I have no doubt that there are folks who will see WWF LiveWire as a WrestleCrap’s induction and lose their minds. So before we start, I want this be crystal clear:
WWF LiveWire wasn’t crap. It was awesome and I LOVED it.
The first six months of the show, that is. After that, it absolutely sucked and is worthy of induction, if for no other reason that the fact that nearly thirty years later I’m still ticked off at what happened here. In many ways, it was the Doink the Clown of wrestling shows. Started off unspeakably great, something unique and fun and fantastic. But then the company decided to monkey with the original formula and it became a huge nothing burger.
Today you will find out not only what happened but also why it happened.
So yeah, let’s talk WWF LiveWire. Or maybe it’s WWF Livewire. Perhaps it’s WWF Live Wire. I’ve seen it all three ways, and the logo on screen for the show itself is of no assistance.
Debuting on September 21, 1996, LiveWire was the company’s first true attempt to mingle with fans in a live, on-air environment. They’d dabbled a tiny bit with it on Radio WWF, an old radio show Jim Ross used to host. I remember that one vividly too, as my buddies and I would listen to it to see what kind of scoops we may be able to get. I’ll never forget a trip to Myrtle Beach where we tuned the dial up and down trying to find out what was going on around SummerSlam ’93. It was different, it was unique, and it was fun.
LiveWire was bringing this concept to the big time. Airing in one of their prime slots on Saturday mornings on the USA Network, the idea was simple: let fans talk unscripted to the WWF superstars who would reply, also unscripted. As this was the super early stages of the internet (before even WrestleCrap.com existed, believe it or not!), the company wanted to be able to bring that emerging technology into the fold as well. I mean, seriously – check out that intro. You had honest to goodness LOAD SCREENS being featured!
The early episodes of the show featured the trio pictured steering the ship, in the form of Todd Pettingill, Jim Cornette, and Sunny. Todd was there to tow the company line, Cornette was there to be his comical heel foil, and Sunny was there to be…
…well, that. Obviously she’s an utter mess these days, but believe you me, there was a reason why she was the company’s number one female during this time. Super hot and not afraid to flaunt it, the girl had charisma that could fill a room. It truly is a tragedy she drove her life repeatedly off a cliff. She could have been so much more.
But let’s get back to the show. It’s very clear exactly what the company wanted to do with the show, but it was also even more clear they weren’t quite sure how to make it happen. Calls would be dropped, the technology wouldn’t really work, and some of the fans calling in had no apparent idea what they wanted to ask or honestly in some cases, how a telephone actually worked. Which leads us to our very first all-time classic moment on the show featuring your friend and mine…
…JIM ROSS! Here he completely dresses down a poor fan who has the temerity to call into the show and be, pray tell, NERVOUS. Gotta love it as the exasperated JR blurts out “If you want to be on this program, you gotta think a little bit!”
As I watch this yet again I see a young Blade Braxton jotting down notes for the Angry Jim character he portrayed on WrestleCrap Radio for all those years. For anyone who thinks Jim is only now a crusty geezer crapping all over every AEW show he does, this here would be proof positive he’s pretty much always been this way.
Oh, and yes, the guy next to him in this particular video is none other than…
…Vince Russo! Yes kids, LiveWire put Vinny on screen for all the world to see for the very first time. HOWEVER…he wasn’t appearing under his given name, but rather as the character Vic Venom, a pen named he’d used for several years while writing for WWF Magazine. He would often appear on the show and was in many ways an early “smart mark”, constantly calling out things that drove knowledgeable fans absolutely crazy in the promotion.
For instance, the company brought in Michael “PS” Hayes into the fold and for really no good reason decided to rebrand him Dok Hendrix. I mean, this wasn’t some scrub, this was a super well known professional wrestler. So Russo…err, Vic Venom…called him out on the show for it, leading to a very awkward moment which you can listen to here.
And then he waylaid Vince McMahon himself as well, saying that this show absolutely sucked. Apparently this happened due to a meeting the two had the night before where Russo told him the same thing. Shocked he would say such a thing, McMahon asked Russo if he could do better. And the next morning, Vince Russo was making his television debut. Say what you will, but this was at least a fascinating bit.
Then there was the time that Steve Austin showed up prior to Bret Hart turning down WCW’s advances and instead signing a twenty-year deal with the WWF (and we all know how that turned out). Turns out that Bret sent “Stone Cold” a plane ticket and he flew up to Calgary, pummeling not just Bret, but the entire Hart family in the process. Don’t believe me? Just listen to the man!
And who could forget when Farooq showed up and promised to not only be the perfect role model for children, but to literally COME TO YOUR HOUSE AND RAISE YOUR CHILD?
And hey, if you’re going to give live mics to folks, who better than the legendary Sycho Sid? Not only does he wish Jose Lothario happy holidays (!!!), he takes calls from fans…and also FAXES! That’s right you could send in a FAX and have Sid attempt to use numbers to explain his greatness. I cannot possibly make something like this up!
At its greatest moments, the folks onscreen would lose it ala Harvey Corman on the old Carol Burnett Show. Sunny and especially Todd had to turn away from the cameras to not be caught bursting out in legit laughter as Bob Backlund explained he was going to win the presidency in the year 2000 by having Vince McMahon as his role model, eating copious amounts of marijuana and copulating with wild women. INCREDIBLE!
But probably the most famous incident in the show’s entire run had Vince McMahon appearing and taking calls. He got a softball question from Mike from Florida regarding fake Diesel and Razor of all things, and a call from a very bitter JR talking about how he was fired due to having Bells Palsy. On the very same show, we got the legendary call from “Bruce from Connecticut”, featuring your friend and mine, Paul Heyman, complaining about how Vince was stealing talent from ECW!
Was what we were seeing real? Was it scripted? That was when LiveWire was at its best – when it felt truly unscripted and ready to go off the rails. It was all so unique, so fun. Even now as I am writing about it, I have a huge smile on my face.
So of course, the WWF had to nix all that…less than SIX MONTHS. And keep in mind, the show in total had a FIVE YEAR RUN!
In February, the show was retooled into a generic recap show hosted by no joke…
…Michael Cole in one of his first roles in the company. Can you even possibly imagine doing this? Replacing a fully-energized crew of utter loons with the most by the books announcers imaginable? But hey, that’s what happened and that – THAT – is why this is inducted.
The question remains…what truly happened here? And after all these years, I think I FINALLY have the answer. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the man that killed WWF LiveWire…and no joke, it is in fact Vince Russo.
And he admits it!
Check out the whole story in this exclusive video (or if you’d prefer just the audio, you can download it here).