Friday 29 April 2011

Fantasy Booker: WWE part two

This is the second of four blogs in which I will lay out what I’d do if I were put in complete control of every aspect of WWE. Last time I discussed the restructuring process I’d put the developmental system through. You can read that here. This time I’ll discuss the changes I’d make behind the scenes and who would be coordinating the developmental system with the central WWE office, before continuing in parts three and four with the creative direction I’d take with RAW and SmackDown.

I’ll begin back on the subject of my revamped developmental leagues. The system would have had a massive revamp because it has not been running as well as it should have been. While it’s not solely his fault the man that has to shoulder most of the blame for this is John Laurinaitis, WWE’s current head of talent relations. Among his current responsibilities is the overseeing of FCW and any similar feeder groups, as well as finding and hiring new talent to be trained for the big time.

It is under Laurinaitis that the system began to falter. Fewer main event calibre stars have been called up to the main rosters since he took over in the role following the departure of Jim Ross, and WWE has been affiliated with several satellite promotions in a relatively short amount of time. These are serious issues. WWE needs to be able to rely on this system for new stars and the system itself needs stability. As Laurinaitis has failed to provide these things over the course of several years I would relieve him of his duties immediately. He wouldn’t be fired. I’ll get to his new role later.

The question is: who do you replace him with? While I’d be adding new federations to developmental I’d need someone evaluating and hiring talent to keep the process moving. It’s an area of the business Paul ‘Triple H’ Levesque has recently taken an interest in, but I think his strengths lie elsewhere. He’s a very good talker and judging by his recent match with the Undertaker he’d make an excellent match layout and finish man, so I would move him into a senior agent role as he approaches retirement. That way he would still be on hand with the main roster for his light schedule of TV appearances and to help others develop.

In my mind the natural person for the role is Jim Ross. He performed the job very successfully for a number of years, but retired to spend less time in an office and more at home. Having had several years away from the position (as well as his other passion of commentating) I think he’d return to the head of talent relations position for a limited time. My aim would be to get him to agree to three years of heading up the team, with a promise that he’d have a say in who succeeds him when he leaves.

By giving JR a team to head up it alleviates a lot of the pressure on him and means he doesn’t have to act alone and allows him to work at his own pace. The team would consist of Gerry Brisco, Jim Cornette (in addition to Cornette’s other role mentioned in part one), Shawn Michaels, Adam ‘Edge’ Copeland (once he’s ready to take on a role behind the scenes, as I’m sure he will be at some point), and Mick Foley (as soon as he could be signed away from TNA), as well as any other individuals JR felt would be a good addition. These are all men with minds for the business and all men JR is known to get along with. It would be a calm, productive and, I think, successful working environment for all involved.

Rather than insist on all of these people relocating from their homes around North America I would ask them to hold meetings at RAW, SmackDown or pay-per-views two or three times a month, with the rest of their time spent attending live independent events, college wrestling events, and evaluating talent on DVDs. This would allow the team to not only discuss wrestlers they’d been paying attention to but also schedule tryout matches for new talent at Heat or Velocity tapings or in dark matches. I would attempt to establish, or ask JR to, relations with leading independent companies such as Chikara, PWG, SHIMMER, CZW, JAPW and RoH. These are proving grounds for young talent trying to crack the big leagues, and I think it would be best for all involved if there were a system in place for approaching talent in these promotions that didn’t leave them scrabbling for a new main event star because someone had signed a developmental deal. I like the idea of allowing newly signed talent to appear for major independent companies for the first few months of their developmental deal. It gives the smaller promotions a chance to build new stars whilst still having their old one around, lets the talent leave the right way, and allows WWE to give something back to the business at large.

Laurinaitis would still have a role in the department. In addition to working as a talent scout alongside the rest of the team he would be responsible for organising talent moves between the feeder groups. The goal would be to have developmental talent work in a satellite league for a minimum of nine months before moving on to another group or the main roster. In the case of moving to another of the territories Laurinaitis would agree departure and start dates with the booking teams, at least a month in advance, and help the wrestler find new accommodation and organise travel. It’s something he’s been criticised for being bad at in the past but I think with a lightened workload and JR to oversee things he’d be able to focus on the task better and perform it well.

Jim Ross would hopefully find this system attractive enough, and the work and travel schedule light enough, to agree to return to the role. I’d be banking on him coming back to train up either Edge or Foley for the lead role. Both of those men would do a fine job of running such a department but neither currently has enough experience and won’t for a few years.

I’d also be asking Ross to return to the RAW announce desk full time. Michael Cole is not a bad commentator, but he cannot do that job and be a heel. He’s demonstrated that over the last year. I think he’s of more use to the company as an on-screen character. This brings me neatly to the commentary teams in general and the shows I’d be promoting.

RAW and SmackDown would still be the company’s two main shows (how could they not be?). NXT and Superstars would be cancelled to be replaced by Heat and Velocity. They would be affiliated with RAW and SmackDown respectively. These shows would air on WWE’s website in the US and would continue to air on TV for overseas broadcasters.

RAW’s announce team would be Jim Ross and Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler. That’s a reunion fans have wanted to see made permanent for a while now. Ross cannot be bettered when it comes to selling pay-per-views and getting across key moments in angles. RAW stars appearing on Heat would have Todd Grisham and William Regal calling their bouts. Grisham’s not someone I rate but he does an adequate enough job for a secondary show and could be used as a backstage interviewer on RAW. Regal would either wrestle part time or work as an agent, whichever he chose. Finally, I’d assign Scott Stanford as a secondary backstage interviewer.

Over on SmackDown I’d use a three man announce team of Josh Mathews, Booker T and Joey Styles. I think all three are tremendous, and the long term goal would be to have Mathews and Booker move to RAW once Ross and Lawler decide they want to wind up their announcing careers. Meanwhile Velocity would have a commentary team of Jack Korpela and CM Punk. Korpela would have a chance to improve over time while Punk has proven his ability on colour commentary both on RAW and in Ring of Honor. I’d be using Matt Striker as a backstage interviewer alongside Korpela.

Currently when you tune into WWE programming you will not hear what you see described as wrestling. That would change immediately. Commentary teams would be allowed to use the terms “wrestling” and “wrestler” whenever they wanted. The terms “superstar” and “diva” could stay, but I would be banning one term: “WWE Universe”. It sounds ridiculous and stilted whenever it’s said. WWE would acknowledge that it has “fans” again. Basically, all of the irritating, silly phrases you currently have to put up with would go. I understand they were introduced to establish WWE’s brand and set it apart from wrestling, but I think the brand identity is already very strong. The company is synonymous with wrestling and it should be embracing that, not shying away from it.

The PG era of WWE would be quietly dropped. I would attempt to retain as many sponsors picked up from this initiative as possible but I think it’s inevitable some would be lost with this decision. I’m not being a pig-headed fan and saying there’s nothing good about the PG product. I just feel the quality of the product should come before the appeasement of sponsors. Sometimes the product is going to require blood or a particularly violent street fight to get over the importance of a match, angle or feud. Wrestlers need to be able to act and react naturally during interviewers, not be constantly worried about doing or saying something that will upset the director of another company. Basically the wrestling business is not designed for a PG audience, and while I wouldn’t immediately be promoting first blood or barbed wire matches I do feel the company works better when there are more adult themes included.

This theme would continue in backstage interviews. There would be no more vignettes in which wrestlers have private conversations while a camera crew stands four feet away filming them. I would want the majority of backstage interviews taking place in front of a set specifically erected for the task, or in front of dressing rooms as they used to. Backstage interviewers should be used to get the required information out of the talent, they shouldn’t all be trying to make us laugh and forcing men and women to deliver unnatural dialogue. If we desperately need to have two wrestlers have a row backstage then one can simply interrupt another’s interview. If a group or tag team is plotting something they can be shown form a distance huddled together, with the commentary team wondering what they’re planning. That works far better than the group discussing their plans openly, because it doesn’t give specifics but let’s viewers know something is being planned.

In short I would want increased realism in the TV product. An emphasis would be placed on not broadcasting anything that’s filmed in front of a camera without acknowledging it’s there. Audiences would still be getting the information they need from backstage segments but without the company or wrestlers looking silly. Everything that doesn’t make sense from a realism point of view would be looked into, from the amount of time wrestlers sell big moves for to entrance music blaring from the speakers when someone does (an allegedly unannounced) run-in.

I will quickly say at this point that I think the current standard of production is very high on WWE programming. Shows are generally well edited and the pyrotechnics, video packages and general flow of the show could not be better. The team would be working to my new creative guidelines of a more realistic approach, but there would be no personnel changes as everyone involved seems to do a solid job.

Then we come to the backstage staff. The referees would be split amongst RAW and SmackDown, with each show having its own set of officials. This would be done for aesthetic and practical reasons. The touring schedules I’ll be discussing below would work better with brand specific referees and agents, and I’d want to re-establish the brand extension (which I’ll be discussing in greater depth in part three): referees appearing on just one show would help to do this. I wouldn’t make drastic changes to the way the agents work, but I would give talent more freedom to call and plan their own matches, particularly at house shows. This is a vital skill that they need to pick up. It would be happening in developmental, but it shouldn’t stop when wrestlers get promoted to the main roster.

I’m also keen to have two groups of agents, one for RAW and one for SmackDown. I’m not fussed about who goes where, as long as each show has the same number. Doing this would mean the agents only influence matches on one brand, further helping each show have its own feel. Triple H, heading towards semi-retirement, would oversee the agents of both shows in a supervisor role, alongside Pat Patterson, who is generally credited with being one of the best layout men for match finishes in the business. They would work alongside one another until Patterson decides to retire, with Triple H continuing solo. I’d also move Chavo Guerrero, Mark Henry and Dustin ‘Goldust’ Runnels off of television and only use them in the ring at house shows, to allow them to begin training as agents.

I’d be altering touring routines as well. At the moment WWE broadcasts a live pay-per-view on Sunday (If required), a live RAW on Monday, and then records SmackDown on Tuesday evening for broadcast later in the week (Friday night in the States, various other days in other countries). House shows then take place throughout the week. Clumping TV shows together is cost effective, but I believe being taped is detrimental to SmackDown’s ratings. By taking it live you would create a fresher, more dynamic feel to the show and be able to surprise viewers. I would go live on Friday nights with SmackDown for these reasons (and discontinue the lazy From the Vault segment). It would increase costs and create the need for the TV crew to travel more but I feel it would be worth it to improve the product.

House shows would be switched to weekends. I’ve never understood why so many take place on weeknights. Wrestling necessitates a night out for the audience, so we would switch house shows to the latter half of the week and weekends. Both SmackDown and RAW would run separate house shows on Saturday and Sunday, with SmackDown starting their weekly tour with a house show on Thursday and RAW starting on Friday. I’d also be aiming to work out schedules that allow everyone on the roster a week (or possibly two) off from house shows every two months. With enough planning and foresight I think this system could work, and would allow wrestlers to plan breaks with families or simply enjoy a week where they don’t have to travel so much. This would help to keep people healthy for longer, which is better for everyone involved.

That covers everything I consider major concerning backstage policies. In the third and fourth parts of this series I’ll detail how I’d organise the creative team and reveal the creative direction I’d take the company in, including the next several host cities for WrestleMania, numerous roster changes and exactly what would be happening on TV.

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