Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Comparative (f)Analysis #2 "Winners of Survivor"

The Sunday before Christmas featured the season finale of “Survivor: South Pacific,” the twenty-third edition of the pioneering network reality series. I would consider the season itself to be among the most memorable seasons, strictly for the incredible characters in Cochran, Brandon, and the returning Coach and Ozzy, each of whom had memorable games to play, though eventual winner Sophie is among the least deserving in the show’s history. But, let’s not just make that statement; let’s examine each of the winners, in my specially ranked order, starting at the bottom:

22. Sophie Clarke (“South Pacific,” fall 2011)
Sophie did virtually nothing to make it to the finals, relying on the inexplicable alliance that sprang up around Coach and working pretty much the same game as Albert, constantly scheming big ideas without actually executing any of them, all the while being the opposite socially, speaking more to the camera, but being borderline unpleasant. Without the immunity win, she wouldn’t have won, and for that reason, and for a typically bitter jury unable to give the best player (Coach) his due, I find it difficult to give her any credit.

21. Vecepia Towery (“Marquesas,” spring 2002)
The fourth season of “Survivor” is notable for producing Boston Rob, but was otherwise virtually an attempt to recreate the first season after the comparatively disastrous experiment of “Thailand,” and as such everyone knew the game extremely well, so that someone who wasn’t particularly memorable won for the first time. That would be Vecepia.

20. Natalie White (“Samoa,” fall 2009)
This is not to take anything away from Natalie, because she was probably the most likable contestant that season (and thank goodness!), but “Samoa” is thoroughly dominated by Russell, the most unlikable villain ever to appear on the show. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Natalie actually was likable, but anyone would have gotten more votes than Russell.

19. Danni Boatwright (“Guatemala,” fall 2005)
Danni is one of my sister’s favorite winners, but I still have to be a little bitter that Stephanie didn’t win, because although my sister conversely never liked her, Stephanie was a favorite since before Ulong self-destructed in “Palau.” Danni’s win has got to be considered an upset, no matter what she brought to the game herself (and I personally don’t really remember what that was, other than being the first person to realize that Gary used to play pro football).

18. Jud “Fabio” Birza (“Nicaragua,” fall 2010)
I think Fabio was a rare instance of a season actually producing just a competitive winner, which is good for Fabio and his season, but wasn’t hugely compelling (though compelling, as with Sophie, Natalie, and Danni above, isn’t always a good thing).

17. Jenna Morasca (“Amazon,” spring 2003)
Aside from producing idiot “Survivor expert” Rob Cesternino (first coming of Cochran!), this is another season that was considerably refreshing, taking the game to a different level by proving the alliance strategy all over again in a completely new way, by showing that a bunch of chicks can do it just as well as anyone else. That’s Jenna’s real legacy (not the peanut butter).

16. Tina Wesson (“Australian Outback,” spring 2001)
Everyone knows that it’s Colby who helped get Tina to the finals, that alliance. The fact that Tina was in the alliance proves that she had game, but that Colby didn’t win is still one of the biggest goofs in “Survivor” history.

15. Ethan Zohn (“Africa,” fall 2001)
The third season seems to catch a lot of flack from fans, but I found it to be just as compelling as the previous two, especially with characters like Lex and Big Tom around. Ethan stands as the first competitive winner, which is definitely something to be proud of.

14. Todd Herzog (“China,” fall 2007)
I still don’t understand how the hell Amanda didn’t win. Yes, Todd was a master strategist, but the dude is one of the biggest rats in “Survivor” history, a textbook example of what Sue Hawk talked about in her famous tirade from the first season. Call it the Colby Curse?

13. James “J.T.” Thomas, Jr. (“Tocantins,” spring 2009)
Coach stole this season, too, but it was another competitive winner, J.T., who walked away with the million. J.T. was someone fans could really root for, too, something of a character and a strategist.

12. Sandra Diaz-Twine (“Pearl Islands,” fall 2003/“Heroes vs. Villains,” spring 2010)
It’s probably tempting to award her at least a spot in the top ten, but truth is, Sandra used the same strategy to win both times, holding back while other, stronger contestants self-destructed, the first time very notably Rupert and the second a season of egos that happened to include Russell and Parvati making her own bid to win a second time, very notably her second shot playing with “Survivor” all-stars.

11. Aras Basauskas (“Panama,” spring 2006)
Want to play a game? Who the fuck else remembers Aras, or this season in general? Inexplicably beloved Cirie originated from this season, and there was also Terry (another favorite of my sister’s), but it was Aras being awesome that won. (That’s how I remember it, anyway.)

10. Earl Cole (“Fiji,” spring 2007)
The first landslide victor, Earl’s another one who doesn’t receive a lot of respect, possibly because most fans wished Yau-Man would have reached the finals.

9. Yul Kwon (“Cook Islands,” fall 2006)
In a season that also featured Ozzy and Parvati, this was a deceptively awesome one that split viewers because everyone feared that the initial tribal divisions represented more than they actually did. Hey, would we have gotten Ozzy or Parvati otherwise, much less Yul, another consummate competitive winner?

8. Amber Brkich (“All-Stars,” spring 2004)
I would honestly rate her higher except it’d probably be accurate to admit that Boston Rob deserved to win slightly more than she did. But this is a rare instance of the top two both winning, for strategic as well as entirely personal reasons.

7. Parvati Shallow (“Micronesia,” spring 2008)
The Fans vs. Favorites season was the second time all-stars were deliberately featured, which makes Parvati’s win more impressive than her underdog win that most would probably compare either to Jenna’s in “Amazon” or Sandra’s in (take your pick), because she was dismissed as just another pretty face (and shameless flirt). Girl had game.

6. Chris Daugherty (“Vanuatu,” fall 2004)
Still the gold standard of mind-boggling upsets, considering he was the lone male standing against a wall of women who failed to back up their bite.

5. “Boston” Rob Mariano (“Redemption Island,” spring 2011)
A mastermind who finally got to officially call himself sole survivor, Boston Rob completely understood who to take to the finals (possibly crazy Phillip, for instance), in the first season smart and stupid enough to eject Russell early.

4. Bob Crowley (“Gabon,” fall 2008)
By far one of the smartest players to ever play the game, Bob rarely gets respect from fans, even though his closest competitor (Randy) only managed to outsmart himself.

3. Brian Heidik (“Thailand,” fall 2002)
Few fans seem to want to give Brian credit, focusing on external elements of his character rather than acknowledging that he’s one of the few winners anyone could have seen coming a mile away.

2. Richard Hatch (“Borneo,” summer 2000)
The first winner really helped set a template, at least for the scores of later contestants who heavily relied on alliances, sometimes absolutely to their detriment, and I think far too many of them have never once stopped to consider that. Richard was less devious than his reputation suggests, which really stems from the first bitter jury, rather than how he actually played, more cocky than arrogant (he crossed that line in “All-Stars,” though, and it showed). He simply took advantage of the fact that few contestants, then or now, come to the game with working strategies.

1. Tom Westman (“Palau,” spring 2005)
My sister and I agree that it’s ridiculous how little respect Tom gets from fans, considering that he’s near-inarguably the greatest player ever in “Survivor” (at least in that one season), and that has nothing to do with Ulong’s implosion or Koror’s dominance, but that Tom could do everything, whether it was catching a shark, lasting eleven hours in an endurance challenge, or forming an incredibly intricate alliance with players as seemingly diametrically opposed as Katie and Ian (who was uncomfortably smack in between the maturity of them), which made his path to victory more harrowing than it really needed to be. A lot of fans seem to base their opinions on how relatable a contestant is (which is why someone like Cirie, prepackaged for the couch crowd, can come off as a fan favorite when she’s next to useless and a worse strategist than Rupert but still somehow more popular than Tom), but that’s what I love about “Survivor,” that it literally is a social experiment, both for those who compete and those who watch from home (and how many people have unsuccessfully made that transition now?), how you react to and perceive others, whether in relation to yourself or to a group of other individuals also struggling to make those distinctions. Tom had vocal detractors on his own tribe, even though he clearly didn’t do anything to overtly draw anyone’s ire, other than be himself and therefore be considered a personal threat. Plenty of contestants have been voted out first opportunity for that very reason, but Tom was able to play the Colby game successfully, be charismatic and competitive and strategic, and that alone should make him a memorable winner at the very least.

Where would “Survivor” be without Jeff Probst? In a very real sense, he was the show’s first winner, somehow holding everything together from the very start and finding himself in a position where he not only agreed to repeat his experience over and over again, but possibly becoming the game’s biggest fan. I’m constantly amazed that anyone could consider any other reality show host Jeff’s superior. But he’s also humble, so there’s that.

And with that, it’s time for me to go.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Comparative (f)Analysis #1 "TV Guide Fall Preview"

“TV Guide Fall Previews 1997-2003”

What follows will be an analysis of TV Guide’s predictions for seven seasons of network television. Each year will feature listings for show the magazine chose as highlights and another that were either personal favorites or successes that TV Guide failed to predict. There will be a tally at the end of each year concerning the overall success rate of the magazine’s selections. Successes are defined by shows that lasted more than two seasons. Extended Experiments are shows that lasted only two seasons. Failures are considered selections that lasted a season or less. Successes that TV Guide did not select, however, can be defined as shows that lasted at least two seasons, since they had, by the magazine’s standards, more to prove.

I will state for the record that I still hate the fact that TV Guide is no longer digest-sized. It’s been more than half a decade since the format change, and I have never gone back to being as avid a reader as I once was. That’s half the reason why I still have these Fall TV Preview issues and am still referencing them to this day, because it was an ideal format for the magazine. However, having made this survey, I have discovered some alarming trends I didn’t notice originally. I will save those comments until later. For now, the basic results:


TV Guide Favorites

Featured Naomi Watts, Bruce Greenwood; didn’t last half a season.

“Alright Already”
Lasted one season.

“The Wonderful World of Disney”
Lasted twelve seasons.

“Ally McBeal”
Lasted five seasons.

“George & Leo”
Featured Bob Newhart, Judd Hirsch; lasted one season.

“Michael Hayes”
Featured David Caruso; lasted one season

“Dharma & Greg”
Lasted five seasons.

Featured Fred Savage; lasted two seasons.

“Veronica’s Closet”
Lasted three seasons.

“Nothing Sacred”
Featured Kevin Anderson; lasted one season.

Featured Robert Pastorelli; lasted one season.

“The Gregory Hines Show”
Personal Favorite; lasted one season.

Featured Costas Mandylor, Ice-T; lasted one season.

“The Visitor”
Featured John Corbett; lasted half a season.

Not Favorites

“Brooklyn South”
Lasted one season.

Season tally: 3 successes (“Ally McBeal,” “Dharma & Greg,” “Veronica’s Closet”) 1 long-running variety program (“Wonderful World of Disney”) 1 extended experiment (“Working”)

Accuracy: 3/14 (.214)



TV Guide Favorites

“Fantasy Island”
Featured Malcolm McDowell; lasted half a season.

“That ’70s Show”
Lasted eight seasons.

“The King of Queens”
Lasted nine seasons.

“The Brian Benben Show”
Lasted a few episodes.

“Will & Grace”
Lasted eight seasons.

Lasted four seasons.

“The Hughleys”
Lasted four seasons.

“Maggie Winters”
Featured Faith Ford; lasted one season.

“Seven Days”
Personal favorite; lasted three seasons.

Lasted eight seasons.

Featured Christina Applegate; lasted two seasons.

“Two of a Kind”
Featured the Olsen twins; lasted one season.

“Buddy Faro”
Featured Dennis Farina; lasted half a season.

“Brother’s Keeper”
Featured Justin Cooper; lasted one season.

Not Favorites

“Martial Law”
Lasted two seasons.

“The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeifer”
Personal favorite; highly controversial; did not last long.

“Mercy Point”
Personal favorite; lasted less than half a season.

“Sports Night”
Lasted two seasons.

Personal favorite; lasted one season.

Season tally: 7 successes (“That ’70s Show,” “The King of Queens,” “Will & Grace,” “Felicity,” “The Hughleys,” “Seven Days,” “Charmed”) 1 extended experiment (“Jesse”) 2 glaring omissions (“Sports Night,” “Martial Law”)

Accuracy: 7/14 (.500)



TV Guide Favorites

“Freaks and Geeks”
Lasted one season.

“Malcolm in the Middle”
Lasted seven seasons.

“Law & Order: SVU”

“Once and Again”
Featured Sela Ward, Billy Campbell; lasted three seasons.

Lasted five seasons.

Lasted three seasons.

“The West Wing”
Lasted seven seasons.

Star Illeana Dougas, Jay Mohr; lasted half a season.

“Now and Again”
Featured Eric Close, Dennis Haysbert; lasted one season.

“Harsh Realm”
Featured Terry O’Quinn, D.B. Sweeney; lasted half a season.

Not Favorites

“Third Watch”
Lasted six seasons.

“The Parkers”
Lasted five seasons.

“Family Law”
Lasted three seasons.

“Judging Amy”
Lasted six seasons.


Featured Leslie Bibb, Christopher Gorham; lasted two seasons.

Season Tally: 6 successes (“Malcolm in the Middle,” “Law & Order: SVU,” “Once and Again,” “Angel,” “Roswell,” “The West Wing”) 6 glaring omissions (“Third Watch,” “The Parkers,” “Family Law,” “Judging Amy,” “Smackdown,” “Popular”)

Accuracy: 6/10 (.600)



TV Guide Favorites

Personal favorite; lasted four seasons.

Lasted one season.

“Boston Public”
Lasted four seasons.

“Dark Angel”
Personal favorite; lasted two seasons.

Featured Bette Midler; lasted one season.

“Gilmore Girls”
Lasted seven seasons.

“The Fugitive”
Featured Tim Daly, Mykelti Williamson; lasted one season.

Not Favorites

“Yes, Dear”
Lasted six seasons.

Lasted eight seasons.

“The Michael Richards Show”
Personal favorite; lasted half a season.

“Cursed” (“The Weber Show”)
Featured Steven Weber, Chris Elliot; lasted one season.


Season Tally: 3 successes (“Ed,” “Boston Public,” “Gilmore Girls”) 1 extended experiment (“Dark Angel”) 3 glaring omissions (“Yes, Dear,” “Girlfriends,” “CSI”)

Accuracy: 3/7 (.429)



TV Guide Favorites

Personal favorite; lasted five seasons.

Personal favorite; lasted eight seasons.

Lasted one season.

Lasted ten seasons.

Personal favorite; lasted nine seasons.

“Star Trek: Enterprise”
Personal favorite; lasted four seasons.

“The Amazing Race”

“The Bernie Mac Show”
Lasted five seasons.

“The Tick”
Personal favorite; featured Patrick Warburton, Nestor Carbonell; lasted half a season.

“The Ellen Show”
Lasted one season.

“Maybe It’s Me”
Featured Fred Willard; lasted one season.

Not Favorites

“Law & Order: Criminal Intent”
Lasted ten seasons.

“Crossing Jordan”
Lasted six seasons.

“One on One”
Lasted five seasons.

“Bob Patterson”
Personal favorite; featured Jason Alexander; lasted less than half a season.

“The Guardian”
Featured Simon Baker; lasted three seasons.

“According to Jim”
Lasted eight seasons.

“The Agency”
Featured Will Paton, Gil Bellows; lasted two seasons.

Lasted six seasons.

Season Tally: 7 successes (“Alias,” “24,” “Smallville,” “Scrubs,” “Star Trek: Enterprise,” “The Amazing Race,” “The Bernie Mac Show”) 7 glaring omissions (“Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” “Crossing Jordan,” “One on One,” “The Guardian,” “According to Jim,” “The Agency,” “Reba”)

Accuracy: 7/11 (.636)



TV Guide Favorites

Personal favorite; lasted two seasons.

“CSI: Miami”

“Life with Bonnie”
Featured Bonnie Hunt; lasted two seasons.

“Birds of Prey”
Lasted half a season.

Lasted one season.

“The Twilight Zone”
Personal favorite; lasted one season.

“Without a Trace”
Lasted seven seasons.

Not Favorites

“American Dreams”
Lasted three seasons.

Lasted four seasons.

“Half and Half”
Lasted four seasons.

“Still Standing”
Lasted four seasons.

“8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter”
Featured Kaley Cuoco, John Ritter; lasted three seasons.

Featured Matthew Fox; lasted half a season.

“Less than Perfect”
Featured Sara Rue, Andy Dick; lasted four seasons.

“John Doe”
Personal favorite; featured Dominic Purcell; lasted one season.

Lasted half a season.

Season Tally: 2 successes (“CSI: Miami,” “Without a Trace”) 2 extended experiments (“Boomtown,” “Life with Bonnie”) 6 glaring omissions (“American Dreams,” “Everwood,” “Half and Half,” “Still Standing,” “8 Simple Rules,” “Less than Perfect”)

Accuracy: 2/7 (.286)



TV Guide Favorites

“The Lyon’s Den”
Featured Rob Lowe, Kyle Chandler; lasted half a season.

“Arrested Development”
Lasted three seasons.

Featured Olivia Wilde, Kevin Anderson; lasted half a season.

“Las Vegas”
Lasted five seasons.

“Two and a Half Men”

“Karen Sisco”
Featured Carla Gugino, Robert Forster; lasted half a season.

“A Minute with Stan Hooper”
Personal favorite; featured Norm McDonald, Fred Willard; lasted half a season.

“Jake 2.0”
Featured Christopher Gorham; lasted one season.

“Steve Harvey’s Big Time”
Lasted two seasons.

“Miss Match”
Featured Alicia Silverstone, Lake Bell; lasted one season.

“Joan of Arcadia”
Personal favorite; lasted two seasons.

“The Handler”
Featured Joe Pantoliano; lasted one season.

Not Favorites

“Cold Case”
Lasted seven seasons.

Lasted three seasons.


“All of Us”
Lasted four seasons.

“I’m with Her”
Personal favorite; featured Teri Polo; lasted one season.

“One Tree Hill”

“Tru Calling”
Featured Eliza Dushku; lasted two seasons.

“Hope & Faith”
Featured Kelly Ripa, Faith Ford; lasted three seasons.

Season Tally: 3 successes (“Arrested Development,” “Las Vegas,” “Two and a Half Men”) 2 extended experiments (“Steve Harvey’s Big Time,” “Joan of Arcadia”) 7 glaring omissions (“Cold Case,” “Eve,” “NCIS,” “All of Us,” “One Tree Hill,” “Tru Calling,” “Hope & Faith”)

Accuracy: 3/12 (.250)


As a whole, success rate breaks down as follows:

2001 (.636)
1999 (.600)
1998 (.500)
2000 (.429)
2002 (.286)
2003 (.250)
1997 (.214)

2001, obviously, is the winner, with TV Guide accurately predicting hit TV shows more than half the time, something accomplished only one other time (1999), while 1998 reached exactly half that mark. These results are somewhat misleading, however, since in both 2001 and 1999, they missed as many shows as they guessed correctly, which is pretty horrible. 1998, then, becomes their most accurate year, when you consider their two omissions (“Martial Law” and “Sports Night”) still didn’t last very long, even though one of them was a critical darling that was missed for years after its cancellation and remains one of the most influential shows in TV history.

There are many instances where TV Guide’s tastes were indeed in-line with actual audiences, but more often than not, the magazine tended to let itself become misled by predilections that were not proven to be accurate, whether in praising shows that lasted for only a few episodes, or rejecting ones that became wildly popular (“CSI,” for instance). In addition, TV Guide presents an alarming impulse to reject programming that would become successful with African American audiences, rejecting nearly all of them, regardless of their actual appeal (“The Hughleys” is a rare exception, but is still atypical). It seems motivated as much by nostalgia as identifying innovative television, and just as often misguidedly rejects anything that may put a fresh twist on a familiar genre, or simply offers a stimulating cast.

It’s admittedly impossible to be a hundred percent accurate, and perhaps a greater analysis might take into account the complete season slate, shows I omitted that didn’t last and therefore might effect a different set of numbers. It’s also extremely difficult to be completely objective, even in hindsight, or to predict how audiences will react to the overall quality of the material (hence why I was as spare as possible). Still, it’s worth considering, especially since TV Guide is an admitted authority. One way it may improve its accuracy would be to place a bigger spotlight on those shows it has deemed to be ahead of the creative curve.

And return to the digest format.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Jabroni Companion #4

The third major topic I’d like to breech is one that still very much concerns wrestling today. Variously known as a faction, a stable, a clique, I’m talking about a collection of wrestlers united for a single cause, and famous examples through the years have included the Four Horsemen, D-Generation X, Evolution, the Main Event Mafia, the Nexus, but today I will spend my time with the one version I still believe to this day dominates the idea in its most perfect form,

IV. New World Order

Spelling it all out like that is a tad less glamorous and familiar than simply saying, the nWo. I like to using the capitalization featured in the group’s logo, because it looks cooler, and is more representative of what it eventually came to symbolize, breaking all the rules, a rebellion that led directly into the Attitude Era, when wrestling vaulted back into the popular consciousness after the hot early years of Hulkamania died down, which only made it fair that Hulk Hogan was once again at the center of things.

Lots of people have tried to downplay Hogan’s role in wrestling’s resurgence during this time. Even though his heel turn galvanized fans as he himself hadn’t been able to do in years (and in reality, he’d only waited about five years for this moment to arrive), Hogan was seen as past his prime. Fans embraced Steve Austin as the new Hogan only two years after the formation of the nWo, and it took another five years for Hogan to be cool again (only that time, no one realized that the fans now wanted an unmitigated hero again).

Anyway, before I get completely ahead of myself, let’s back up a little. Wrestling is only really popular in the mainstream when it breaks free of its own constraints. A lot of great wrestlers toil for years under very little recognition because they can’t transcend expectations. Ric Flair is probably the prototype. There’s no doubt that he became one of the most successful, charismatic, and beloved wrestlers of several generations, but he excelled at all the things a wrestler was supposed to, rather than completely reinventing the rules. It’s exactly the opposite of what Hulk Hogan did during the very same years. On paper, Flair and Hogan are fairly similar wrestlers, believe it or not. Both of them know exactly the kind of match, exactly the kinds of things to do to involve the crowd, to get them excited or concerns based on the current chances of success. It doesn’t matter that Flair was usually the heel, and that Hogan was usually the face. Both knew what needed to be done, and they did it well, and very consistently. But while Flair would have been at home in any era (as he proved for years), Hogan was something new, which the AWA and WWE itself didn’t realize for years. He had to appear in a movie (ROCKY III) to appear larger than life, for his sheer size to be realized. From that moment on, he was accepted as the new standard for professional wrestling, and the entire industry had to realign itself to compensate.

It’s the same thing that happened with The Rock years later, though as it turned out, charisma is something that’s a lot harder to match than mere presence (just ask Chris Jericho, the wrestler who most benefited from this phenomenon, and who tried the hardest to live up to it), and why WWE had to completely revamp itself around Austin, a process that took years (from a period that actually predated the formation of the nWo, no less).

All of this is to say, true wrestling success, success that the mainstream readily accepts, is incredibly rare, and is probably routinely impossible. When WCW originally acquired Hogan in 1994, the company no doubt believed that it could buy that kind of success outright, even though Hogan hadn’t been relevant for about three years by that point. By dragging everyone to Hogan’s level, the novelty of Hogan himself had worn off. WCW wasn’t a place to develop talent comparable to him, and WWE, faced with lawsuit and scandal, had backed off of the oversize game. A spin-off of the NWA, one of the oldest promotions in wrestling, WCW was far more traditionalist than Hogan was used to, and most of what he had to play with there was already familiar, whether it was Flair (with whom, admittedly, he’d never really done much work, by his own design, when the “Nature Boy” had briefly competed in WWE a few years earlier) or Randy Savage, or…Well, there really weren’t too many options. Paul Whyte debuted as the Giant in 1995, but he was new to wrestling, and so didn’t know what kind of role he should play (think Matt Morgan). Vader might have been a perfect opponent, exactly the kind of foe Hogan would have enjoyed in WWE just a few years earlier, but that wasn’t the way WCW did business (though that’s exactly the kind of program Sting used to enjoy, for some reason, and Flair, too).

No, instead it was WWE who had the likes of Kevin Nash and Scott Hall, charismatic big men who didn’t have the same kind of opportunities Hogan had enjoyed for years, and so ended up looking somewhat average, even though they were pushed as some of the company’s biggest stars. “Average” was exactly what they’d been for years until they’d adopted, respectively, the Diesel and Razor Ramon personas, when they became bona fide stars. Ironically, the same thing that made their careers also inhibited them. “Big Daddy Cool” and the “Bad Guy” weren’t exactly immortal. The business, as I said, had adapted to Hulk Hogan, and not for the better.

So that’s what made the summer of 1996 so perfect, because WCW finally seemed to realize what it needed to reach the next level. It needed, not just Hogan, but Hall and Nash, and the only concept that was big enough for all three of them was the ultimate heel faction, the New World Order. I like to maintain to this day that Scott Hall got the bum deal of all bum deals in his career, since out of the three of them, he alone never became a world champion. Yet he was the only one who could have introduced the concept and been taken seriously. He had indefinable charisma, trapped in a vaguely foreign package that was just strange enough to be cool. Most wrestlers who aren’t outright Americans are relegated to jobbers for the biggest stars. Hall never became that. He also never became anything else.

Anyway, Hall set up the WCW debut (or rather, return of) Nash, so that Nash could finally just be himself and be taken seriously (I still can’t understand how the company had found it so easy to ignore his upside years earlier, when Shawn Michaels saw it so clearly from the other side of the pond), and in turn allow Hogan to become relevant again by completely inverting his appeal. He didn’t become a better wrestler, it’s true, but it’s almost as if allowing fans to hate him made everyone forget that he was using the same tactics, the same basic charisma, to prove the same point. Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself again.

The formation of the New World Order completely transformed WCW. Beyond Ric Flair only one man truly symbolized the company as it had been before Hogan’s arrival, and that was Sting, and he’d never meant anything in relation to Hogan for two years, and now suddenly, someone seemed to realize that if there was anything that was the complete opposite of Hogan, who blatantly went after the approval of the crowd, it was Sting, who had once been built up as the next generation, and evolution of the Ric Flair archetype. It’s why he didn’t go by Steve Borden, and why he wore paint on his face. But that wasn’t enough in the world of Hulk Hogan. To be the opposite of Hogan, he had to truly be too cool for school, as it were (I swear, that terminology would have been relevant in 1996). Instead of continuing to wrestle, in fact, Sting abandoned the ring for more than a year. And became more popular.

Sure, he changed his look, became more mysterious, less predictable. But the main thing was, while nWo ran wild (as it were), Sting did anything but. He stayed back, looked on from the rafters. One of the most popular wrestlers of that period never even wrestled. While Hogan (in reverse) continued to appeal to the crowd by the same tactics (via different methods) as usual, Sting beckoned for their approval by doing nothing more than looking on in disapproval. He had, in essence, become one with them. He was, as the story went, disgusted, not only with Hogan and his gang, but with the company in general, which had failed to trust him (there’s an excellent War Games match from 1996 that illustrates this whole arc, and has been included in multiple WWE DVDs, which I will reference again later in the Jabroni Companion).

It’s exactly the opposite, too, of what would make Steve Austin so popular, because of all the things the nWo did, it flaunted authority more than it challenged it. A lot of people, though, started to care about WCW precisely because of the nWo, whether because of Sting or alongside him. From the early months of 1996 most of the group remained Hogan, Hall, and Nash, but slowly grew to include many other members, and it’s said that adding to this select group diluted it, but that wasn’t how it originally played. The greater its influence grew, the greater the menace of the nWo grew. It was unlike anything wrestling had seen before. The whole idea of Hall and Nash’s introduction as the Outsiders was that they secretly represented a war between WCW and WWE. It was, in the imagination of the fans, what the later WCW/ECW Invasion was supposed to look like, a whole new company not just challenging but dominating the status quo.

Sting abandoned his allies. Ric Flair was humiliated. The Giant swapped sides (several times). Randy Savage eventually decided, if you can’t beat them, join them. Lex Luger put up a valiant effort, and was actually the first wrestler to defeat Hogan for the strap during the war. But it simply wasn’t enough. 1997 was much like 1996, except nWo was now a way of life. At the end of the year, Sting finally staged his return, and his clash with Hogan at Starrcade was dubbed the match of the century. Austin never had anything like that. Still, the idea of the match was different from the reality of the match, and in reality, Sting was not exactly the Ultimate Warrior (you can do some research and discovery the irony of that statement for yourself). He had done everything he could do. WCW had done everything it could do. But the simple fact was, Sting meant more as an idea than he did as a wrestler at this point. He won the battle (twice), but couldn’t win the war. Wrestling craves, in the end, a lot more than a silent warrior. That’s why Hogan and the nWo were back to dominating before long.

It was okay, too, since there was another warrior on the horizon, by the name of Bill Goldberg. By the time Sting was preparing for his comeback, Goldberg was building a different kind of mystique, not by presence alone, but in the ring. He was a different kind of transcendent star, much as Hogan had been, much as Austin had now become in WWE. He was the rare star who could captivate an audience simply by his performance, not with a lot of fancy tricks, the way Ric Flair would, but by convincing dominance. He truly seemed unstoppable.

By the summer of 1998, two years after the formation of the New World Order, Goldberg was ready for his moment. Roddy Piper had tried already (no, really). Sting had tried. This time it was Goldberg’s chance. He did it on TV. That’s all he needed. The idea of Goldberg alone demanded it. He got the job done with very little fanfare, again, another opposite, the reverse of how Sting had accomplished it. Incredibly, Hogan and the nWo kept chugging along during Goldberg’s whole reign. Part of the reason was that “Diamond” Dallas Page had reached a point where he was a viable contender, a worthy adversary, in ways that Goldberg couldn’t be. DDP could do all the nonsense that Goldberg couldn’t, appear in mixed matches with celebrities. In fact, Goldberg’s biggest world title match during his reign wasn’t against an nWo opponent, but against DDP.

Of course, he didn’t lose the title to Page. Goldberg didn’t lose matches. Although Hogan was no longer a viable contender for “Da Man,” there remained one other foe in the nWo fold who was, Kevin Nash. This was the beginning of the end for Goldberg’s popularity, when he was forced into a position that didn’t suit his character, when he was forced to face the regular realities of other wrestlers (much as had felled Hogan years earlier), when he was forced to become just like everyone else. Make him seem less special and he becomes just another man. Nash defeats Goldberg, nWo takes over again. Goldberg is forced to compete just like anyone else, to prove himself again, and the bullies once again dominate.

The story of the nWo doesn’t get better than that. There are no more glorious chapters, at least in WCW. Jeff Jarrett eventually forms nWo 2000, a version that is only relevant for bringing Jarrett to the main event level for the first time (in hindsight, if not a highlight of the nWo legacy, still incredibly significant in wrestling lore). The group, if not outright disbanding, finally fades. Without a true challenge, whether the intangible threat of Sting, or the awesome power of Goldberg, this ultimate version of the heel means nothing. Still, the idea of the nWo remains. When Vince McMahon conjures the boogeyman (no, not that one) years later, it comes in the form of Hall, Nash, and Hogan. 2002 is not exactly 1996, but the idea of these big names coming at opponents all at the same time is much the same. The only problem is, there are too many targets. Austin and The Rock together are more than even Sting and Goldberg coming at you at the same time. They have charisma to spare. They’re more than just wrestlers. They transcend the ring exactly in the same way the nWo does. So what happens is, this war becomes more about Hogan than his band, more about the epic clash with The Rock, and that brings the nWo right back to where it started. Originally, it brought star power to WCW. Now, it brings star power back to Hogan, if only for a little while. He’s older now, less capable of fulfilling the routine demands of the crowd. (No wonder his presence now means virtually nothing to TNA. He couldn’t surprise the fans even if he wanted to.)

The New World Order, when you strip it down to its component parts, seems very familiar. A group of wrestlers united for a common cause. But it’s the intangible that makes the difference. Bigger than the sum of its parts, but still dependent on those parts, with the intrinsic need for something to work off of, and blessed three times with exactly that. It always gets the job done. It motivates the fans. That’s what it’s all about.
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