The following is an excerpt from Eric Bischoff’s new book, Grateful, written with Guy Evans:
I’ve often wondered what the impetus was for WWE to bring me back. Contrary to popular belief, I don’t think it was Bruce saying, ‘Hey, Vince – we need to get Eric,’ nor do I think it was coming from Vince himself. What I do think – and what I know, quite frankly – is that WWE was in a period, to utilize an overused term, of ‘reimagining’ almost every aspect of their business.
Everybody recognized that the Fox deal was a major pivot point for WWE. I think there was an expectation that it was going to catapult the company to unprecedented levels of success, in terms of television ratings and all the things that come with that. As a result, WWE was stepping back and saying, ‘Okay, we need to reexamine how we’re approaching our business, because this additional responsibility – and the complexities involved in dealing with a new network – requires that we do things in a different way.’
In the entertainment industry, it’s not uncommon for entities like WWE to undergo an auditing or evaluation process – to ensure that the creative output of the company, for example, is in alignment with the expectations of the audience, or is consistent with the evolution of the industry in general. In the case of WWE, its status as a publicly held company created additional expectations, relative to how its Board of Directors – and shareholders – viewed the operations of the company.
Through consultation with an external company, it was recommended that the creative process in WWE needed to be redesigned – hence the creation of ‘Executive Director’ roles, each with a direct report to Vince McMahon, for each of the primary shows. This would then free Vince up to focus on other things – whether that meant relaunching the XFL, the rebooted football league that he founded, or simply paying attention to other aspects of WWE.
This context (remember: context is king) was lost on the various ‘reporters’ who suggested – based on my experience working with network executives, I assume – that I had been hired as the ‘middleman’ between WWE and Fox. If one was to use guesswork, based on third-party information or hearsay, I can kind of see that making sense, but here’s the truth: conversations between the two parties – WWE and Fox – were underway long before Eric Bischoff was hired as an executive.
It was not unheard of for decisions to be made, as a result of those conversations, that ultimately reached my ears much later. While I would ‘check in’ with the Fox executives – usually on a weekly basis, in order to resolve any open-ended issues – that was about it. Any suggestion that I was personally ‘managing’ the relationship between WWE and Fox is pure fiction.
I was hired to oversee anything that touched or related to Smackdown – including the creative process (although, in a key distinction, I wasn’t brought in to create, per se. I was managing the process). That process, by the way, was unlike anything I was ever used to. Essentially, it would involve a series of meetings (the writers would develop the show all week long), leading to another meeting, this time with Vince, at “five o’clock” on Friday afternoons. None of the specific preparations for the show could occur before getting Vince’s approval.
As I quickly learned, “five o’clock” on a Friday could soon turn into midnight on a Saturday morning, or two o’clock in the morning quite easily. We were often sitting around for six, seven or eight hours before Vince actually showed up. He would sit in his chair, look away and listen to the ideas, without ever once – in my time around him, at least – suggesting an idea of his own. When he heard something that he didn’t like, a look of absolute disgust would come across his face. Ugh! he would yell with his head cocked back. That’s third… grade… shit!
I don’t relay this information to sound disrespectful to Vince, or towards WWE, by the way – the company has a market cap of five billion dollars, so clearly, they have experience in doing something right. But it was difficult, nonetheless – and certainly not the way in which creative, in my opinion, should have been structured.
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