Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Podcast Deep Dive: 83 Weeks with Eric Bischoff

Bischoff and Thompson spend this episode running down The Hitman
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It apparently has been written in the stars (cue WrestleMania 27 music) that every person remotely involved in the history of pro wrestling must eventually have a podcast. Because this must be made so, Eric Bischoff has found some time in his busy schedule of creating TV shows for Scott Baio to start a podcast called 83 Weeks. This is in reference to the consecutive weeks in which Bischoff's World Championship Wrestling Monday Nitro defeated Monday Night RAW in the ratings, between 1996 and 1998.

The show 83 Weeks is another podcasting venture from Conrad Thompson, the Alabama financial advisor who has found himself rocketed to the upper echelon of pro wrestling podcasting by co-hosting Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard and What Happened When with Tony Schiavone. Thompson's style is to lean heavily on old issues of The Wrestling Observer, build a narrative based on Meltzer's reporting, and then ask the person who was actually there to comment, criticize and tell stories.

Bischoff shares with Prichard a strong distaste for the mere mention of Meltzer's name. He says Meltzer couldn't possibly know what was going on and that his reporting is constantly in question. One has to wonder why Bischoff and Prichard agree to do a show with a guy who would barely be able to function without the Observer, but answer to that might lie in the inherent murkiness of podcasts like this. We're probably just getting worked.

As with most men who have held positions of great power in pro wrestling, Bischoff only allows for a certain degree of self-deprecation and admittance of wrong-doing. The myth of Eric Bischoff is one of a hotshot young guy who improbably became the head of WCW and guided it to heights previously unseen, and it never would have been able to ride so high had this motorcycle-riding pretty boy not come along and blessed it with his brilliance. And as for the ultimate decline and death? Not really his fault, sorry.

At least that's the story with this week's episode, "Bret Hart in WCW." When Hart signed with WCW for an extravagant amount of money, the expectation was that he would be treated like a big deal, but his run quickly fizzled out due to bad booking and confusing storylines. While Bischoff does admit that the WCW creative team didn't properly clear out storyline space for Hart when he came in, and that they didn't give him the best material to work with, Bischoff shows some still simmering anger when it comes to how Hart characterizes his time with the company. Bischoff claims that Hart never came to the table with any ideas and never pushed back against any of the supposedly bad material presented to him. He points to a quote from his book that Thompson brings up, in which Hart essentially admits that WCW was paying him so much that he didn't really care what he was told to do.

Bischoff also takes the opportunity to run down the Hitman, not the in-ring wrestler, but the man himself. We all know that Hart takes himself too seriously, but Bischoff goes further to suggest that many of the details supplied by Hart regarding his negotiations with WCW and eventual career with them are completely made up. Whether or not Hart maliciously lies or just believes his own delusions, Bischoff isn't sure, but he is very firm in his declaration that Bret Hart is not telling the truth with much of this stuff.

Should you choose to spend this much time with Eric Bischoff, you'll be faced with a difficult question: how trustworthy is this guy? Aside from his extremely punchable and Lucifer-like face, Bischoff's actions in the past have earned him a reputation as a ruthless businessman who simply chose pro wrestling as the venue for his aspirations of power. So when he trashes a legend like Bret Hart, and in other episodes trashes Kevin Sullivan as a guy who showed up drunk to most shows and minimizes Jim Cornette's legacy as a powder-throwing idiot who cheapened pro wrestling, is he being genuine and speaking from the heart? Or is he just trying to save his own reputation and place himself ahead of these legends, at least in the area of being a straight shooter who tells it like it is?

Time will only tell in future episodes of 83 Weeks. We'll see if Bischoff's stories stay straight, or if he starts to waver. Personally, I'm hoping they cover Souled Out '97, so we can hear Bischoff's explanation for not just that abomination of a PPV, but specifically the Miss nWo Contest that ranks as one of the worst segments ever shown on pro wrestling television. If Bischoff even tries to justify it in the slightest, then we'll know he's either working us, or he's officially delusional, just like his enemy, Bret Hart.