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MR. TITO STRIKES BACK - Why is Everyone Blaming Vince McMahon for WWE's Creative Problems?
By Mr. Tito
Jun 21, 2014 - 1:44:12 PM
Welcome back to the EXCELLENCE IN COLUMN WRITING as I attempt to explain pro wrestling properly to the internet. Lately, I've been highly amused at the anti-Vince McMahon stories while the rest of the WWE management sees no insider news. In particular, you NEVER see any negative stories about Triple H or Stephanie as managers. Always "Vince is senile" or "Vince is out of touch", which the likes of Dave Meltzer and other reporters seem to always have handy. There was a lead writer removed last week and yet some of the bad storylines of last week's RAW were blamed on Vince.
If you believe that, then you don't know how Vince McMahon runs his company.
Now - I'm well aware of the old Harry Truman phrase "The Buck Stops Here". Vince McMahon is the majority WWE stock shareholder, CEO, and Chairman of the Board. All of the reporting lines flow through Vince. I won't disagree with you those statements and facts.
But what I believe that the Internet Wrestling Community (IWC) doesn't understand how Vince McMahon actually manages his company. If you look at the company right now, who does Vince McMahon have on his management team? Stephanie McMahon is now doing more things with WWE public relations (was Creative Team leader), Kevin Dunn is the Executive Producer of WWE programming, and Triple H is the Executive that oversees Creative, Live Events, and Talent. Meanwhile, the WWE has plenty of Senior Vice Presidents who report up through those Executives and also Vice Presidents who report up to the SVP's. It's a structure and most companies, especially corporations, have that.
Vince has ALWAYS run his companies that way. He delegates authority, which any bigtime executive should do. While Vince McMahon is involved in many aspects of the WWE and works himself like a dog, he's kept busy because of how demanding he is to maximize the amount of live events and television shows that he can get. His workload is very self-inflicted, but it's only due to maximizing profit of the WWE through quantity of events. It's unlike what his son-in-law (Triple H) has done with his workload by taking on too much hands-on responsibility.
If you read into recent investment reports that cover the WWE stock, some of the "read between the lines" comments has been about the worry of who will replace Vince McMahon. In fact, investment reports are reporting quite the opposite of what the backstage insider reports have posted. While Meltzer will report that "Vince is senile", investors will cite that they worry how easily he could be replaced. Who is right? Some disgruntled employee who is leaking backstage gossip or an investor who studies the WWE's financials closely and all corporate events? Many WWE stock owners study the CEO and Boards VERY closely and thus know Vince McMahon quite well.
But investors also study WWE's Executive Team closely, too. By several commentaries, they worry about a post-Vince world with the current Executives filling the void.
That's my point about Vince McMahon "delegating authority". He's VERY trusting of his own daughter, Stephanie McMahon, and his son-in-law, Triple H. You are going to be much nicer to your relatives than other employees. Thus, when Vince Russo walks into the door during the late 1990's with bullshit ideas, Vince has no problem striking them down. However, he'll be nicer to his own flesh and blood while being nice to the guy who helped give him grandchildren. Even worse, he'll give the benefit of the doubt to his daughter and son-in-law that he wouldn't give anyone else. So when Stephanie advises replacing former wrestler road agents with Hollywood writers, Vince will let his daughter try it. Ditto with Triple H wanting to bring in Sin Cara and push him hard. That's what we've endured for over 10 years now...
I will NOT place sole blame on Vince McMahon for the way he (a) won the Wrestling Territory Wars of the 1980's and (b) winning the Monday Night Wars during the late 1990's. He stared down legitimately tough competition, and as a manager of his company, made the right decisions and put the right people in place (delegating authority!!!) to drive many great territories to close and the great American Wrestling Association (AWA) and World Championship Wrestling (WCW) companies to close. Can you point me to any wrestling promoter who has done that? You can't and the WWE employees nobody else who has done that besides Vince.
His Monday Night Wars victory over WCW was Vince's greatest accomplishment but also planted seeds of the WWE becoming stagnant during the 2000's. Vince had a creative team during the mid-1990's that consisted of former wrestlers or even personalities who had experience in the wrestling business. Let me reiterate that... HAD EXPERIENCE IN THE WRESTLING BUSINESS. However, things weren't clicking with the current staff, as Bruce Pritchard and Jim Cornette became main components along with others like Pat Patterson. They were getting stale and were pushing the same old business model from the early 1990's. The Undertaker was so successful that it created other job profession wrestlers like a plumber, a trash collector, hog farmer, race car driver, etc. WWE was reliant on television tapings and was soon challenged by WCW who ran live shows.
WWE needed a good kick in the ass... They had this controversial WWE Magazine writer named Vic Venom and he wrote some interesting articles that created some buzz during the 1990's. He was a creative writer and Vince McMahon thought that Vic Venom, real name Vince Russo, could be a welcome addition to the WWE creative team. He joined in 1996 just as WCW was beginning to pull away in the Monday Night Wars. He was a perfect addition to the Creative Team and he would go to inject life into the Creative Team that began to really blossom during 1997. However, what was nice about Vince Russo during 1996-1998 was that he was a voice among Cornette, Pritchard, Patterson, etc. and the old school booking of pro wrestling could filter or adjust any BAD Vince Russo ideas.
With the WWE turning around its fortunes, much of the credit was given to Vince Russo and possibly not the filters of his BAD ideas. Through 1999, Jim Cornette was reduced in role as a Creative Team member and went on to help oversee the WWE Developmental Territory, Ohio Valley Wrestling, which helped produce the likes of John Cena, Brock Lesnar, Batista, and Randy Orton, all top stars in the WWE to this day. With Cornette gone and Vince Russo gaining power backstage, 1999 was a strange year for WWE booking. Lots of booking on the fly occurred with many storylines being unresolved. See "Higher Power" storyline, for example. Total mess! Additionally, count how many times the Intercontinental Title switched hands. It was a joke! Plus, Russo had the benefit of just letting Mick Foley, the Rock, Steve Austin, and Vince McMahon grab a microphone and exist. Those are ALL TIME great talents!
Why am I talking about Attitude Era Creative Teams? Just making the point that Vince McMahon had confidence, even when the WWE was under a 2.0 rating for Monday Night RAW during 1996-1997, to let a former WWE Magazine writer become lead Creative Team writer. He delegated significant duties to Russo and by 1999 with the invention of WWE Smackdown, Vince McMahon was trusting that Vince Russo could also handle that show. Now, history shows that Russo did not want to run 2 primetime WWE shows and thus Vince Russo bolted to WCW to become leader writer there. And what happened to WCW during 1999-2000? BAD storylines and caused WCW to further circle the drain! When Vince Russo is unfiltered, he is a complete disaster. Without guys like Vince McMahon, Jim Cornette, Pat Patterson, or even Jim Ross as VP of Talent Relations (HEY, that's more Vince McMahon delegation!) calling Russo's bullshit, Russo can flood an entire promotion with bullshit. See WCW during 1999-2000 and TNA Wrestling at anytime.
After Vince Russo left WWE during 1999, the WWE promoted a television writer that they recently hired named Chris Kreski to become lead writer from late 1999 through late 2000. While you may question why the WWE would care about Kreski's resume of writing for Mtv or Comedy Central, but the point about Kreski is that he's a CREATIVE WRITER. He wrote comedy for many years and to be effective at comedy, you need timing. You can't just throw joke after joke out there, you have to work on the time and delivery. When he became the lead WWE writer, he introduced actual storyboards that are typically used in television or movies to help with continuity of long-term storylines. If you look at much of 2000, the storylines are very fluid and consistent. I easily argue that the Kreski era of the WWE was the best produced WWE television ever. Again, Vince McMahon trusted that guy to lead...
And then, in the moment I believe Kreski was shot down, the whole Kurt Angle / Stephanie McMahon angle. If you remember that storyline, Kurt Angle had a crush on Stephanie McMahon and Kreski appeared as he was using that to not only create tension between Triple H and Stephanie, but to build Kurt Angle as a charter as well. Something happened, as Triple H made short work with Kurt Angle in the ring and Angle's love for Stephanie soon ended. By late 2000, Stephanie McMahon was promoted to lead creative writer while Kreski was around as a consultant. By 2002, Kreski moved on and sadly by 2005, he passed away. Stephanie McMahon ruled the WWE Creative Team until last year when Triple H took it over.
Another good example of Vince McMahon putting faith in other people was the RAW/Smackdown brand extension of 2002. The delegation was Stephanie overseeing both brands, although having a greater involvement with RAW, while the newly hired Hollywood writers would write for RAW and Paul Heyman would actually serve as lead Smackdown writer. And wouldn't you know, Smackdown regularly outrated RAW from 2002-2003, the main periods of time when Heyman booked? But that's another discussion... Point being, Vince McMahon trusted others with power and authority.
Talent Relations... Need I say more? During the late 1990's and through 2002, Vince entrusted Jim Ross to manage the company's talent in terms of contracts and the developmental system. Vince doesn't have time to scout talent and oversee their development in an independent wrestling setting. That's what you hire other managers to do... Then, when Jim Ross stepped down, John Laurinaitis stepped in. Laurinaitis struggled mightily at first, but I'd argue that the current WWE is restocked thanks to Laurinaitis getting better at his job with time. Now, Vince McMahon has placed 100% confidence in Triple H to run the WWE developmental system. Hell, Vince even let Triple H build a brand new state-of-the-art facility down in Florida to do so.
Delegation, delegation, delegation...
Oh, and how about Kevin Dunn? He has Vince's full faith and confidence as WWE Executive Producer and has done so for years. Dunn's integrity is untouchable and Vince has given him insane amounts of creative freedom towards WWE's television production.
Don't forget that Vince McMahon let his own wife, Linda McMahon, be CEO/President of the WWE for many years. Yeah, I know that it was a switch for the 1994 steroid distribution trials, but it became permanent. Linda had some real executive talent and was a profitable CEO of the company. She wasn't a figure head, either, as that was the basis of her running to become a Senator. Vince trusted her with legitimate CEO company duties and I can imagine that he quietly relies on her business mind for other things, off the radar, to this day.
My point is this folks... Vince McMahon delegates. You can only manage your company up to the standards of the sum of all of the parts in the company. During the 1980's and 1990's, Vince McMahon surrounded himself with former pro wrestlers or people with lots of wrestling experience in some fashion. Or, he'd hire guys with track records as legitimate creative writers like Chris Kreski and Vince Russo.
But now, he's surrounded himself with family members instead. That's a BIG CHANGE to what Vince McMahon has done in the past, particularly since Stephanie/Triple H have been able to hire their direct reports. The writing team of the WWE has been like a revolving door, as the WWE is not exactly getting top notch Hollywood writers. What they're getting are guys who have failed in Hollywood and for good reason. Worse yet for the WWE, the PG era is neutering any hiring capabilities because they can't someone who has written for a top television drama or something airing on HBO/Showtime. Blame it on USA Network's Standards & Practices or the WWE morphing into a Corporation, they are probably very limited on who they can hire.
That's why you need WRESTLING personnel to become your led writers. You could argue that the WWE has that now with Triple H, but in my opinion, he's thinned himself out. He's (a) a wrestler, (b) EVP of Talent, (c) EVP of Live Events, and (d) EVP of Creative. Oh yeah, he has children at home and if he wants to maintain himself in his 40's to be a wrestler, lots of weight training involved. Too much responsibility on his shoulders and much of it is self-inflicted. When you're that thinned out, you become a B+ player as a WWE Executive...
Meanwhile, the WWE actually has 2 guys with booking experience on the roster with Paul Heyman and Dutch Mantell, or as you better know the latter one as "Zeb Colter". I'm very convinced that the WWE keeps Paul Heyman around just to keep him away from TNA Wrestling. TNA showing interest in Heyman was the best thing financially for him... But instead of contributing to the creative team, Heyman is a manager. Granted, he's an effective one, but he has legitimate creative talent. See ECW and see Smackdown 2002-2003. Their successes speak for themselves. I believe that Heyman had some creative input into the whole storyline arc of CM Punk during 2013 and wouldn't you know it, it was the best reason to watch WWE programming that year.
I've always contended that Mick Foley would be the PERFECT writer for any booking team. He's a guy who is (a) former wrestler, (b) former wrestler who didn't have the look but got over by other means, and (c) a creative writer. He's the perfect storm that any company should want to deliver a quality product to fans. I don't think he wants to put in the time, though, unless he had full creative freedom. I'm LOVING his Tweets and other comments lately on WWE storylines without having that WWE employment hanging over his head. Freedom is nice!
Steve Austin has NEVER been given a proper shot at booking a company by himself. The guy knows the business and he knew how to get himself over huge with his character. I've always contended that TNA Wrestling should go after BOTH Jim Ross and Steve Austin to run their company, but that's just me.
Anyway - Point is that Vince McMahon trusts in his management team and he's putting too much trust into his family right now. Vince, himself, isn't writing the scripts. He's only approving them. If you get 4 scripts during the day and they are all of poor quality, you'll still have to select the best one.
I agree fully that the "buck stops here", as Harry Truman once put it. But I'll bust out another quote from a poem written by John Donne: NO MAN IS AN ISLAND.
I'm sure everyone gives their own family the "benefit of the doubt" compared to other people they deal with. I can guarantee that.
SO JUST CHILL... 'TIL THE NEXT EPISODE!
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