nWo 18 Part VIII: Brand Split

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Welcome to the 10 part installment looking back at the New World Order, quite possibly the greatest wrestling faction of all time. With World Championship Wrestling and the World Wresting Federation going head to head on Monday night’s and battling each month for Pay Per View domination, it seemed to be a give and take battle each week. But with the creation of the New World Order, WCW broke through and gained an advantage that lasted for nearly two years of Monday Night domination. Come take a trip back and remember that when you’re nWo, you’re nWo for Life. Last week was Part VII: Bash At the Beach 1996

“We thought the plan was to have our own TV show, our own merchandise. So the fans had to decide, do you like WCW or the nWo? Not do you like WCW or WWF?”
– Scott Hall, nWo Back in Black documentary

There was no real blueprint for the New World Order. It was pretty clear for those who watched the nWo from 1996 to 2000 but looking back, a lot of things felt calculated. Hulk Hogan being the Third Man. The feud with Sting. The eventual split between Hogan’s nWo and Nash’s nWo. The introduction of guys like Dennis Rodman. How much of the group was made up of former WWF wrestlers. But much of the New World Order was new ground with World Championship Wrestling writers having little idea on where to go with it. And with Hall’s quote, it seems like there was once a plan for them to go ahead with the New World Order being its own brand.

The idea of a “brand split” isn’t new today but it was back in the 90s. WCW’s roster was expanding in its war against the WWF and so was the amount of television they wanted per week. When Eric Bischoff discusses the idea of bringing in Bret Hart in 1997, the explanation was that they needed more talent for WCW Thunder. Even though Nitro and Thunder shared rosters, WCW had two hours, sometimes three for wrestlers to work on Nitro. They still needed starpower to help facilitate the new WCW Thunder show. While Lightning appears on Hollywood Hogan’s pants and you’d think they’d want the new show to themselves, it was Nitro that was once considered to goto the nWo and not the brand new Thunder.

There were some dry run attempts at doing a New World Order show. At one point, nWo wrestlers were fighting jobbers in an empty arena for the “Paid for by the New World Order” segments. The New World Order started their own PPV called “Souled Out”, which lasted for three years. While the PPV was more just an aesthetic thing later on, the first PPV was completely controlled by the New World Order, complete with them entering the arena on garbage trucks (don’t ask why). Matches were held with the nWo referee Nick Patrick (yes, they had their own referee!) and commentary was done by Eric Bischoff and Ted DiBiase. There was even a “Miss nWo” contest for some odd reason. It was a unique concept to have an all heel PPV and it unfortunately flopped. That said, it wasn’t the last attempt. On the Monday before Starrcade 97, they attempted a full run of “nWo Nitro” complete with set change. Much like the elongated garbage truck entrance from nWo Souled Out 1997, nWo Nitro included a 20 minute set change and a full on heel perspective to the switch. The episode was a flop and so the New World Order never secured Nitro.

The problem I have with this isn’t the idea but the execution. The concept of splitting the brands of WCW and nWo could have worked perfectly if the company ran with any foresight, which they unfortunately did not. See the PPV and Nitro all happened in 1997 when the New World Order was still supposed to be this big bad heel faction, even though the nWo had their fans. What WCW should have done was not only split WCW in two but split the nWo in two. Let me explain:

WCW Nitro

On WCW Nitro, the roster is a 75/25 split. The New World Order would be the minority. Guys like Hogan, true heels, would stay on Nitro with other full-on heels to take on WCW. Without question, WCW is the good guys and the New World Order is the bad guys. These are the guys who want to stomp out and destroy WCW once and for all and being a member of the black and white on Nitro means you’re scum of the earth. Not every heel is a member of the nWo but enough to make a difference and have someone compete in every division.

nWo Thunder

On Thunder, the roster is the opposite. The New World Order is actually the more cool, liked guys. You know the guys who joined Wolfpac? That’s your nWo roster. Nash, Hall, Luger, Savage, Hennig, Konnan. Theses are your top babyfaces to lead the brand. There would then be a cluster of WCW guys who are the heels, guys like The Flock or Four Horsemen, who fight with the nWo on their turf. WCW would be looked at as invaders on the New World Order turf.

The whole reason for this is to play perspectives. On Nitro, WCW are the heroes. On Thunder, nWo are the heroes. Fans were fine with cheering Hall and Nash, just not with Eric Bischoff and Vincent and The Disciple around. Now you can separate the superstars (and egos) and run two shows with two very different perspectives.

Now when WWE handled their brand split, the rosters were supposed to be exclusive. You don’t have to go so exclusive here. Champs could alternate shows for example. I would, however, keep the top nWo guys away from each other. On Pay Per View, you could show the tension between the black and white on Nitro and the black and white on Thunder. Make it clear this arrangement keeps everyone happy. And at an event like World War 3? Make it clear it’s every man for themselves, as long as it stays in the New World Order. This is how you can tease tension.

Eventually, tensions would rise to the point where an event like nWo Souled Out isn’t just about WCW vs. nWo but nWo vs. nWo. That’s where you give people the big match between Kevin Nash and Hollywood Hogan, without fingerpokes. One is a good guy and the other a bad guy. You can get even more creative. Say Hogan gets kicked out of the New World Order. So now he joins nWo Thunder back in the red and yellow. But he’s still a heel! It won’t be until he goes back to Nitro to save WCW that he will be looked upon as a babyface. There’s a lot of creativity there.

WCW could have successfully split the brands and really made fans ask if they wanted to support WCW or the New World Order. Such an idea would have created balance and ensured everyone stayed happy, from the fans to the wrestlers. This is a point where WWE completely missed the boat on their own brand split. WWE pushed the idea of it being a legitimate competition between two brands, like watching the Yankees and Red Sox play. However they didn’t do enough sports ideas like trades and free agent signings to make it feel intense. Also, at one point, Raw just became the flagship show again while taking the best of Smackdown and always leaving it the scraps. Eventually Raw just became the Supershow where everyone was on it and Smackdown ended up left as a B-Show. With a Nitro/Thunder balance, it’s all about separating faces and heels. The competitions occur internally on the show itself instead of vying for talent between two shows.

Would a brand split have saved the WCW? No. Even if 1998 and 1999 were success years for WCW, it would have never changed the fact Jamie Kellner wanted WCW off the books. But would it have saved the New World Order? Possibly. The nWo would be something different to what it ended up being; a dead concept constantly revived in order to be kicked around again. By the closing of WCW, the nWo was just a common t-shirt. It was a thing of the past, and reviving it was considered a dumb move. As a brand, it could be something different. Unfortunately, the same issue that plagued the New World Order without a brand split would plagued it with: bad booking. No matter how great the idea, it’s all about the execution. By Starrcade 97, the New World Order was better at executing itself than executing great angles.

Next week is Part IX: The Fall

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