Timeline: The History of WWE: 1997 (As told by Jim Cornette)
Reviewed by Joe Babinsack
Intentional or not, and in my perception of Jim Cornette, I know which part of the worked-shoot question he sides on in most occasions, there’s a vastly informative visual provided by the greatest guest of Kayfabe Commentaries awesome Timeline products.
Cornette pulls out this antiquated item, a ledger that looks like a large photo album, a compilation of wrestling business that was a traditional recording device for likely the last century of this peculiar sports entertainment industry.
Probably a staple of most profitable businesses, period.
Today, concepts like a photo album, accountants with green visors and properly run professional wrestling promotions are passé, but the symbolism of Jim Cornette’s “Show and Tell” subject is vastly more outdated, even though most insiders still prefer the term “book” over scripting, still prefer the concept of “booking” rather than match-making, still would proffer the term “booker” as the best description of the guy who controls the destiny of a pro wrestling organization.
I almost slipped and said something stupid like “enjoyable” or “memorable” or “meaningful” as an adjective, but those phrases these days are far more antiquated than that business tool that is more a prop than a valuable reference these days.
Jim Cornette learned the business in the fading days of the territorial system, and undoubtedly learned a lot at the direction of Bill Watts, and learned the old school way of doing things, and ironically (in a certain sense) he maintained that sense of doing business well into his WWF tenure in the “Creative” Department… although the wheels more than just flew off by the end of 1997, as Corny succinctly explains in this vastly entertaining, 2-Disc set.
Much like how the stars aligned and the emergence of talent and the timing and the underlying motivations made the WWF in 1998 a monster promotion, Jim Cornette appears on this scene, guided by Sean Oliver, laying down an awesome detailing of one of the most pivotal years in the business.
Kayfabe Commentaries is doing the industry a service, featuring top names and their penetrating insight into one-year spans of various promotions. We should all anticipate a time where the past 30 years or so are chronicled to establish the transition from the Old School mentality that maintained a hugely successful and nationally accepted industry, into one that has shifted tremendously and now survives for vastly different reasons.
And I’m not now and never will be ready to acknowledge any positive in that outcome.
Jim Cornette lays the foundation of why that transition was a horrible one for the business in this package. As someone at the eye of various storms surrounding the WWF (I find it really amusing how the cover has WWE, but Cornette’s head makes it look like WWF), Cornette doesn’t just speculate on what was happening behind the scenes, he was deeply involved in it.
And by the end of the year, the physical separation of Vince Russo and Cornette was an absolute necessity for various reasons detailed by the man who was one of the all-time great managers, who toiled as owner of Smokey Mountain Wrestling, and who had a say in Ohio Valley Wrestling when it was training WWE Superstars at the turn of the millennium.
Russo, by the way, ran a Video Store in New York.
Just more than three hours of James E. Cornette talking away seems to go quickly, as Cornette’s passion, insight and understanding of the business is shepherded by Sean Oliver and a month-by-month formatting.
Sure, the music gets a little annoying, but it is toned down. I also liked that the Calendar snippets seemed far more focused for this year, although I have to complain that the font size on the screen makes me grateful for being a long time Wrestling Observer reader – I can read the things, but it’s one more reminder that bifocals are well past due for my eyes.
But that is a minor complaint when you consider how controlled the discussions are, despite a dozen different emotionally charged subjects, including the death of Brian Pillman, the launching of RAW as a weekly live show, and the various conflicts with Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart.
Let’s look at some of those points, but I’ll gladly invite the reader to purchase this DVD and get these direct from the mouth of Cornette:
This is a calm, cool and collected Cornette on the subject, but beneath the surface, anyone can tell that the differences between the two go back to Corny’s realization that Russo just didn’t care about pro wrestling and that nothing Corny explained about the business really mattered.
Cornette summed up the Russonian take on pro wrestling, and allow me to paraphrase:
Russo loves the highlights of pro wrestling, but doesn’t get the nuances, doesn’t understand the subtleties and never realizes that great angles take six months to develop.
Beyond this, the venom and the complete disagreement between the two and the physical effect of having to work in an environment where someone like Russo was given more and more influence is frighteningly portrayed. One-sided, of course, but I’ll take Cornette’s side without any hesitation.
We get more on the buck teeth crying incident, the utterly incomprehensible attitudes of Dunn and the complete disdain the guy has for wrestling history.
No wonder Russo got so much say over Cornette…. Dunn and Russo are of the same mindset when it comes to wrestling fans.
Even more reasons to consider Michaels an impertinent Prima Donna and a guy who gets more accolades for less reasons than almost anyone in the history of the sport.
OK, that’s my interpretation of James E. Cornette’s portrayals, but know that Michaels does not come out of Timeline 1997 looking like anything but a pompous jackass.
It seems like Shawn’s backstage antics are more scripted than his on screen rants, but either way, Cornette’s colorful phrase for the Clique’s public antics is most appropriate.
Surprisingly, Bret gets very little bad press here, but Cornette’s take on him and his actions post Montreal are interesting – saying that Hart played up the publicity for Vince’s actions, actually took public the business and in essence exposed the business far more than anything Vince or Shawn did that day.
Cornette says Hart is a man of his word, but takes himself too seriously.
Want to know the difference between modern day sensibilities and what Cornette did to help Glen Jacobs become a monster, a man who joined the million dollar club, and helped him with a tremendous debut, all the while today the WWE can’t get over even the most promising prospect?
Listen to Jim and Sean talk about how he helped set up the Michaels/Undertaker Hell in a Cell match and how he helped protect Kane’s development and how Russo would have destroyed the who storyline within two weeks of the debut.
Of course, 1997 is the year that launched the industry, and Cornette attributes some of that to Vince’s ability to come out of it as the evil owner. Interestingly, Vince wanted to be the babyface, but Corny gives credit to our favorite one time billionaire for realizing that the babyface take wasn’t going anywhere.
Cornette’s take is that MONTREAL was a “worked shoot double-cross”. Funny enough, Cornette said he left the arena faster than the Hebners, not wanting to get caught in the middle of anything.
He also has some interesting comments on Mick Foley’s twist on “moral turpitude”.
Cornette explains how he was the guy from the WWF who called the hotel to check in on Brian PIllman, and why he thought he was being worked by Pillman before he realized the horrible truth.
There’s a ton of insight into HHH, Sable, Hall & Nash, very fascinating details on the Michaels/Hart locker room fight earlier in that year, Rick Rude’s appearance on Nitro, trust issues with Hart and Bischoff,
But more than a lot of that is the insight into why the industry got popular in 1998 – that after MONTREAL, with the emergence of The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin, and the heel owner character of Vince McMahon, that it was the first time in five years that the fans had something that they could believe in.
The closing by Oliver and the response by Cornette is a summation of the importance of 1997 and the insight into who’s talking about the year.
Sean Oliver: “What a tumultuous and important year in our ongoing compilation of the total history of World Wrestling Entertainment.”
But Cornette reminds us all, saying it’s “Not the record year for the business, but it set up the record year for the business.”
But it all comes back to the book.
That’s the aspect of professional wrestling long forgotten, long abandoned, yet once a long-time staple of the sports entertainment industry that James Cornette knows better than most: that professional wrestling is all about the builds, the story telling and the long term payoffs.