Originally Posted on 2-15-03Hello, my intended...
Well, I have to admit it's been a bit hectic in what we laughingly call the real world of late. The bad news is that they couldn't fix my laptop... But the good news is that they replaced it, and here I am again pounding out an article for your amusement that I can only hope is worth the wait while still struggling to adjust to the kludgy environs of Windows XP. But I digress...
Crikey, what a train wreck this last couple weeks was, huh? Quite a bit has been going on in wrestling. Stone Cold Steve Austin laid it all on the bottom line in 'his side of the story' posted in Raw Magazine, and is returning at No Way Out to give the buyrate a shot in the arm - and Uncle Eric a shoe in the ass. Bischoff is probably still leaving shortly afterwards, perhaps as a condition of Austin's return. Smackdown got it's ass kicked in the ratings because most people wanted to see Michael Jackson admit to sharing his hot milk and cookies with young boys, and that he can cure cancer... Cure cancer? At least he didn't say he did it by waving his magic wand.
Here's the thing: I still like wrestling. I'm not one of those fans that flip-flops more than Jeff Hardy making the heel/face call. I'm stubborn - that, or too damn stupid to know when to hang it up. Yes, there are things terribly, horribly wrong with the product at the moment. Yes, the powers that be are completely clueless that what they're producing is not what the fans want - or DO know it, and just don't give a rat's ass. Either of the VInce's currently steering what amounts to the 'Big Two' are apparently unconcerned with anything but swinging their respective cocks around and toss in occasional bits of action so they can still call themselves a wrestling promotion. The strange thing is that the talent is aware of it, and either rolls around in the mud of apathy or busts their asses trying to 'rise above' the shyte that happens outside the squared circle. The funny thing seems to be that the more the talent tries to prove themselves 'above the crud' the more the respective crudmasters shove their noses in it. Talk about getting the rub-off.
Let's examine. On the one hand, you've got Eric Bischoff. The man who used to hold the record for losing the most money in a single year while running a wrestling promotion, until 2002 rolled around. Heh. Gotta love Vince. Always topping the competition. Bischoff was the guy, at least according to Roddy Piper, that had no idea how the business worked, but tried real hard while getting bulldozed from all sides by the Ego Crew. Hey, I can relate to that. I've run jobs that happened to have 'old guards' when I stepped in that would pull me aside and try to explain 'how things worked around here'. The difference between Bisch and myself was that he listened to it. I made a few key cuts to make sure things ran smooth. It's a difference in management styles. I didn't have a bottomless well of money to keep things going no matter how useless a guy was to the job. I don't care who you know, or why you think I should 'keep you happy'; if you can't get it done, I'll find someone that can. It's very simple. Was I popular with the other members of the old guard when I laid off a few of their pals? Nope. But they did their work and kept their fucking mouths shut. The priority was getting the work done. If you liked me, fine. If you didn't, fine. I wasn't there to be elected President. I was there to get the job done. If you weren't, I didn't need you. We call it 'negative reinforcement'. When you screw up, you hear about it. Screw up too much, and you're gone - serving as an example to others. Result: Screwups decrease. That is good.
If you can get it done, though..? If you produced - or even better, went over and above the call - I would take care of you on the 'off days'. If you needed to leave early or had to do something for the kid, I would back you up. It's called 'positive reinforcement'. My reputation running the work is, depending on who you ask, "Captain Fucking Bleigh" or "Treats You Right". Guess which opinion is from the 'workers'? I've fired people that I consider friends, because they couldn't get the job done. It's not personal. It's business.
On the other hand, you have Stephanie McMahon. Basically 'given' her spot due more to her surname than her service, she's in charge of the steerage of the entire product as the 'head writer' and has apparently aimed the airplane into the side of the mountain. She's more intent on making her boyfriend the 'star' he's convinced her he's supposed to be than making the product interesting or even watchable. Nothing against the guy, but he's always struck me as more of a George or Ringo than a John or Paul. He's good enough to be in the big tent, but not the center ring, except occasionally. Most of the time he's on, he's talking about other people anyway, as if he can get over by name-dropping people that are/were over. Sadly, mentioning these 'other' people doesn't serve to inflate his value, even if he did 'kick all their asses' - it serves to remind the fans that he's what they have INSTEAD of these people. The fans, in case no one noticed, aren't thrilled and have been turning away in droves. 'Oh, that's just the cyclical nature of the business' they say. I say it's bullshit. The fans can't make them understand where they're coming from by booing the guy, because he's allegedly a heel and is supposed to be booed. This leaves us with one other option, and it's sending them to the big pink room sooner rather than later.
Strangely, they don't seem to care. "It's not about the marks," they say haughtily, "those guys cheer who we tell them to cheer. And as for those supposed smarts, they may bitch and moan, but they still watch. As the song says, 'You can't please everyone, so you got to please yourself.'" Thus we see that it's not business at work. It's personal. And even the MARKS know it these days.
But, Bobo, where's this heading? Sigh. For the slow class, the problem seems to be that if they'd just listen to their customers - and gave them what they wanted - they'd still be in the chips. Let's consider... You go into a diner and you ask them for a steak and eggs... Simple, right? They make you wait twenty minutes, and then they bring you a chicken cutlet with asparagus. You've got three options, send it back and hope they get it right next time, tell 'em to pound it up their ass and leave, or eat what they brought you. With wrestling it's a little different, as the line between 'waiting for them to get it right' and 'eating what they bring you' is a bit blurry. More than a bit, actually... Closer to a bit and bridle. So we'll examine some of the 'major players' here, and I'll toss my two cents in to help you make sense of things. I'll use their real names since it seems to go beyond 'playing their part'.
Steve Williams: The whole 'TV Writers Experiment' is a bust. Nobody's denying it. When even Stone Cold Steve Austin can tell something isn't working now, and won't get any better any time soon - it's time to step back and take a new perspective (which he did, with his ball). Not to say that the Bionic Redneck isn't a smart guy. Walking out when he did - just before the shit hit the fan - stands as proof of his acumen, savvy, and plain common sense. He didn't pull an Austin, though - he pulled a Seinfeld. Go out while you're on top (because the only place you can go from the top is down), and let them beg you to come back... The difference here is that Austin's actually going back. Oh well, nobody's a genius EVERY day, right? Besides, I hear lawyers willing to go to bat for wifebeaters get expensive. My issues with the guy because of his personal failings aside, I'm actually looking forward to him returning. Why? Because then Jonny X will return to recapping Raw, and I'd put up with almost anything to have him back doing that. Holy shit, it worked! Uh, y'know, winning the Lotto would sure make an Austin return a whole lot easier to take, also... Heh. Comparable Diner Fare: Steak. Nothing fancy, but at least there's not too many ways to screw it up.
Jean-Paul Levesque: You want to know what's funny? I wanted to like the guy. I really did. When he battled back from that quad injury that sat him out all those months, I was somewhat impressed. When he took the title from Jericho, I was relieved. But you know something? Being hurt as bad as he was changed him. He proceeds through his matches a mere shell of the 'hell of a hand he was back in 2000'. Why? Fear, by my estimation. When you look at it, his sudden metamorphosis to a monster heel is proof positive he's paying attention. What 'characters' take the least amount of bumps in the wrestling business? The unstoppable monsters. What 'characters' have the shallowest movesets in wrestling? The unstoppable monsters. It makes sense that he'd 'rather play the heel', when you think about it. Good guys take bumps. Lots of bumps. The idea being that the good guy battles back against the odds to get the crowd pulling for him before the payoff. But a guy that would 'rather not' do that after an injury strikes me as someone that is suddenly scared of horses after falling off once. If you don't get right back in the saddle, you simply never will. He didn't. Comparable Diner Fare: Hamburger. You can dress it up a million different ways, but it's always gonna be bland beneath it all. Here's a hint: with a little oatmeal - say half a cup per pound, you can make it go much farther than it would normally. We call that 'filler'. The trick is not to use too much, otherwise it becomes obvious to the patrons they're not getting your money's worth, and you lose customers.
Mike Hickenbottom: Only a fool would think that the Heartbreak Kid isn't still a major player. Sure, he's lost a few steps since his debut so many years ago as a Ricky Morton knockoff, but he's cruising on the same nostalgia pop that's got Hogan back in there. However he managed to swing it, he's a guy that's held every belt they ever had and never ONCE lost them in a match to someone he didn't want to give the strap to in the first place. Is the guy past it and holding on for a glory run that does the company no good at all? Duh. But the company has always been second to the guy, so it's not really a surprise. He's got the gift of gab, that's not in question, but rather than become the Fred Blassie or Bob Heenan of his generation that could draw heat to anybody they paired him with, he'd prefer to 'give the rub-off' to the next generation by either trouncing them handily at every turn (Jericho) or showing up after they manage to do something themselves in a process I call 'heat transfer' (RVD) to attach himself to their accomplishments by raising/shaking their hand or nodding in approval like some proud pappy. It makes me think he was trained by Hansen, who's famous for saying, "Fuck getting the match over - get yourself over." The HBK could stay a steady draw for years to come without stepping into the ring once, but it's apparent he'd rather never win an award for a starring role than win for years in a supporting one. Too bad, really. What Would Jesus Say? Comparable Diner Fare: Pork Chops. Some people love them, some people won't touch 'em with a ten foot fork. You might think it's tasty, but it's not too good for you in large doses.
Terry Bollea: I never liked the Hulkster. Ever. Whether he was that big 'superhero' type with the prayers and vitamins, or that scurrilous rascal that held onto the WCW strap by gang run-in, the guy never really impressed me. Sure, he has charisma and all that, but the fact is that he's been running on fumes for years. Could Hogan elevate the younger talent as a manager? Sure. But he's never been one to play second fiddle either. Hell, I think Hogan would make a great color commentator. The guy can talk, and he knows what the hell is going on in the ring - even if he can't do it anymore. Shit, a show with Hogan and Michaels doing the announce duties could draw fans in without either of them taking one bump, and they could lend their star power to the overall product as well as putting the new generation over. Some of the best announcers have been wrestlers themselves, let's not forget... Monsoon, Heenan, Ventura, Lawler - and to a lesser extent Zybysko, Piper, Stevie Ray, and Rhodes; all lent something 'extra' to the product that they'll never be able to get from the sorts of dinks they have in Coachman, Cole or any other 'geek' type they toss in. Hogan would be HUGE in either the face or heel persona - Jesse Ventura times ten huge; and while he wouldn't be pulling in the sort of dough he'd get from Wrestlemania, he'd sure maintain a steady draw with minimal wear and tear. It's not like he'd have to leave the ring forever, either, since they still use Lawler once in a while... Comparable Diner Fare: Chicken. The old standby that everyone can digest, provided it's prepared correctly. Just don't leave it out too long, because then it turns to poison.
That about covers the movers and shakers on the performance end... The creative end, now. Let's examine the current crop of guiding lights...
Vince McMahon: Vince has by his own admission been tapped for ideas since the necrophilia angle, likely before it, but still won't accept that his batting average has dipped sharply since he's become 'the only game in town'. Why? The short answer is there's nobody left to steal talent and/or angles out from under. The long answer is that he's convinced himself that he can't go wrong, and God help you if you don't agree. Ego running wild. A stubborn refusal to accept that he's lost touch with his target audience while doggedly churning out 'what worked before' because it's all he knows TO do. Remember the WCW? He's not copying them, folks... He's copying the AWA. Right down to what killed them. If that's not poignant enough for you, there's always the Von Erich parallels, wherein the fate of the company was laid on the shoulders of someone that just couldn't get the job done, no matter how hard he was pushed or who he went over. Comparable Cooking Level: Short Order Cook. He can make just about anything you want, just try not to ask for anything too fancy, since there's other people waiting.
Stephanie McMahon: The head writer for the entirety of WWe (Thank you, Daddy). Stephanie has largely risen beyond her 'annoying' on-air persona as some screeching harridan and is now a 'no-nonsense business maven'. What a difference forty pounds makes. Heh. The girl has some issues, primary among them is learning her booking method from Pat Patterson. Either that, or she's WAY too stupid to be in charge of the company's direction. We've all heard the story about Vince shouting at Shane for palling around with the Ultimate Warrior... You'd think he'd have warned Steph while he was at it. As I see it, the head writer is responsible for the shitty product that gets in Vince's hands for approval. If she wasn't Daddy's Little Girl, she'd have been bounced ages ago - and if you don't believe me, consider Russo as evidence. Not that everything that's been done is total shyte, mind, but when someone that isn't over is still being crammed down everyone's necks because he's 'in tight' with the powers that be is no way to run the place. Look at the evidence in history... Dusty Rhodes and his pals. Ole Anderson and his pals. Bill Watts and his pals. Kevin Sullivan and his pals. Eric Bischoff and his pals. Every instance was a pure fustercluck, and shows that the only personal connections you should try to enhance in the grap game is the one with your fanbase. You wanna push Friends and Family? Go work for MCI. The Billion Dollar Princess is a good character, and she's becoming very skilled at the sort of over the top mugging fans get a kick out of from her dad. If she can ever manage to distance herself from getting too involved with the help, she can probably get things working - but as long as she's determined to find some way to get her boyfriend over, everything else will continue to decline. You can boff who you like, hon - just don't expect US to love him as much as YOU do and you'll be okay. Comparable Cooking Level: Housewife. There's stuff she can do, and stuff she can't. And if you won't eat what she makes, you can just go without.
Paul Heyman: Say what you like about the guy, he's pretty much the only thing holding the product out of completely drowning in the toilet. He managed to get Brock Lesnar over as a monster, then when he didn't need to do that for him anymore, he put him even FURTHER over as an avenging face while simultaneously putting the Giant and Team Angle over. His storylines are so obviously better than the other contributors that I call the non-suck segments of Smackdown (hot matches for example) as 'Paul E. Time'. He's got the attention to detail us net geeks enjoy (remember when Angle told the crew to stay put, and they DID - resulting in Angle getting worked over? Paul E. Time) and the savvy to let the guys do what they do best. The guy enhances the talent's strengths, hides their weaknesses, and generally makes them care about the product. He goes to bat for the boys, and they respect him for it. They then take that respect and cut loose in the ring. Why? You work harder for a guy that treats you decent. It's just that simple. Motivated workers produce more and with higher quality. Comparable Cooking Level: Gourmet Chef. He can take a pile of ordinary ingredients and make something special every time. He can even get you to eat stuff you DON'T usually LIKE, and enjoy it to boot.
Vince Russo: This nasally voiced oxygen thief made himself a name as a writer in the 'Attitude Era' by - let's be honest - copying Paul Heyman's then niche market ECW. Yet Paul is some small time hack and Russo is a genius? Riiiight. Flash forward, and Paul's input is making Smackdown 'the good show', and Russo is shitting up Jerry Jarrett's 'alternative' promotion. How fucked up can you be when X-PAC won't work with you? I don't think it's measurable at that point. Folks, I've seen better segments than Russo's crayon scribbles on Jerry Springer. A guy that's not only bad for business, but who uses the business to satisfy his own ego and libido. Good Lord, did I just paraphrase PIPER? Oh well, just because you're nuts doesn't mean you can't be right once in a while, hmm? If you didn't think so, you probably wouldn't be reading me... Heh. I got nothing against T&A, but that's not supposed to be the focus of a wrestling show. If I wanted to see a show with nothing but toilet humor, I'd watch South Park. If I wanted to see a bunch of vacuous boob-jobs sleepwalking through what would need six rewrites before it got good enouh to qualify as a BAD script, I'd catch Baywatch. The guy is poison, and I marvel not that someone so obviously a recidivist scumbag has a fucking job in the business - I marvel that someone so unapologetically odious has a job, PERIOD. Comparable Cooking Level: Hot Dog Cart. He makes one thing, and not even all that well. You like it better the less you know what's in it. Luckily for him, there's still people stupid enough to buy it, but it's not very good for them.
So where do we go? Time's running out for us, as well... Vince is used to 'waiting us out' until we just give up and eat the damn chicken cutlet he continues to bring out and give up on the steak and eggs. Personally, I'm not about to give up. I want my goddamn steak and eggs, and you better not fuckin' so much as dream about possibly planning to consider spitting in them, either, you greasy fuckstick. Because I will hop this goddamn counter and stuff you right up that fuckin' stupid paper hat feet first. Oops. Customer Relations flashback... Sorry. (Ahem)
On the plus side, at least he's getting better at cooking chicken cutlet... Heh.
You're welcome. See you SOON.