Jarrett's rebooking of WCW full of pearls of wisdom
FRED JOHNS - SLAM! Wrestling
I have to admit I have never watched a "shoot interview" before, or anything, really, where there's just one or two people talking to a camera for 90 minutes. I guess I always wondered how much fun one could have listening to someone talk for an hour and a half about wrestling. Wouldn't your time be better spent actually watching wrestling? I mean, at least that way there's some guaranteed entertainment. How entertaining can it be to listen to some old guy rant about the past and reminisce about ancient memories? The idea of this makes even The O.C. sound like a good show.
It turns out, however, that shows put out by Kayfabe Commentaries are actually a fair bit better than The O.C. and like-minded shows. At least the one Commentary I saw -- and I know other writers that work for this website have also praised the work of Sean Oliver, the man behind this innovative production company. Oliver's idea was to give wrestling fans something different, an insight into the business rarely found anywhere else. To that end, he has created a series of DVD interviews, where wrestlers of the past and present do everything from talk about their own careers to hypothesize alternate wrestling realities. This is what was done in Guest Booker with Jerry Jarrett, the latest in the Guest Booker series. This is the first disc from Kayfabe Commentaries I had ever watched and as I said, I went into it with few expectations.
The premise of this particular DVD was that legendary promoter Jerry Jarrett, the father of wrestler Jeff Jarrett, would re-book the struggling World Championship Wrestling (WCW) company starting in in the year 2000. "Just what on earth can get WCW back in the race?" the DVD cover asks, then suggests that Jerry Jarrett has all the answers. The 90-minute DVD is essentially Sean Oliver picking the brain of Jarrett to find out what he would have done differently than the doomed did to "resurrect WCW." Not the easiest of tasks, but I have to admit it was an intriguing idea for an interview and a DVD.
The first thing I noticed listening to the legend speak was how absolutely uncharismatic he was. Not that I was expecting Ultimate Warrior energy from a man well into his late sixties, but a little energy might have been something to see. The second thing I noticed was how smart Jerry Jarrett is. In the first five minutes, he throws out several little pearls of wisdom anyone looking to promote a successful wrestling company would do well to write down.
"Vince [McMahon] has built a corporation around a wrestling company," Jarrett explained to Oliver as if he was talking to a small child. "I told [WCW writer Vince] Russo at the time, 'and you're wanting to build a wrestling company within a corporation. That's not going to work.'"
Another little nugget of trivia contained within the DVD's initial minutes is the revelation that Jerry actually worked for the WWE and WCW as a paid consultant... at the same time. While he was working for Vince, Russo called him and offered him the consulting job. "He said I could work with him as a consultant, talk with him over the phone and give him some advice. And I said, 'Boy, that sounds like a good job,' so Eric [Bischoff] hired me."
But Jarrett was only a consultant; it was Bischoff and Russo that made the big, final decisions. Turns out it might have been a good idea for them to have paid a wee bit more attention to Jarrett. Jarrett said that things in WCW were too complicated and just needed to be simplified. The trick, he said, was truly motivating the wrestlers and actually giving them a reason to care. This wasn't being done in WCW in 2000, he recalled, calling the fledging company "mismanaged from top to bottom."
Intriguingly enough, Jerry Jarrett actually tried to buy WCW when it was for sale. Talking with some financial advisers, Jarrett cobbled together a business plan and put in a bid for an incredible $70 million. Vince McMahon, the eventual owner of WCW, bought it for a sum that is widely thought to be around $5 million. We know what happened after that, but what would have happened had Jarrett actually been able to buy the company? What would his battle plan have been?
His first decision would be to hold a major staff meeting. It was well known back in those early days of the new century that the WWE was poaching stars from WCW. Jarrett had an idea for how to stop the bleeding and, admittedly, it is pretty ingenious even if it is told in a pretty bland way. He also had a suggestion how to motivate the wrestlers, adding, "When you take hope away from a wrestler, you take away his soul."
After this hypothetical staff meeting, it's back to basics. To further explain this, Jarrett uses a questionable Sylvester Stallone analogy, which goes something like this: if Apollo Creed had beat the snot out of Rocky in Rocky II, that would have been the end of the movie franchise right there. "[The fans] sure wouldn't come back to see Rocky III," he said glibly. The same mindset can be applied to wrestling. "Fans don't want to be outsmarted," he said, "they want to be entertained."
To that end, Jarrett lays out a very specific plan over the course of the next year that would -- he believes -- take WCW from death's door to dominating the WWE. And he does it not by creating a lot of convoluted, complicated storylines, he just goes back to basics. "Wrestling is Shakespeare for the illiterate," he quipped, only half-joking. Fans, he argued, don't want to think too much when they watch a wrestling show. Jarrett's plan shows this idea in action, as he trims a roster of 60 to a roster of 30, with some surprising choices. (You won't, for example, believe who gets a title shot in the first two months in this alternate-WCW reality.) Less surprising is who he selects to be take Sid Vicious' title off him, since Jarrett decides not to strip current champions of their titles, although he does eliminate a few belts.
All of Jarrett's plans are neatly presented in the DVD, both on Sean Oliver's giant notepad and on-screen as well. This is a cool feature that shows the timeline in its full totality. You can actually see a pattern unfold, one that looks pretty damn good. It's a safe bet that all us armchair bookers would probably do things differently, but that wouldn't make our ideas necessarily better. Remember, Jarrett has been promoting wrestling since his mid-teens and he took a Tennessee wrestling company from being a complete loser to a total sell-out. There's no question this man knows his stuff, and seeing the first year of his ambitious plan, it's not hard to see how it might have made Vince McMahon sweat a little.
I was hoping Oliver would ask Jarrett a little bit about TNA and the controversy involving his son Jeff, and, initially, my hope was rewarded. But the discussion never really gets going and it sounds as if much of it is still too painful for Jerry to share with an international audience. Those looking to get some insight into the father's mind when it comes to the son are better off looking on YouTube then hoping for such insight with this particular DVD. In fairness, though, the topic of this DVD is "Re-booking WCW", not "Prying Into Private Family Matters". All we can do is hope Kayfabe Commentaries will remember this idea for a future series.
But I thought the most meaningful moment by far in the DVD had nothing to do with WCW, but rather with Jerry's own health. He had some heart surgery done once or twice and the experience affected him deeply. During the interview with Oliver, he talks briefly about this, explaining why he doesn't stress so much on the current state of the pro wrestling universe. After Jarrett talks about his surgery, Oliver says, "There are bigger things than wrestling." And Jerry Jarrett just looks at him and nods his head. "There sure are," he says. "When you are on a cold metal slab in the Emergency Room, you don't think about wrestling or booking. You think about the things you didn't do in your life."
It seems like a fitting line to end the DVD on, considering the very hypothetical nature of the disc's subject matter. After all, this is not so much a DVD about Jerry Jarrett the Man or WCW the Company as it is a DVD about missed opportunity and lost success, success that could have been attained if certain powers that be had only listened. It's too late for them, but not for those of us still interested in learning from those who came before us. And for that reason, this is as good a way to spend 90 minutes as any I can think of.
Even if we'd still do everything completely differently.
Jerry Jarrett story archive
December 11, 2008: Kayfabe Commentaries raising the bar for wrestling DVDs
Previous SLAM! Wrestling reviews
Kayfabe Commentaries website
Fred Johns it the West Coast Correspondent for SLAM! Wrestling and has decided to start watching more shoot interviews.