Claim: Vince Russo killed WCW
This is one of most common knocks against Vinnie Ru, and one that is not really warranted.
Let's begin with the cold, hard facts: for someone who allegedly killed the company... he wasn't even part of WCW when it "died" (more accurately, was sold to Vince McMahon) in March 2001! Russo's last WCW appearance, in any capacity, was in October 2000 and even then, much of his power had been taken away (Russo returned to WCW in April 2000 after he'd been sent home, working closely with Eric Bischoff). The last time Russo had complete creative control over the product, it was January 2000 -- meaning that his "killing powers" must have waited more than year to take effect.
Taking things too literally, you say? Okay, then let's look at what actually killed WCW. For a variety of reasons, parent company AOL-Time Warner wanted to sell the property, which ultimately led to it being removed from programming on TNT and TBS. Even Eric Bischoff, who doesn't necessarily side with Russo all the time, has admitted that's what happened. Why would he have attempted to buy the company from AOL-Time Warner if the business was already dead?
So even if Russo's booking had been universally loved by the masses.... WCW would have likely still been sold.
Claim: Vince Russo Increased WCW's Ratings
Vince Russo has said in interviews that the rating for WCW Monday Nitro was a 2.6 the week before he took over, and within three months it was up to a 3.5. Is that true?
According to the Nielsen ratings, Nitro did average a 2.6 on October 11, 1999, the episode before he took over. And on January 1, 2000 (the last episode before he was sent home), the rating was a 3.4 -- close enough to his claim, for the sake of argument.
So Russo was right.... right? Well, yes and no.
While it's true the rating was definitely higher on January 10th, it was also one of the first two-hour Nitros in some time (the show was three hours long going back to 1997). So theoretically, it's easier to have higher average ratings for two hours than it is three.
In fact, if you chart Nitro from January 17th to April 3rd, 2000 (the period where Russo wasn't a part of the product), the ratings fluctuated from 3.6 on February 14 to 1.8 on April 3 (which was a kind of recap show). The ratings were all over the place.
And here's the other argument: the ratings for Nitro fluctuated quite a bit, with or without Russo. Consider that on February 8, 1999, the show's rating was 5.7 (for a three-hour show, no less!) and on December 11, 2000, it scored just 1.7 for a two-hour show.
All in all, there's definitely some evidence Vince Russo had a positive impact on Nitro's ratings, particularly during his initial run. But you have to take that with a grain of salt.
Claim: David Arquette's WCW World Title win caused irrepairable damage
Most wrestling fans remember where they were when they heard on April 12, 2000 that actor David Arquette won the WCW World Championship.
Was Russo's publicity stunt a particularly good idea? Well, no. At least not if you're a wrestling purist who wanted to believe that the promotion's top championship should be contested with the likes of Sting, Bill Goldberg, Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair.
But here's the thing: wrestling purists weren't watching WCW by the time the title change happened. The rating for the May 1, 2000 Nitro (which is the one following Arquette's title win a week earlier on Thunder) was a 2.5 -- a far cry from the numbers Nitro was routinely getting in their glory days. And a far cry from the 7.4 that WWF's Monday Night Raw received the exact same night.
Ratings aside... Arquette's title win did more to anger wrestling purists than it did to damage the overall brand. Because by that point, the overall brand was already damaged.
And by the way, even though Russo was the one who wrote the title change into the plans, it was Tony Schiavone who came up with the idea in the first place!
Claim: The Bash At The Beach 2000 title controversy caused irrepairable damage
On July 9, 2000, Booker T captured his first WCW World Championship. But that event only happened after a "worked shoot" incident earlier in the evening involving Hulk Hogan, Jeff Jarrett and Vince Russo.
Unfortunately, the angle left many wrestling fans wanting to "shoot" Russo for the damage he'd done to the product.
By having WCW World Champion Jarrett "lay down" for Hulk Hogan, the angle was designed to get WCW out of a tough creative situation. In real life, Hogan didn't want to lose to Jarrett and a creative workaround was designed.
The way things played out, it showed that not only is wrestling scripted but that arguably the biggest wrestling hero of all time had no respect for his fans.
Here's the rub: even though wrestling is scripted and everyone knows it, fans don't want to see that kind of reality bleed into scripted storylines. So instead of shocking people the way, say, the nWo formation or the Survivor Series 1997 finish may have, the whole incident came across as Vince Russo trying to outsmart wrestling fans by presenting a real/fake hybrid.
The angle didn't work, not by any stretch of the imagination. WCW fans who had hung on in the worst of times largely gave up on the promotion (Nitro's ratings never rebounded, staying in the 2 - 3 range for the remainder of its history). Hulk Hogan never got his revenge on anyone (the original intent of the "Jarrett lays down" angle) and in fact, the promotion's biggest drawing card ever never returned to the promotion again.
Furthermore, Hogan was so upset by Russo's unplanned shoot interview following the match that he sued the company. And regardless of how anyone attempts to spin it, the blame for that lies squarely on Vinnie Ru.