Jim Ross and SLAM! Wrestling ‘butted heads’ publicly yesterday, only this time the meeting was much more amicable, symbolizing a new era of understanding and co-operation between the two organizations.
Ross took time out of his busy schedule as Senior Vice President of Talent Relations for the WWF to participate in a phone conference call with members of the media representing newspapers, radio stations, magazines and, drum roll please…. wrestling web sites.
The issues that SLAM! Wrestling raised in twin editorials back in September with regards to the WWF’s media policy have been addressed and SLAM! Wrestling was invited to take part in the press conference yesterday to promote this Sunday’s ‘Armageddon’ pay-per-view.
Not discouraging reporters from asking questions pertaining to other issues, SLAM! Wrestling asked Ross to comment on the bitter, real life feud between the WWF and the Parents Television Council.
“They certainly have a right to express their opinion and obviously they’re a very conservative, right wing group,” Ross told SLAM! Wrestling. “But I think some of the problems I have with them is that in the past they have utilized some less than truthful information that we feel has been detrimental to our company. I have very partial beliefs because I have educated two children and put two kids through college and maintained a household based on the earnings that I earned through the WWF. I don’t believe we are contributing to the moral decay of America by any stretch any more than any other program, on any other station at any other time.”
“I still believe that parents should make the decision on how they supervise and raise their children,” continued Ross. “I believe in our product. I think our current-day product is in a very good position as far as content is concerned. I’m not ashamed by what I do for a living, contrary to what the PTC or the Phil Mushnicks of the world might try to make us all out to be something we’re not.”
Ross was asked whether or not Viacom helped to kill the WWF’s buyout attempt of WCW. “I think they probably had a lot to do with the WWF not purchasing WCW. In the long run, I don’t think this was the right time and right place to do that deal. Viacom did have a large influence on whether we ended the negotiations or not.”
Ross offered his view of WCW World Champion Scott Steiner, saying “I’ve known Scotty his entire career. I’m hearing he’s having a lot of health problems, which I hate to see, regarding his back. Under the right guidance and right motivation, Scott Steiner is a very volatile, explosive character and if that can just be harnessed in a positive way he could be very significant. He was as good an alternative (WCW) had at the time.”
During the duration of the hour-long conference call, Ross was barraged with queries about what new stars the WWF were looking to sign. The most often asked about wrestlers? Jerry Lynn and Rob Van Dam.
“We do have an interest in Jerry Lynn. We do have an interest in speaking with Rob Van Dam,” admitted Ross. “We do not have an interest in Scott Hall at this time. We don’t have an interest at this time in Torrie Wilson. Juventud Guerrera… not at this time. I think of that list Jerry Lynn is very viable… we’re very interested in Jerry. I had a meeting with him in Minneapolis which I read on the Internet went good, bad and all kinds of ways in between. I thought it went very well and I think Jerry would say the same thing. He’s very talented. I have not to talked to Rob Van Dam but I have talked to his representative. We had a nice chat yesterday and are planning on having another conversation as early as next week just to do some fact finding and things of that nature.”
Ross insists that they’re going to make sure and take their time in making the right additions to the roster.
“We’re going to be very selective on who we bring on the team. We like the attitude of our roster, we like its chemistry. Are we problem-free? Absolutely not. But have we eliminated a lot of the issues and the problems that other companies have had? Absolutely. We could certainly use four to six more solid hands.”
Ross also said the key to the WWF’s future is to elevate wrestlers on their own roster into the upper echelon of the card.
Who does Ross see as making the transition from mid-carder to main eventer in the next little while?
“Chris Benoit, without a doubt. Kane. Chris Jericho should be there on that level. There’s no reason why those three guys should not be in that very upper level of main event guys, in my view. I think there’s some other people that we have on the roster that are close. I think Val Venis is very underutilized. I think William Regal will find his way to that upper level as well. I feel good about that. Edge and Christian are going to be great single players once the decision is made to go in that direction.”
“I think when we get everybody healthy and really back rolling and we elevate some new faces into that upper echelon and upper mix, I think our product is going to be very fresh. I still think we’re in a transitional period because some of our top guys are not operating on all cylinders. I think that the future looks bright and it all depends on what direction we decide to go creatively, but I think the horsepower is going to be there it’s just a matter of how they’re utilized and when.”
Ross also responded to recent criticisms of WWF becoming dull and repetitive.
“I think we’re always concerned about our audience. We like to shock people and to be spontaneous but I also think we want to be responsible in the content that we present. It’s not always going to be in each individual’s taste. It’s a very subjective thing. I think we can be a little bit more logical (in) the storytelling. We’re trying to become a little bit more plausible and reality-based in some of the things we do which would not lend to some of the absurdity in some of the skits that we have done in year’s past. I think there’s a change in direction there.”
Dan Lovranski of Live Audio Wrestling asked how Ross and the WWF can reconcile this direction of more logical, plausible storytelling with the stunt at last month’s Survivor Series pay-per-view that saw HHH come out of a terrible car wreck without so much as a scratch the following week on RAW.
“I can’t. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t explain it. I can’t answer. I can’t give you an answer that you’re going to buy because there probably isn’t one,” admitted Ross. “The only thing we said on TV was that it was a miracle. I don’t know how other than that from a storyline perspective that we could describe it. It’s not going to be for everybody. That’s a good point. You got me check-mated there. I can’t b.s. you and give you some line.”
As Ross sees it, a lot of the negative feedback stems from there being an over saturation of wrestling available on TV.
“It’s very arguable that there’s too much product on the air. Very arguable. I think that in order for the peripheral programs (Live Wire, Heat, Superstars) to survive and to do well in the ratings, they’ve got to find a niche, they’ve got to find a way to repackage existing material that’s interesting and compelling and those formats will have to be addressed perhaps before we address what we’re doing in prime time. There is a concern, personally, and we’re always looking at ways to make the formats better and I just think it’s probably going to take some unique features, unique nuisances of those weekend shows to make them compelling enough to watch.”
“We always search for that mix between a viable in-ring product with enough match time that you can have a match, with enough plausible and well produced outside the ring content,” continued Ross. “Some weeks we have too much of one and not enough of the other. Some weeks we have good matches and the stuff in the back is not as sharp as it was the week before and vice versa. It’s a hell of a balance. It’s hard to put your finger on what people want. There’s a lot of product and ot a lot of real great product, that for darn sure. It’s a lot of tv to produce, there’s no doubt about it. We really try to do great tv every time we go out and sometimes we get there and sometimes, obviously we don’t. It’s just the human element.”
So what’s the answer to this problem?
“I still think the physicality and the athleticism is still going to be your bread and butter,” offered Ross. “You’ve got to surround it with good sizzle, you’ve got to tell good stories, you have to produce good episodic TV, but the bottom line is fans are not tuning in to see semi-skilled actors or semi-rained orators, they’re still tuning in to see athletic situations that are sprinkled with all sorts of soap opera.”
Ross also talked about the industry as a whole, comparing the health of the WWF to WCW.
“I think the health of the business as far as the WWF is concerned… our health is very sound. We think we have a lot of outstanding young prospects down in Ohio Valley and Memphis (two WWF developmental wrestling territories) that are going to be able to really contribute to our roster in the near future. We think the infusion of talented, young fresh faces is good and hopefully our talent development program is going to be entrenched solidly enough that they’ll be providing us those new faces for years to come.”
“Obviously, stability in anybody’s business is important for success and until WCW can develop some sort of stability in their management and in their direction, they’re going to have a degree of chaos which is not good overall for the business because competition is good and hopefully someday they’ll get back on track and provide the opportunities that a lot of guys that are there deserve.”