The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect those of WrestlingINC.com or its staff.
While Eric Bischoff's new role within WWE has yet to be clearly defined (Is he actually in charge of creative? Strictly a FOX network liaison? Just using this opportunity as an 83 Weeks promotional tool?), an Executive Director title means Bischoff will have some influence over the product - both behind-the-scenes and on-screen.
This won't be an entirely new venture for Bischoff. As President of WCW, he took Ted Turner's company from Jim Crockett Promotions: Part Deux to national ratings juggernaut. He then spent three years in WWE as RAW's General Manager, a character role first with some limited creative influence.
But perhaps the role that most closely resembles Eric Bischoff's influential WCW run - and potentially his upcoming WWE role - is his time spent in TNA Wrestling/Impact Wrestling which started almost a decade ago.
Bischoff and Hogan Join TNA
In late 2009 TNA Wrestling was gaining headwinds with young homegrown stars like AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, and Christopher Daniels, who were mixing it up against seasoned veterans such as Kurt Angle, Sting, and Kevin Nash. The company had grown from a one hour late-night Spike TV spot to two hours in prime time.
But the company was still searching for that elusive rocket which could launch it to the next level; Dixie Carter was trying to find the missing piece that would allow her to directly compete with and potentially take over Vince McMahon's WWE dominance.
Enter Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff.
While Hogan played it coy on the duo's potential influence, saying he wanted "to look at the landscape" before making any decisions, Spike TV President Kevin Kay was much more bullish on the prospects, saying he expected Hogan's presence to bring a "whole new audience" to TNA and that he looked forward to Hogan and his team (read: Bischoff) bringing TNA "bigger ratings and much success."
That was in October 2009. By December 2009, Hogan would show up on The Ultimate Fighter finale to announce a surprise LIVE Monday night iMPACT! airing on January 5th, 2010 in what was seen as an attempt to re-ignite the Monday Night Wars.
And who was shown at cageside along with TNA President Dixie Carter? Eric Bischoff, of course.
While Bischoff smartly ceded initial promotional duties to Hogan during their early days with the company, his fingerprints were already all over the direction. He had responsible for helping negotiate the deal with TNA. By the time the duo premiered on-screen in 2010, Bischoff had already been appointed TNA executive producer.
And while Hogan and Bischoff were tasked with working alongside TNA writer Vince Russo - a potentially explosive situation since the group had not worked together since the infamous WCW Bash at the Beach 2000 implosion - the trio seemed to work out any potential differences before the January 4th show.
Right from the start Hogan and Bischoff seemed up to their normal tricks. On iMPACT!'s Monday night debut, old NWO stablemates Scott Hall and Sean Waltman were added to the mix, The Nasty Boys were brought in, and Hogan's former best friend Bubba the Love Sponge was given an on-air position.
Production changes happened fast and furious as well. By Genesis (2010), which was promoted as "Hulk Hogan's Return to Pay-Per-View," Bischoff and Hogan had ditched TNA's iconic six-sided ring in favor of a more traditional four-sided ring. There was also a renewed focus on crash-TV style turns, run-ins, and swerves. Soap opera elements were layered over what had historically been a more sports-focused product.
Creatively, an authority-figure versus authority-figure (Jeff Jarrett vs Hulk Hogan) storyline was used to kick off this "new era" of TNA Wrestling. Fan favorite AJ Styles was repackaged as a sneaky Ric Flair-lite and crowned the face of the company - despite the fact that the gimmick was the antithesis of everything Styles was naturally good at. And Bischoff was quickly inserted into storylines as well, causing friction to the newly-paired Flair/Styles duo at the Against All Odds and Lockdown pay-per-views.
Unfortunately, none of these changes produced real results.
Impact!'s January 4th debut on Monday Nights clocked in with around 2.2 million viewers, peaking at three million for the Hulk Hogan debut segment (all new records for the program). This incentivized Spike TV to rush Impact! to a more permanent Monday Night home starting March 8th 2010.... which, of course, would be during the heart of WWE's WrestleMania season. This proved more challenging to TNA Wrestling and Impact! than many in the company had anticipated. When Impact! debuted on Monday nights in March, it pulled an 0.98 rating (1.4 million viewers). The replay later that week on Thursday, Impact's traditional TV spot, pulled 1.0 rating. The next Monday, March 15th, Impact! scored a .84 rating (its lowest since November 2006). Not even an advertised career-vs-career match between Jeff Jarrett and Mick Foley would see Impact! Improve its rating woes throughout March.
In April, Spike executives tried starting Impact! an hour earlier with little luck, before permanently moving Impact! back to Thursdays in May.
Later Creative Decisions
While move to Monday nights proved disastrous for TNA Wrestling, and did little to instill confidence in the newly-instated Hogan/Bischoff regime, it also failed to alter the creative trajectory of the company or the industry.
In October 2010, at the company's premiere Bound for Glory PPV event, Bischoff and Russo pulled from their typical bag of tricks by creating a brand new heel faction known as Immortal. The group, led by Bischoff and Hogan, would go on to terrorize Dixie and her company for months, occupying much of the company's airtime and creative output - not too dissimilar to Bischoff's NWO faction in the mid-90s.
Later in Bischoff's run, he would declare war on the fan-favorite X Division (during a run where Abyss would win the championship designed for high-flyer and no-limit wrestlers), team with Matt Hardy against Generation Me (aka The Young Bucks), and eventually feud with his own son.
And while the Immortal faction would be disbanded in early 2012, it was quickly replaced by yet ANOTHER heel faction, Aces and Eights.
(It's worth noting here that Vince Russo was slowly forced out of TNA during this time period, stepping down to contributing writer in 2011 before leaving the company in 2012).
By October 2013, Bishoff left the company and his influence in TNA was over.
While TNA struggled creatively during Bischoff's run, his influence did help the company in a few meaningful ways.
First, Total Nonstop Action was completely rebranded as IMPACT WRESTLING in 2011, a change that was seen as a positive PR move since it ditched the sexualized/innuendo-laced TNA nomenclature. Also, the company started holding tapings in Fayetteville, North Carolina, which was helping expand its live-event fanbase beyond the Orlando diehards. (Dixie Carter would again try going on tour permanently in early 2013 before returning to Universal Studios later that year due to rising costs.)
The highest rated shows in the company's history occurred during Bischoff's reign, with two episodes of Impact Wrestling garnering over 2 million viewers.
Also, numerous partnerships were established during Bischoff's reign, including Ohio Valley Wrestling becoming TNA's official developmental territory.
Perhaps most meaningfully on the production side, TNA added a new show when it moved back to Thursday nights titled TNA Reaction. This docu-style series allowed TNA to build up new stars and storylines in a non-traditional format. Not only did it lean into YouTuber-esque storytelling years before WWE would meaningfully capitalize on the trend (and well before Cody and The Bucks would use similar storytelling techniques to launch an entire wrestling promotion), it very much captured the zeitgeist of early-2010's sports docu-series. While the show only lasted 23 episodes, the company would eventually carry elements of the show into its traditional weekly programming.
Bischoff recently remarked that his TNA run was very regrettable, saying "Looking back, I wished I wouldn't have done it, with one or two exceptions." (https://www.wrestlinginc.com/news/2019/04/eric-bischoff-says-that-working-for-tna-was-very-653520/)
And he's likely not the only one who feels that way. Bischoff and Hogan probably added a hefty expense column to Dixie Carter's books that she never fully recovered - it's perhaps no coincidence that Bischoff's release was one of the first mid-2010's cost-cutting measures Impact Wrestling enacted. And while the company hadn't found wild success before Bischoff and Hogan joined the fray, the fact that the duo essentially forced TNA to go too big too fast, while also forcing a dramatic change in creative direction, cost the company much of the goodwill it had earned during its tenure up to that point.
If you base results on what happened after Bischoff left, the picture gets even uglier. Impact Wrestling has gone through multiple ownership changes, multiple courtroom battles, multiple television networks, and endless roster resets. What exists today is a mere husk of what people once thought TNA could be.
On the other hand? Eric Bischoff did have direct access to Spike TV executives, and likely honed skills he'll leverage in his upcoming WWE gig working with FOX. Also, Eric was never the sole person in charge like his WCW days (that would've been Dixie Carter), so you can't blame him or Hogan for everything that went wrong. It was ultimately never their company.
And so while I wouldn't be surprised to see a faction or two on Bischoff's watch, and I wouldn't put it past him to reintroduce a WWE legend into the Blue Brand's main event scene, the fact that he ultimately reports to Vince McMahon should somewhat temper our collective expectations.
All of this begs the question… is the WWE Universe ready for a Bischoff-led SmackDown LIVE?