In professional wrestling, Black Saturday refers to Saturday, July 14, 1984. On that date, Vince McMahon and his World Wrestling Federation (WWF) took over the Saturday night time slot on Superstation WTBS that had been home to Georgia Championship Wrestling (GCW) and its flagship weekly program, World Championship Wrestling, for twelve years.
Georgia Championship Wrestling's first weekly television series had premiered on then-WTCG in 1972 when station owner Ted Turner purchased the rights to air the program from station WQXI. From that date, GCW's program aired for two hours (from 6-8 PM and later from 6:05 to 8:05 following the introduction of TBS' "Turner Time" in 1981) every Saturday night. In 1976, GCW became the first National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) territory to earn a national cable television contract as the soon-to-be-renamed Superstation WTBS began to be carried by various cable and satellite providers nationwide.
In 1982, Georgia Championship Wrestling renamed its weekly program World Championship Wrestling, a name the entire promotion would grow to be identified by. Jack Brisco and Gerald Brisco had major stakes in the organization while Ole Anderson was head booker and was basically in charge of operations. GCW's program was hosted by NWA announcer Gordon Solie, who also hosted programs for various other NWA affiliated promotions at the time (such as NWA Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling). World Championship Wrestling was a program featuring the "rasslin'" style of wrestling, that emphasized a more athletic product and put less emphasis on cartoonish gimmicks.
In 1983, Vince McMahon's World Wrestling Federation, which promoted the cartoonish gimmicks that GCW fans were not particular fans of and which several years earlier had begun to expand nationwide, took control of the other major cable television contract at the time when he purchased a Sunday morning timeslot for his All American Wrestling program on the USA Network. The following year, in addition to the cable contract and his nationally syndicated offerings (WWF Championship Wrestling and WWF All-Star Wrestling), McMahon expanded further by premiering Tuesday Night Titans on USA.
Later in 1984 McMahon decided that, as part of his continued expansion, the WWF needed a second cable outlet for his weekly programming. Since the GCW TBS contract was the only other one available at the moment, and consequently would give McMahon control of both major national cable wrestling contracts if he was able to acquire it, he approached Ted Turner, owner of TBS, with an offer to buy the Saturday night GCW timeslot. Turner, however, refused his offer almost immediately, and McMahon was forced to find another way.
McMahon found that way shortly after his rejection by Turner. While GCW's programming had a loyal fanbase and was fairly popular, things were not as great behind the scenes. The source of the problem was Ole Anderson, who had begun to alienate his fellow owners with his booking and operation of the company. McMahon went to the Briscos and Jim Barnett, who agreed to sell their ownership stakes to McMahon, giving the WWF the majority stake in GCW and therefore putting it in control of the Saturday night World Championship Wrestling show.
The last World Championship Wrestling program under GCW control aired on July 7, 1984. The July 14 program opened with show co-host Freddie Miller (Gordon Solie was absent for reasons never made clear; he either resigned in protest or was terminated following the purchase, as were many other people involved with the production) introducing McMahon and welcoming the WWF to WTBS. McMahon promised the GCW fans who were tuned in and not expecting to see the WWF's programming that they would enjoy the new program just as much.
However, unlike World Championship Wrestling, which held a weekly studio show in their timeslot, the WWF's TBS show at first consisted solely of highlights from the WWF's USA and syndicated programming as well as house show clips from Madison Square Garden, Boston Garden, and most of the other major arenas it did business in. This was in direct violation of a promise McMahon had made to provide original programming for TBS, including having shows taped at the TBS studios in Atlanta. Eventually, the WWF would have in-studio squash matches on the show on an infrequent basis. During this time, the show was co-hosted by Miller and Gorilla Monsoon, with Monsoon serving as the play-by-play announcer and Miller serving as the ring announcer.
The WWF show on TBS was a ratings disaster from the start. GCW's core audience, which as mentioned before was not impressed with the WWF's approach to the wrestling business, began writing and calling TBS in droves furious over the fact that GCW was no longer airing and demanding to know why. The ratings for the Saturday night wrestling program plummeted as a result of McMahon's takeover, angering Turner and moving him to make two decisions that would fix the ratings problem.
First, Turner made an offer to Bill Watts, a promoter who ran Mid South Wrestling out of Oklahoma, to take a Sunday night timeslot on TBS. Turner then gave Ole Anderson's Championship Wrestling from Georgia, an NWA-affiliated promotion regarded as the successor to GCW with Gordon Solie as its announcer, a weekly timeslot on Saturday mornings. McMahon was not happy with either of Turner's decisions, thinking his control of GCW would make the WWF the exclusive wrestling company on TBS. Whatever anger he may have felt was turned into embarrassment as both Mid South Wrestling and Championship Wrestling from Georgia outdrew the WWF in ratings.
Sale and aftermathEdit
Losing money on the deal and desperately looking for help, McMahon turned to Jim Barnett. He directed McMahon to NWA President Jim Crockett, Jr., who was running Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling and who at the time was trying to unify the remaining NWA territories that McMahon hadn't driven out of business into one nationwide unit. Crockett, who had just bought out Ole Anderson's Georgia promotion, bought the World Championship Wrestling program from McMahon for $1 million (US) and returned NWA programming to TBS. This promotion would eventually become the modern World Championship Wrestling when Turner bought the promotion from Crockett and later withdrew from the NWA.
McMahon, despite the failed takeover of the TBS wrestling timeslot, did not have his USA Network contract or syndicated programming affected in any way. In fact, USA gave McMahon another timeslot when WWF Prime Time Wrestling, a similar program to the WWF's TBS show that aired on Mondays and was a forerunner to the current Monday Night Raw, debuted early in 1985.
Due in large part to both parties' actions, McMahon and Turner began a wrestling rivalry that would continue for over a decade, which finally ended in 2001 after McMahon purchased the bankrupt WCW. To this day McMahon continues to make reference to his final victory on WWE programming from time to time.
Additionally, Turner's decision to give timeslots to Bill Watts and Ole Anderson indirectly led to other wrestling organizations gaining national cable television contracts. ESPN signed contracts with four professional wrestling organizations. Verne Gagne's AWA debuted on ESPN in 1985 and aired on the network until the company folded in 1991. Fritz Von Erich's World Class Championship Wrestling joined ESPN in 1986 and its Dallas-based successors, the United States Wrestling Association and the Global Wrestling Federation later occupied timeslots on the network as well. In addition, Herb Abrams' UWF had a weekly program that aired on SportsChannel America. None of these companies were doing business by 1994, with the exception of the Memphis-based branch of the USWA which folded in 1997. During these few years, ECW took over as the third largest wrestling company in North America behind the WWF and WCW.
- ↑ John F. Molinaro. "End of an era on TBS Solie, Georgia and 'Black Saturday'". SLAM! Sports. http://slam.canoe.ca/SlamWrestlingFeatures/tbs1-can.html. Retrieved 2007-04-10.