/E 2nd September 2001 4.8
W/E 10th September 2000 4.2 W/E 9th September 2001 4.6
W/E 17th September 2000 5.8 W/E 16th September 2001 4.65
W/E 24th September 2000 5.7 W/E 23rd September 2001 4.8
W/E 1st October 2000 5.43 W/E 30th September 2001 4.5
W/E 8th October 2000 5.35 W/E 7th October 2001 4.4
W/E 15th October 2000 5.35 W/E 14th October 2001 4.5
W/E 22nd October 2000 4.8 W/E 21st October 2001 4.1
W/E 29th October 2000 5.5 W/E 28th October 2001 3.9
W/E 5th November 2000 4.95 W/E 4th November 2001 4.1
W/E 12th November 2000 5.1 W/E 11th November 2001 3.95
W/E 19th November 2000 5 W/E 18th November 2001 4.1
W/E 26th November 2000 5 W/E 25th November 2001 4.8
W/E 3rd December 2000 5 W/E 2nd December 2001 4.35
W/E 10th December 2000 5 W/E 9th December 2001 4.2
W/E 17th December 2000 5.75 W/E 16th December 2001 4.65
W/E 24th December 2000 4.75 W/E 23rd December 2001 4
W/E 31st December 2000 3.8 W/E 30th December 2001 3.2


As you can see, the ratings dramatically changed from 2000 – 2001. In 2000, RAW was in the 5 to 6 point ratings, in 2001 it fell to 5 to 4 point ratings.

This is an entire point difference between the two years. The issue is that these points fluctuate with time, however, a point equates to roughly 950,000 households in 1995 according to Guy Evans.

So using those numbers with the ratings for April – roughly Raw went from having approximately 6 million viewers in April 2000 to approximately 4 Million in April 2001. Some of the ratings are about the same, but there is a staggering difference between a majority of the ratings.

This could be an indicator as to the actual number of people who were tuning in to the WWF(E) during the Monday Night Wars.

If people were switching between channels, it could be argued that this would have increased the ratings somewhat, it’s just strange that without any other wrestling competition to divide the attention of viewers, the ratings actually dropped.

We may never truly know how much a factor that the frequency was channel changers affected the ratings either way. This could be because of the creative decisions after WCW was bought out.

But what is certain is that the audience didn’t come back, either because they were a misleading stat or that they left after WCW was bought out – or both.

The point is that the Monday Night Wars is more of a phenomenon that is far more complex, far harder to understand and less cut and dry than we all seemingly think of it as.

Eric Bishoff himself on his own podcast has even mentioned that Nielson only takes a proportion of the US audience of about 1% of households in the entire nation. They use that number to represent the whole of the country. What makes it even more strange, is that if the majority of the Nielsen boxes are based in one geographical area, their viewing habits will change from area to area, including wrestling. Eric even questions even if they were being used correctly. He even describes it as “voodoo”.

He even describes the situation as “counting the same people twice”.

He thinks that also there “might have been more wrestling fans back then …that (wrestling) spilled into the mainstream for the first time in a long time… I’m guessing there might be more wrestling fans now than back then…”

However, so far – the proof is that its success hasn’t been repeated since. I do hope with AEW that success from a new and evolved form of wrestling with fresh ideas helps bring the business that I have been a fan of for over 20 years, to heights – to new heights that can be understood and measured.


  • Creative well running dry.

The Monday Night Wars lead to creative shifts and new concepts created. Eric Bishoff and WCW created the nWo, turning Hulk Hogan heel, Sting’s change from a surfer to a dark “crow” character and the introduction of the Cruiserweights.

WWE counter programmed with Mr McMahon, Steve Austin, The Rock, DX and brought in some attitude.

All of this is well documented and praised for being a creative high for the business. However, it could be more of a detriment to the long term future of the business.

As the ratings from 1996-2017 show, the business dropped from 2001 and continues to drop steadily even to the present day. This could be because everything was thrown at the wall during a five year period and then the well went dry.

There have been numerous reinventions of gimmicks and factions that don’t quite ever meet the heights of its predecessor:

nWo – Main Event Mafia, Immortal, WWE’s version of the nWo.

The Corporation – The Authority, Immortal.

Ministry of Darkness – Wyatts, every other spooky gimmick.


The only truly original storylines, gimmicks or characters from the past 20 years have been:

CM Punk leaving WWE with the title (even that was stolen/done in ROH with CM Punk)

Nexus (could be argued it was a New Blood type stable)

The Shield

John Cena (being John Cena, not a rapper)



Daniel Bryan’s YES movement


WWE and TNA have also brought back those from the past to try to rekindle the successes of the past with some success. Cena vs Rock – did very well on PPV but was a detriment to the rest of the card, nothing would ever live up to that hype since. TNA also brought in Eric Bishoff and Hulk Hogan in 2009, which was successful in the sense that those ratings for Impact are far higher than today, which led to people giving up on the hopes of a realistic competitor to WWE.

TNA even have had one of the writers who had previously helped create the Attitude Era, Vince Russo. But that didn’t work, which is well documented by people with tennis rackets, journalists online and documentaries ad nauseam.

The point I am making is that the over-reliance on Attitude concepts leads me to believe that the industry has run out of ideas because everything in the playbook was used in a short attention span in the grand scheme of the history of pro wrestling. In the five years of the wrestling boom, we have had nearly five times that since those days.

I grew up with the Attitude Era, it made me a fan. But, the five years between 1996 and 2001, in my opinion, has been a determent to the industry long term.

Instead of continuing with the momentum that the industry had, giving them the highest ratings since the ’80s, the industry floundered.


Promotions came and gone. WWF turned into WWE. Ratings continued to drop. People clung on the good ol’ days.

“Give Kane back his mask”

“Don’t make it PG anymore”

“It just needs more blood.”

Most of those things were tried and tested in TNA. Look how that turned out.


  • Nostalgia rearing it’s ugly head…

That’s my final problem with the Monday Night War and the Attitude Era, the nostalgia for it. Nostalgia is quite frankly, the worst human emotion. It helps us forget the terribleness of things. Remember Meat? Naked Mideon? Buff Bagwell’s mum on a forklift match? Of course, you don’t (if this has jogged your memory, my bad.)

Nostalgia is a dangerous thing – it makes us forget about the bad parts of things and only remember the good.

The attitude era had a lot of horrendous gimmicks, storylines and ideas that were so bad, your brain has blocked them from your memory.

Not everything about the Monday Night war was bad, however, but there was a lot of bad to get sieve through to find the golden nuggets of your Rock’s, Austin’s and nWo’s. For every Austin, there’s an elderly lady giving birth to a hand, someone with a dildo down his trousers or the Yeti. Just saying.


  • The future…

Especially in a Covid-19 world, let’s look towards the future. Building a better future for the business.

I am glad that the industry has evolved past this now, with the formation of AEW with original characters, a more sports-like presentation of the product and not just using the same tired tropes of the past.

The past might not be as good as you remembered it. It might not be as good as it was measured. Let’s learn from the past to build a better future.

Until next time, this has been Quann’s Corner.

Quanns-Corner copy

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