Kayfabe, Lies and Alibis: Vince Russo WWF Timeline 1998

Presented by Kayfabe Commentaries

Hosted by Sean Oliver

The booking committee in early 1998 was Vince Russo, Jim Cornette, and Vince McMahon.

Cornette wanted to push for a traditional wrestling product but Russo and McMahon were angling towards risque angles. As a compromise, Russo came up with using Barry Windham, Jeff Jarrett and The Rock and Roll Express in an NWA angle with Corny to show him that the southern wrasslin’ wasn’t going to get over.

Russo applauds the efforts of the past great workers like Windham and such, but they were not going to fit in with the new vision of the WWF.

The crowd dictated what happened week to week, Russo didn’t plan to “push” any particular guys.

Mick Foley was an incredible talent and Russo was blessed to be able to book such a fun series of gimmicks like what Mick produced.

Shawn Michaels and McMahon were not speaking at this point and Russo had to be the go between as they spouted off on the other.

Once Steve Austin started getting over, McMahon took his focus off Michaels and placed it on Austin, leaving Shawn to play second fiddle. Michaels didn’t take this shunning well.

Mike Tyson was brought in because McMahon figured if the public couldn’t see Tyson boxing they’d pay to see him in a wrestling ring.

Shane McMahon was with Tyson all the time when he wasn’t on camera and Russo thinks this was so McMahon could lure Tyson into dropping Don King and letting the WWF promote his future boxing bouts.

The USA network started to nitpick the WWF’s adult angles early in the year.

Russo would write the entire RAW show, then McMahon would turn his ideas into gold through small improvements.

Terry Funk was brought in early in the year despite being 54 years old. Cornette pushed for him since Funk is great at everything. McMahon was not sold on the idea since he was still bitter about Funk quitting the WWF 1986.

Corny suggested Funk be hidden in a box throughout the show because “anyone who comes out of a box is instantly over”. McMahon turned Funk into Chainsaw Charlie. Corny nearly had a heart attack and even Russo thought it was retarded.

McMahon wanted the New Age Outlaws to be put in DX to get them way over. Russo fought to keep them apart but Vincent Kennedy McMahon (VKM) made it a point to personally work with the Outlaws and turn them into stars.

Tennessee Lee (Robert Fuller) came in but he couldn’t get Jeff Jarrett over and was dropped soon after.

Russo was totally wowed by Sable’s looks and he had a major crush on her. She was easy to work with but the men in the locker room weren’t happy with her being pushed so hard.

Writing the WWF magazine and RAW magazine were also part of Russo’s duties in addition to writing RAW each week.

Michaels was drugged up and unhappy with his diminished role, so leaving after Wrestlemania was probably for the best.

The big ratings and PPV victories were not harped on or celebrated as Russo had too much TV to write and no time to stop and soak in the glory.

Michaels acted like he had a severe back injury, even backstage, but Russo questions how he did some of the spots he did at Mania if his back was really that bad.

Sunny was not pleased with Sable becoming a star while she didn’t have a real role. The Road Warriors were remade into LOD 2000 partially to find a place for Sunny that was consistent again.

Pete Rose was willing to do anything you asked of him, as long as the check cleared.

Dan Severn never seemed to grasp the idea of being a personality while performing.

Steve Austin and McMahon were both masters at working with the audience and playing off their reactions, this led to great segments when the two were paired off.

After losing 83 straight weeks to  Nitro, finally beating them was not played up as a big deal. The focus was to just make next week’s show better.

A Pat Patterson/Jerry Brisco vs. Mean Street Posse match out drew a Hulk Hogan vs. Randy Savage Nitro match at one point. (True?)

Ric Flair was actively talking to Jim Cornette in April about possibly jumping to the WWF.

DX invaded a Nitro taping in late April. The WWF always found the money needed when Russo would come up with a wacky stunt including this one where they rented a tank.

HHH was in charge of Chyna’s angles and nothing was booked for her before HHH got to hear it out.

Russo’s ideas were sometimes openly laughed at by the old guard but once ratings rose and everybody got rich, he had the last laugh.

In mid-May Eric Bischoff challenged Vince McMahon to a fight on a WCW PPV. McMahon wanted to go and confront Bischoff, and the only thing that stopped him was that Stephanie was graduating from college that same day.

VKM was not hot on bringing back Al Snow after he flopped with several gimmicks in the WWF before. Russo convinced him that the “Head” gimmick in ECW was way over and they needed to sign him up.

The Dudleys were scouted by Russo and he wanted to bring them to the WWF but Heyman lied and told the WWF they weren’t interested.

Sean Morely bored Russo with political talk when they tried to bring him in to work on a gimmick idea.  All Russo could think about was how he looked like a sleazy porn star and thus Val Venis was born. Jenna Jameson was brought in and spent an afternoon taping vignettes in Bruce Pritchard’s bathtub with Venis but VKM canceled them all before they aired because he felt Jameson was ugly.

Droz being put in the LOD was done to give all the guys something to do. The Road Warriors were suppose to teach Droz about the biz as well.

Paul Bearer was pissed at Howard Stern’s Wack Pack being used on RAW and he told Russo he just killed the business.

Vader was set to kick off a live RAW but was AWOL. VKM was screaming and the stooges were running around looking for him. He was under the stage stretching as the pyro went off around him and it ended up disorienting him.

Edge was supposed to be a mute when he first debuted, but the gimmick changed quick.

Mick Foley was thrown off the Hell in a Cell in June. Vince Russo was horrified watching it live. Once he was laid out in the medical room, all Foley asked was, “Was the match better than Shawn’s?”

Bradshaw pitched the “Brawl for All” to Russo. The wrestlers got bonus money for doing the shoot fights and the other guys backstage loved to watch it unfold.

Marc Mero freaked out after his Brawl for All with Bradshaw as he felt he was not given the decision due to having heat in the back because Sable was so over.

Everybody, including VKM, was rooting against Dr. Death because Jim Ross was in the back building him up so boldly and incessantly.

(For more in depth Brawl For All behind the scenes look check out this article.)

Cornette was removed from the booking team and Ed Ferrara was brought in after writing “Duckman” for the USA Network.

The women who flashed DX from the audience were never plants.

Russo tried to get Sable booked in TNA so he called her personal number. A male answered and he asked for Sable. Once he was done with his pitch, Kurt Angle called Russo and informed him BROCK LESNAR wants to kill him. Brock was dating Sable at the time which Russo didn’t know, and Brock took great offense to not being acknowledged.

Sunday Night Heat debuted in August. Russo wanted to always write the best show and the more hours added to his docket only hurt the product.

VKM didn’t sweat the critics unless it was something serious like the steroid trials.

Gangrel’s gimmick was researched by Russo to try and make him an authentic modern vampire/goth.

Shane McMahon was great on the mic and in the ring and Russo can’t fathom why they didn’t use him more.

VKM didn’t see the Hardy Boys as much past enhancement talent, so Russo had to push VKM to sign them to contracts and be pushed.

The talent during this time was willing to fight to have things changed if they didn’t like what was booked. Now everyone is neutered.

The Insane Clown Posse were absolutely crazy in the backstage.

Russo blames his lack of success in TNA as being due to not having the budget to do his ideas like the WWF did in 1998.

Owen Hart was such a fun loving guy backstage that Russo didn’t want to book him as a badass, thus the Blue Blazer was brought back.

VKM loves any humor involving poop, pee, puke or farting.

In late October Steve Austin called an emergency meeting with Russo and VKM in Titan Towers over some creative differences. Austin was also getting calls from TV and movies and was thinking about quitting to pursue that avenue.

Gimmick matches equal ratings. Casual fans can’t help but watch when plunder is involved in the ring.

When Jesse Ventura was working in the WWF in 1999 for some guest shots he made sure to blow his cigar smoke in VKM’s face since he knew Vince hated smoking.

The booking of the Survivor Series 98 is Russo’s personal favorite. Months of booking culminated in a night of twists and turns.

Russo wanted Road Dogg to discuss his addictions on the air in an effort to try and keep him clean.

Hawk was so messed up at times while on the road that Animal had to wheel him through the airport unconscious.

Austin was almost embalmed on RAW during an angle in late October. Russo was not worried about offending people and thinks the angle is a classic.

Stephanie McMahon being named head of creative was the downfall of the WWE. The modern product has yet to recover from her time in charge. Russo wouldn’t be able to work with her as boss today.

Shane McMahon pushed for Russo’s return in 2002. Stephanie verbally tore him down on the first day and Russo quit quickly.

Wacky skits help develop characters. Now everyone is scared of WWE stock dropping so we get vanilla TV.

Oliver makes fun of Russo booking so many “on a pole” matches. Russo fights back and says if you remember the gimmicks, it must have worked.

Russo pushed for VKM to use the Montreal screwjob and Bret Hart punching VKM as part of RAW’s angles. The others wanted to move along and sweep the incidents under the rug.

Hart being screwed by having Earl Hebner ring the bell while Michaels locked him in the Sharpshooter was Russo’s idea. (It wasn’t. but he tells this story a lot.)

Owen Hart called Russo and told him Bret wants Owen to quit or else he would wreck Bret’s relationship with his brother. He insisted Russo needed to call Bret and straighten things out.

Foley came to Russo and told him he should be ashamed about screwing Bret.

Russo does not regret booking a diva to have a miscarriage on RAW. He needed ratings to compete with what happens on other TV shows. Just because your butt hurt by an angle doesn’t mean it was done in poor taste.

The WWE Network allowed Russo to go back and rewatch all these RAWs from the era and he realized how great his era was compared to now. He gives Jim Ross full credit for assembling a great roster of talent to be booked into excellence.

The talent today is very good too but the writing has sunk the modern WWE.

Russo closes by wondering why a guy like him who helped save the WWF is crapped on by the company now and guys like Bischoff who tried to put VKM out of business were given several years on WWE TV.

He admits he left in 1999 under less than stellar conditions (Russo quit without meeting VKM face to face) and says it was because VKM wanted him to put the WWF ahead of his own family.

Final thoughts: This was a fun romp through memory lane. Thankfully the bullshit was kept to a minimum and Russo’s ability to gab made the three hour long shoot an easy time to sit through.

For more Vince Russo, please check out the Russo WCW 2000 Timeline I covered a while back.

Written by Andrew Lutzke

The grumpy old man of culturecrossfire.com, lover of wrasslin' and true crimes.

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