It was 23 years ago this very month that WCW Monday Nitro premiered in The Mall of America. Created by Ted Turner and Eric Bischoff, the show would eventually top Monday Night Raw for 83 consecutive weeks. Bischoff discussed the very first episode in his podcast, conveniently named 83 Weeks with Eric Bischoff.
"Keep in mind, we didn't get a long lean time between the time that Ted Turner wanted to have this show to the time we had this show, it was a matter of months," Bischoff said about the mundane graphics and presentation of that first Nitro. "The gestation of television of this magnitude was pretty quick, was a pretty quick turnaround. We knew that we were going to grow into our brand a little bit but we couldn't put it all together here…
"When we left The Mall of America that night I had no idea if we were going to bomb, if we were going to explode or if we were going to land somewhere in the middle. So, while we were thinking about all of the graphics, designs and packages and all the fun stuff that it takes to launch a broadcast, nobody knew how this was going to do. We weren't too anxious to move too quickly either."
Nitro was just one hour in length when it debuted and the first episode had just three matches. While Ric Flair, Sting and Hulk Hogan were all involved in the final two matches, Nitro's first match was Jushin "Thunder" Liger vs. Brian Pillman and Bischoff specifically picked those two to kick off Nitro.
"It was consistent with a lot of the research that I had been doing," Bischoff stated. "The tip of the hat to Brad Siegel, President of TNT, he was really adamant of doing research. We wanted fast-paced action. Again, I was making an effort of having more of an international flavor to our brand and it appeared to be, or perceived to be more international than we really were in fairness so it just made a lot of sense. I knew it would start off hot, and knew that the hardcore wrestling fans would enjoy this match, but I also knew because it was going to be a fast paced, high altitude type match. The non-wrestling fans, which made up a pretty good size in the audience there at The Mall of America would like it as well."
The biggest moment of the first Nitro came right at the end when Lex Luger made an unexpected appearance. Luger had just worked a WWE house show the night before which completed his contractual obligation to that company. He signed with WCW the morning of the first Nitro and him showing up set the tone of Nitro's "anything can happen" mentality.
"I had a lot riding on this," Bischoff said of Luger's appearance. "I didn't want to sign Lex Luger but Sting convinced me to do it. I wasn't really sure how it was going to work out but I knew one thing, which is that WWE thought he was under contract and the audience thought he was under contract.
"So I knew that having him come out that night it was going to be a big deal. But we had to work really hard to keep quiet because all of the dirt sheets, and Dave Meltzer and all of the stooges and rats were all over the place that when you tried to surprise somebody with something it would be all over the internet or all over the Dirt Sheets or wherever it was during that time, so we really wanted it to work. Lex Luger flew himself to Minnesota and booked himself to a separate hotel, so we really didn't bring him over to the building until right before that appearance."
If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit 83 Weeks with Eric Bischoff with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.
Source: 83 Weeks with Eric Bischoff
Peter Bahi contributed to this article.