EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part two of a series about famed Sports Management Director Dr. Harvey Schiller and his time in the now defunct World Championship Wrestling.
As he has been repeatedly named as one of the “100 Most Powerful People in Sport” by Sporting News, Dr. Harvey Schiller’s lengthy resume is testament to his lofty reputation as one of the top sports leaders. country in recent decades. .
Now 83 and a resident of Charleston, Schiller graduated from the Citadel in 1960 and was inducted into the military school’s Sports and Business Hall of Fame. But it was during his stint as the first president of Turner Sports in the ’90s that Schiller got his first major taste of professional wrestling and, more specifically, Atlanta-based World Championship Wrestling.
Schiller’s 25 years of military service would come in handy in his new job overseeing more than a hundred professional wrestlers.
“When I was at the Air Force Academy, one of my officers said being here was like dealing with 4,000 cadets sitting on a powder keg, and each of those 4,000 cadets had a game,” he said. “And that was wrestling. Here you were sitting on a powder keg, and each of these 135 wrestlers had their own match to blow you away.
Tasked by friend and business manager Ted Turner to oversee the wrestling organization in 1994, Schiller would enter a world that was outside of his usual jurisdiction. Eric Bischoff, who had risen through the WCW ranks from announcer to executive vice president and then president, would serve as Schiller’s primary link to the wrestling company.
The move from longtime Bischoff ally Bill Shaw to newcomer Schiller was expected to ruffle some feathers. Surprisingly for the most part, the two had a friendly relationship, with Schiller’s expectations being met as long as Bischoff provided acceptable grades and income.
“Harvey was a military man. He was a colonel in the Air Force. He told me he was going to read the contest,” Bischoff recalled.
And that was Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Entertainment (then World Wrestling Federation).
Collaborating with Vince
Behind the scenes, Schiller went so far as to make an overture to McMahon during the hot Monday Night Wars period regarding the collaboration between the two rival companies.
McMahon had already begun a correspondence with Schiller when he sent a congratulatory letter, dated October 5, 1994, to the new president of Turner Sports.
I hope you will do for Turner Sports what you did for the US Olympic Committee.
Congratulations from your friends at the World Wrestling Federation.
Vincent K. McMahon
When Schiller later met with the WWE boss at the St. Regis Hotel in New York, McMahon had a stipulation that would frustrate any possible collaboration deal.
“OK, we can work together, but you have to get rid of (Eric) Bischoff,” McMahon demanded.
“Well, I’m not sure I can do that,” was Schiller’s response.
“We left and nothing happened,” says Schiller. “In my eyes, I really felt it was a break. It’s really funny because in the years to come, Bischoff would work for him.
Bischoff would later say that he would not have supported any decision to work with WWE at that time. After all, he said, it was the fierce competition during the Monday Night Wars that “kept the thrill alive.”
“The fight, the battle, the war, whatever you want to call it, is what turned the tide up, and everyone’s boat needs to float a little higher,” Bischoff said. “Without real war, without real competition, then everything is just an illusion. The reason Nitro worked, the reason Monday Night Wars was what it was, is because it was real.
The ultra-competitive Schiller would eventually agree too.
“The best times were when we were playing against each other,” Schiller says. “It was better that we were face to face. They (WWE) were making models of ‘Billionaire Ted.’ We tried to bring in people like Dennis Rodman.
In reality, however, there had been little love lost between Bischoff and McMahon. The two mat gurus had despised each other for much of the decade in which pro wrestling’s greatest promotional rivalry took place.
Angle draws major heat
On June 17, 1996, WCW’s flagship Monday Nitro won the weekly ratings war battle for the first time with WWE and its flagship Monday Night Raw. He would continue to do so for the next 83 weeks.
Bischoff, who helped create the NWO, an iconic faction that would become part of the cultural zeitgeist, was more than willing to push the envelope, as evidenced by Hulk Hogan’s game-changing heel turn at the Bash at the Beach pay-per-view on July 7, 1996.
Bischoff would perform what he called “some of his best work” on a January 27, 1997 episode of Nitro, in which he “fired” referee Randy Anderson.
The controversial angle was executed so well that some of the corporate executives were shaking their heads at the response from troubled fans.
Bischoff would get a call from Schiller the next day asking him to call Human Resources because the office had been inundated with phone calls from members of Anderson’s church who were watching Nitro, and were appalled that Bischoff was actually firing their mate. cult, who had just finished a real battle with testicular cancer.
At first, Bischoff was confused, he explained in an episode of his “83 Weeks” podcast, because he hadn’t actually “fired” anyone.
“I had to explain to them that it was a scenario. It’s how believable it was and how well it was executed by everyone,” Bischoff said.
It was so well done that it reminded the executive of one of wrestling great Nick Bockwinkel’s classic promotions when Bischoff watched wrestling in his early twenties.
“It was awesome…we were now living in the sweet spot from a storyline standpoint,” he said.
Two weeks later, Bischoff would push this scenario even further. This time, the humiliated official would show up with his wife and two young children begging Bischoff to reconsider and return his job. With his NWO cohorts standing behind him laughing, and to drive home the angle even further, Bischoff asked Anderson’s kids what their names were, only to tell them their dad was still fired.
Bischoff was at the top of his game.
“It was a sensitive issue and I don’t want to shed light on that particular element of the story. It was the epitome of merging reality and history in wrestling,” he explained. “In reality, Randy Anderson had gone through a battle with cancer surgery. It wasn’t known across the country or the world, but it was real. We wove that reality into a storyline.
Put down the hammer
It would be Schiller’s turn to co-star on March 3, 1997, when he made a special appearance on an episode of Nitro to read the rioting act to Bischoff.
Although initially opposed to the idea, Schiller agreed to participate in a nationally televised angle in which he would “suspend” Bischoff for firing a WCW referee without a legitimate reason.
“They had a bunch of different plans, and one of them included me firing him (Bischoff),” Schiller explains. “I had mixed emotions about it. But most people said go ahead and do it. There was no dialogue. There was no script. improvisation and improvisation on live television.
Schiller, who says he was “making it up” as he went, handled the segment masterfully.
“If you look very closely, I’m biting my lip not to smile and laugh. You’re in the middle with these guys, and they’re great actors. It was really an addictive feeling,” he said.
Schiller gives major props to the late announcer “Mean Gene” Okerlund for helping set the stage for the showdown.
“We were so lucky to have Gene as our announcer. This guy could host anything.
Bischoff feigned surprise when Schiller appeared.
“He’s your boss. This is Dr. Harvey Schiller, President of Turner Sports. It can’t bode well for you,” Okerlund told Bischoff.
And it is not.
“I don’t even want to see you answer the phone. I don’t even want to know there’s a rumor that you were in the men’s room at a WCW event,” Schiller Bischoff chided after delivering the “suspension.”
The angle was played to perfection. Backstage when it was over, Schiller only had one question for Bischoff.
“What happens when people contact me? »
“Just tell them the executive committee is on it,” Bischoff smiles.
Upon returning home, Schiller was greeted by his wife with an obvious question.
“The phone kept ringing. What did you do?”
“I fired one of the executives,” a deadpan Schiller said.
“What am I supposed to tell them?” asked his wife with a hint of exasperation.
“Tell them the executive committee will take care of it,” laughed the president of Turner Sports.
NEXT WEEK: Not everything turns to gold in WCW.
Contact Mike Mooneyham at [email protected], or follow him on Twitter at @ByMikeMooneyham and on Facebook at Facebook.com/MikeMooneyham. His latest book – “Final Bell” – is now available at https://evepostbooks.com and on Amazon.com
Did you know …
AEW interpreter Scorpio Sky (Schuyler Andrews) is the cousin of Brandi Rhodes (Runnels), wife of WWE star and former AEW Vice President Cody Rhodes (Runnels).
Sky, 39, was one-half of the original AEW World Tag Team Champions with Frankie Kazarian and is also a two-time TNT champion.
To this date…
Seventy-nine years ago today on this date: (November 6, 1943): Ken Patera, “World’s Strongest Man”, was born in Portland, Oregon.
A world-class weightlifter before entering the world of wrestling, Patera was the first American to clean and shake 500 pounds above his head. He won a gold medal at the 1971 Pan American Games and competed at the 1972 Summer Games in Munich, Germany.
Patera held a number of titles during his wrestling career, including the Intercontinental title, Mid-Atlantic title, Georgia heavyweight title, and US heavyweight title.