Ever since Vince McMahon bought out WCW in 2001, WWE’s TV ratings trends have been fluctuating between the proverbial “free fall” and the proverbial “graceful descent with a parachute.”
In that sense, 2008 was a year like most any other year in the company’s post-Attitude Era period, with Raw viewership dropping to the low 3s by mid-year after residing in the low 4s earlier in the year. To stop the bleeding, Vince McMahon launched the most shameless, transparent ratings ploy since HLA. This time, though, it would be the audience’s lust for mammon and not mammaries that Vince would exploit.
In lieu of a main event, Vince filled up the final segment of the May 26th Raw with a promo in which he vowed to show his appreciation for the audience.
“What is it I always say to you?” said Vince. “I always say, ‘it’s all about the mun-nay!’”
Still, fans wouldn’t care about him ret-conning a catchphrase if he delivered on his promise to give away a million dollars from his own personal bank account. Sure enough, the following week on Raw, Vince arrived with a million dollars cash and… cut a promo.
Yes, Vince cut a lengthy promo about the money he was going to give away the next week and admitted, in the nicest possible way, that this was a giant ratings-grab. “Attract new viewers” was the euphemism used. He then blasted the people who wouldn’t watch Raw even for a chance at a million dollars, leading the audience to boo. Whom exactly? Snobs! Snobs who weren’t watching. Vince even said he wanted the arena’s marquee to read “No snobs allowed.” That’ll learn ‘em!
So Vince cut a promo on a group of people who would never ever hear it, about bribing other people who weren’t listening to watch Raw, for a live audience of people who actually paid their own money to hear him cut the promo.
I guess it didn’t make any less sense than sticking it to his snobby neighbors from Greenwich, CT who hate wrestling by putting a snob character from Greenwich (who evidently loves wrestling) on the wrestling shows they would never watch.
On June 9th, McMahon’s Million Dollar Mania actually began, requiring viewers to know a password given at the beginning of the show, then stay tuned to see if their phone number was the lucky one selected at random. Or, they could turn off the show after they heard the password and just make sure to answer the phone whenever it rang in case it was Vince.
Those who did the latter proved to be the smart ones, as the Million Dollar Mania stunt designed to get people watching Raw quickly came to resemble not Who Wants to Be A Millionaire or Wheel of Fortune, but the short-lived daytime game show, Confused Old Man Loudly Dials Strangers’ Phone Numbers.
Case in point: Vince felt the proceedings so important that he put on his famous “cheaters” to make sure he didn’t mis-dial. He did anyway.
On the first night of Million Dollar Mania alone, Vince dialed a wrong number, got Rick-roll’d when a recipient didn’t answer, got disconnected, and got Rick-roll’d a second time. And that was just the first contestant; all of the above happened in a single segment.
You’d think Vince would be embarrassed, but he clearly had no idea what Rick-rolling was. He’s no computer hacker.
Later in the show, Vince had to dial the same number three times, and even then it was busy.
The password for the first night, by the way, was the brand-new buzzword, “WWE Universe,” guaranteeing that it would be the second-most-repeated phrase on the episode (#1 being “beep-boop-boop-beep-boop-beep-beep-boop-boop-beep”).
Vince mis-dialed some more later in the show. Hey, it’s live TV, and anything can happen! Like a viewer saying, “shit” on the air. Kind of ironic that this Raw had the most beeps in history, yet that little doozy managed to sneak by uncensored.
Once, Vince awarded a contestant a mere two bucks as punishment for how much the previous Jillian Hall segment sucked. Vince was turning into a real-life Million Dollar Man, paying unsuspecting fans to perform degrading acts and then stiffing them on the bill. In this case, the degrading act was having to sit through endless segments of an old man trying in vain to dial a phone.
I’m not even exaggerating all that much here; the Million Dollar Mania segments made the whole show virtually un-watchable, popping up in every segment and often lasting longer than the wrestling matches that preceded them.
The whole debacle was like a game show with neither a game nor a show, just Vince telling faceless strangers over the phone that they’d won money. The result was a process that was fun for everyone involved except the viewers, the production crew, and basically anyone who wasn’t on the other end of the phone. Imagine if real game shows worked like that.
None of this prevented Vince from announcing that Million Dollar Mania had been such a success, he’d do it again the next week. The next day, he found out that Million Dollar Mania had earned Raw its lowest ratings in seven weeks, information that would have been useful before he promised to give away a million more dollars of his own money.
Still, Vince was bound by his word to carry on the tedious, expensive ritual. No need to explain the whole deal all over again, Vince. You know the rules, and so do I.
Vince had an entire week to figure out how to use the phone, but all to no avail; he messed up yet again in the very first segment.
The fun continued when a fan named Ron didn’t answer the phone, giving Vince a chance to pounce on him via voicemail for blowing his $50,000 chance by not watching Raw. Ron was reportedly “okay” with his decision.
Becky Carmon of Advance, North Carolina had the misfortune of being born in Flair Country and thus earned herself 16 dollars, one for each of Nature Boy’s world title reigns. Rip-off! She should have won 21 dollars.
Another woman who answered the phone nearly broke down in tears over how much she loved Vince McMahon. Fortunately, Vince didn’t ask her to prove how much she loved him by making her bark like a dog. That indignity was reserved for Denzel of Virginia Beach, Virginia.
Vince had somewhat less patience with contestants who had things to say other than how much they worshiped the ground The Chairman walked on. Kyle Mathisen of Hoyt Lakes, Minnesota seized the opportunity to tell McMahon that Night of Champions was on his birthday. Vince, in response, did not give a solitary crap.
Despite the insufferable nature of the contest and the many technical difficulties plaguing it, the train wreck that was Million Dollar Mania rolled on like some kind of wheeled, rail-bound vehicle.
One lucky contestant told Vince he had the wrong number and hung up.
I’m not saying Vince was going senile, but in one segment he took ages personally dialing the ten digits written down for him, then repeatedly chastised Khali for entering the wrong number, having already forgotten that he himself was the one who’d dialed.
In another segment on the same night, a contestant giddily recited the password, “Night of Champions.” Vince didn’t hear her the first time, so she repeated it. “Night of Champions.” Vince, ever the humanitarian, gleefully declared, “You are a loser!” Kelly Kelly then informed him that she had indeed said the correct password, so he gave Crystal Vega of The Bronx the 100 grand after all, like the game show equivalent of, “One, two, he got ‘em! He got ‘em! No he didn’t.”
After two straight weeks of million-dollar giveaways and a third one in progress, Raw’s rating had barely budged. Vince clearly needed an exit strategy, an excuse to stop giving away huge sums of cash every week without having to admit that he couldn’t get people to watch his show even with a million-dollar bribe. McMahon fell back on his favorite stunt, which was to pretend he had been gravely injured, just as he had done with his limo explosion the summer before and the Nexus beat-down two summers in the future.
Following a 500-grand giveaway and a suspiciously wide camera angle, Vince fell prey to WWE’s notoriously explosive set…
…which collapsed around, under, and on top of him in an ever-so-slightly contrived manner.
The locker room rushed to the scene to aid their supposedly fallen boss, who had clearly not been hit by anything. The only thing that would have made the scene funnier was if a member of TNA’s tech crew hadn’t just died taking apart the set of their latest pay-per-view.
To add that extra little bit of realism, Vince cried out to Triple H, “Paul, I can’t feel my legs!” It was very important to break kayfabe here; if just a handful of people could be convinced that the chairman and owner of WWE was incapacitated, it would all be worth it. As long as those people weren’t, say, Wall Street investors, in which case it could cause WWE’s stock value to plummet. But they were probably one of those snobs who refused to watch WWE, so it was all good.
For the next few weeks, Raw was in a state of chaos, with lights falling over, fans sneaking backstage and posing for the camera, and gullible fans posting all of it years later on Youtube as if it were all a shoot.
This disorder and need for management would culminate in the appointment of Mike Adamle as GM later that summer.
If that’s not the wisest use of 3 million dollars you’ve ever heard, then you probably remember the time that Vince bought out his only competition for less than that amount.
Think about that. Vince spent more on Million Dollar Mania than on the purchase of WCW, all while producing tedious television, alienating viewers, and producing no new stars or hot angles. Million Dollar Mania didn’t do so hot, either.