Imagine sitting down at 8 PM, turning on the CW to watch Arrow or The Flash. Instead of your favorite member of the DC Universe, a new yet familiar face appears. Stan Lee is introduced and promises you a whole new world of superhero television, equal if not greater than what you’re used to. Now thrill to the adventures of Power Pack and NFL Super Pro! You would be upset, and rightfully so. How dare they take away your favorite long-running shows and replace them with this similar yet vastly different product. It sounds unlikely but this is exactly what happened to wrestling fans on July 14, 1984. On that day the popular Georgia Championship Wrestling started on WTBS Instead of the southern wrestling fans expected, Vince McMahon appeared and introduced the more cartoon WWF product. How this happened, and the fallout from that day affected wrestling for the next 17 years and is still felt today.
There is no fandom, no entertainment, with more political twists, turns, and backstabbing than professional wrestling. The behind the scenes drama is just as interesting as the in-ring product. The story of Black Saturday is just one of hundreds with a nearly infinite number of sides and angles. Sit back, bookmark the Retro Network, and join Professor Kevin for some wrestling history.
Professional wrestling used to be divided up into territories. One promotion would control a state or three, with wrestlers rotating in and out across the country every few years. This kept things fresh and all promoters had an understanding they wouldn’t cross into each other’s domain. All was well until a new invention called cable TV came along. Now, a promotion in one area of the country could be seen everywhere. Now that fans in Texas, for example, can watch wrestling from Georgia they also want to see their new favorite wrestlers live. Shows are booked into new territories and the agreements start to change.
WTBS was a new cable station out of Atlanta. As Ted Turner looked to make more money the channel was carried in neighboring states and spread nationally. One of the highlights for this channel was the two hour Saturday night Georgia Championship Wrestling. Southern wrestling that focused on good ole’ boys, classic mat wrestling, and basic timeless feuds. It’s about money, the title, a woman, or revenge. The talent were wrestlers first, not characters like the New York based World Wrestling Federation. Wrestlers like Ric Flair, Tommy Rich, the Road Warriors and many many more made a lot of money and earned the respect of generations while working in Georgia.
Vince McMahon, owner of the WWF, was also using the new medium of cable to expand his company. The WWF already had time on the USA Network, a deal that exists until today. Their syndicated shows were played after cartoons on Saturday mornings across the country. But here was a two-hour destination programming slot in a market WWF wanted to expand into. McMahon tried to buy the spot from Ted Turner but was shot down. In a brilliant plan B, McMahon decided if he can’t buy Georgia’s TV time, he’ll buy Georgia Championship Wrestling.
In 1983 one of the owners of GCW was forced out of the company. Jim Barnett left Georgia and went to work for the WWF. But he still owned part of the company. In 1984, Barnett sold his share to McMahon. Later, two of the other shareholders – the Brisco Brothers – called McMahon to check on the well being of a mutual friend. Well, as long as I have you two on the phone… how happy are you in Georgia? Coincidently, the brothers were in the middle of a dispute over payouts and frustrated with the company. Vince bought their shares and hired the brothers who worked for WWF into 2009. There were two more shares left, Paul Jones who was ill and ready to get out of the business anyways. Then there was Ole Anderson. An old school wrestler, bitter at McMahon’s new business ways and a lack of respect for tradition. Ole was left holding 10 percent of a company versus Vince’s now 90 percent. The battle was over, the WWF now owned all of Georgia Championship Wrestling, including their time slot.
On July 14, 1984, GCW started their broadcast. Longtime announcer Freddie Miller introduced Vince McMahon right in front of the Georgia backdrop. McMahon promised two hours of great wrestling action in the GCW tradition. Then he played repeat matches from their syndicated shows full of stars beating up local talent. Ratings plummeted. Turner was livid his once shining star of the channel was now a joke. He added other wrestling. The new Championship Wrestling from Georgia on Saturday mornings. Mid South Wrestling on Sundays. Both eclipse the WWF reruns in the ratings. These promotions, plus the pre-World Championship Wrestling Jim Crocket Promotions, want that lucrative Saturday night slot.
Vince McMahon holds the coveted spot and isn’t losing any money producing content for it. He is, however, strapped for cash in New York as he tries to put together a colossal show to receive national attention. When the phone call comes to buy the time away from him, it’s too good an offer. Vince still owns GCW but will get paid one million dollars for the time slot. McMahon agrees to the deal. Ted Turner and Vince are now sworn enemies. McMahon takes that million and uses it to finance the first WrestleMania. The show that changed the wrestling industry forever and made WWF the worldwide brand it is today. WWF was the number one name in wrestling until a young upstart named Eric Bischoff, who was now in charge of that Saturday night show. Bischoff went to his boss and asked for a live TV slot to go head to head against the WWF. His boss, Ted Turner, found his moment of revenge and agreed. The Monday Night Wars began because 20 years earlier Vince wanted to be on TV at 6 PM on a Saturday night.