August 27, 2012
Should WWE fire its writers?
By MATTHEW BYER - SLAM! Wrestling
For the last several years the most common lament about issues with the quality of WWE's television and PPV programming has been that the problems can be lain at the feet of the Hollywood writers which the company has hired. As the WWE has gone more corporate the impression that has been given to the public is that wrestlers have less and less freedom to improvise and be creative when on camera. So the question becomes is there any truth to this impression and what should be done.
In an interview shortly after he retired Shawn Michaels was quoted as saying how glad he was to no longer have to censor himself when he was on camera because of how difficult it was to remember everything they wanted him to say and to not say. Michaels is without a doubt one of the greatest of all-time not only in the ring, but also cutting promos and vignettes that are entertaining and draw the audience in. Yet this sentiment he expressed clearly indicates that by the time he retired things had changed from the days when he and Triple H would go out as part of the newly formed Degeneration X in the late 1990s and cut promos that shocked the audience. It is readily apparent that even Michaels was having to follow the scripts that the writing team was coming up with.
If the very thought of someone as creative as Michaels having to follow a script seems strange, imagine how it is for the young talent in the WWE. There have been too many moments over the last several years where there's been a young wrestler in the ring clearly struggling to remember what he or she is supposed to say and that is not because of stage fright. It's due to the wrestler having to remember the exact words that they've been given to say. Not everyone is cut out to be an actor, but that doesn't mean that a wrestler couldn't be successful if they were allowed to improvise what they want to say in the ring. The problem is that many are not being given that chance.
Even the WWE Champion CM Punk doesn't seem immune to having to follow a script nowadays. Everyone who has followed wrestling over the last several years remembers CM Punk's sizzling "pipe bomb" promos from the summer of 2011 when the audience was hanging on his every word. They were absolutely riveting and you could clearly see Punk's personality coming through in each and every one of them because he likely had input into them. Fast forward to 2012 and clearly Punk doesn't seem to be given the same degree of freedom to say what he wants. His promos are almost primarily focused on talking about being the best in the world instead of some of the more personal thoughts he expressed in the summer of 2011. While the audience is still interested in what Punk has to say, he just doesn't seem to have the same invested interest in what he's saying to the audience. He seems as if he's being stifled and micro-managed in what he says -- and this is the WWE Champion!
So clearly whatever the exact approach that is being used with writers in WWE is having an effect on the performance of the wrestlers in the company. The methodology that's been used seems to have made many performers more hesitant in what they say and characters that are tame, a bit bland, and somewhat generic. Many components of the audience point to the WWE Attitude Era as a time they wish the performers of today would follow as a path to a more entertaining product, but that may not be possible because of several key circumstances being different.
Nowadays the WWE is a publicly traded company and with that comes having to answer to a board of directors and ultimately the shareholders. Typically when a company goes public it tends to start to play it safe and tries to simply copy past successes without taking the chances that made something successful in the first place. In that kind of environment creativity only comes to the forefront when the company's fortunes decline. A great example of this was Apple. Only when Apple's fortunes were on the decline did they bring back into the fold Steve Jobs who they then gave the free reigns to introduce and create all sorts of products which have captured the world's attention like the iPhone, iPod, and iPad. With the passing of Jobs it remains to be seen if the company will still continue to be a trendsetter or if it will try to play it safe again.
Another factor that likely led to the current creative environment within WWE is Linda McMahon's run in 2010 and 2012 for a seat in the United States Senate. While the movement towards a more PG product in the WWE began prior to 2010, McMahon's Senate run had to have been a factor prior to that because to have any chance McMahon would have needed to be able to show that the company she is most closely associated with was safe for families and children. The product that the WWE sold during the Attitude Era, while very lucrative, generated a great deal of criticism from various groups that wrestling wasn't appropriate for children anymore. So a lot of the restraints that wrestlers find themselves operating under can likely be traced to the desire to stifle those who might criticize Linda McMahon during this year's Senate run.
Ultimately, the great question is whether or not the WWE should fire their writing team, which reports directly to Stephanie McMahon Levesque. The answer is that the problem is not so much the writers themselves, but how they're being used. In the comic book industry there has often been a separation between those who write the plots and those who write the scripts. The plots give the over-arching storyline and where to go with the characters, while the scripts are where the actual words for the stories are hammered out. The writers in the WWE need to be the ones that deal more directly with the plots for each of the storylines, while they need to collaborate with the wrestlers to work out the scripts for the promos and vignettes. By doing so the wrestler will have a greater investment in what he/she is saying to the audience and will be able to get across their character in a more natural way.
If the WWE doesn't change course no amount of the occasional drop-in by a star such as Brock Lesnar or The Rock will be able to boost the ratings and eventually the audience will begin looking for alternatives. One of those alternatives could become TNA and really this situation leaves TNA a wide opening to be able to grow and take a greater market share because it is not faced with the same creative restrictions that the WWE is.
The WWE needs to remember that its worst enemy is complacency. After all, if history is any indicator no one is on top for the long term without innovation and taking chances.
Matthew Byer is a Senior Project Manager who lives and resides in Victoria, BC. He thinks until the 2012 elections are over in the United States that it's unlikely we'll see huge changes in the WWE product. However, with breakthrough stars such as Austin Aries and Bobby Roode it's clear that TNA may have recognized what an opportunity it has now at growing the company's market share.