Monday Night War - Shots Fired Disc Two continues with the story of the Monday Night Wars and, in particular, the change of direction that WWF undertook with the Attitude Era and D-Generation X.
Episode 3 starts with a look at the birth of new superstars, more adult content and the changes that would become the Attitude Era in response to WCW’s much edgier nWo-based content.
Much is made of the cartoon characters that occupied WWF during the time, whilst WCW was on fire week after week as wrestling fans abandoned Raw in favour of Nitro. As the talent became less family friendly and more abrasive, it “became the age of the anti-hero”, as Paul Heyman would explain. ECW had, at this stage, already pioneered many of the tropes that WWF would later adopt and this is explored in this episode, albeit briefly.
With Steve Austin at the forefront of the changes, with the Stone Cold persona and leading to the feud between Austin and Mr McMahon, other wrestlers would also be repackaged and become legendary names for WWE. Whilst many of the officials and commentators would go onto embrace the Attitude Era, even if they did have their doubts, the audience - thanks to much more adult content - would were impressed with what they saw, especially with talent willing to take the risks to entertain.
With an audience skewing towards young adults, and WWF feeding the appeal of the anti-authoritarian, WWF heralded an era of strange, dark and dangerous characters. It also showed that WWF was capable of playing the long game, investing in its own talent under the direction of McMahon. Sex sells, violence sells, defying authority sells - and WWF capitalised on it in a time when those in charge of WCW were too cautious to react and presenting a washed out version of their competition, repeating their own past to the disappointment of fan.
Renee Young presents the post-episode panel, with Triple H and Sting once more reflecting on the past. Triple H recalls the meeting of The Kliq and how this led to questions about why wrestlers need to be cartoon characters and how this led to changes. Again, this time as it’s under five minutes, there seems to be so much more that could be told just within this particular moment of the story. Sting talks about watching the Attitude Era from the view of the competition and how WCW reacted.
Episode Four looks at D-Generation X and the impact this group, led by Shawn Michaels and Triple H, alongside Chyna, had upon WWF and its reception as they set out to take no prisoners, push the boundaries of taste and completely reshape WWF.
With Shawn Michaels on a personal decline and Triple H wanting to be something other than a cartoon character, McMahon threw them both together and D-Generation X was born. The move to over-the-top characters rejuvenated Michaels and transformed Triple H. With Rick Rude and Chyna also involved, this “group of misfits” were the very embodiment of wrestling personas being real life turned up and, slowly, the ratings began to rise… and “suck it” was born.
D-Generation X didn’t just cross the line, they leapfrogged over it, as they sought to exploit the new Attitude Era, but some of the traditionalists in the locker room were concerned about the group. Fans, however, were completely enamoured by the group and their antics.
The young male demographic may have enjoyed this, but networks and advertisers were less than impressed with the bawdy behaviour. All of this changed when DX presented a response to the demands of the USA Network and, with McMahon firmly on their side, they went all out to show what they could do and how second-rate WCW had become.
As Shawn Michaels points out “NWO beat everyone all the time, DX got beat up all the time” and the nWo were “trying to be cool” whilst DX “ended up being cool.” It’s this organic evolution that leads to the shifting tides of popularity that WWE, to this day, experiences - it’s difficult to create cool!
As the group became more popular, they would take the fight, quite literally, to WCW’s door.
The post-episode panel is, once more, a short affair, with Triple H, naturally, occupying much of the short discussion. Sting seems rather amused by Triple H’s story, possibly because WCW kept its performers away from what was happening outside. Reflecting on the departure of Shawn Michaels, Triple H is, once more, candid about his feelings and the opportunity it gave him, whilst Sting looks at the impact DX had upon business.
As would become a feature of many of the episodes of Monday Night War, many points are recapped, as if it’s necessary to set the scene over and over to the viewers. As this series premiered on the WWE Network and would likely have been watched as a series, it does seem that this is a bit of odd, though does mean that the viewer won’t forget that WCW signed Hogan, Hall and Nash at any point.
Whereas the first two episodes cast WWF as the helpless victim, these two episodes show the lengths of the brilliance of Vince McMahon and his vision as a business leader, against the threat of WCW, the protests of networks and advertisers, let alone the traditional family viewership of the product.
The story of DX is the best told episode thus far as most of the key players are, as is stated, friends beyond the business, giving the story a feeling of a bunch of mates doing what they love.
It feels, throughout these two episodes, that this was WWE realising that the key to success in sports entertainment was in its ability to entertain and this is a story well told.