The WWE Universe was shaken up in a big way last week. When it was announced last Thursday morning that Paul Heyman would be the Executive Director of Raw and Eric Bischoff would be the Executive Director of Smackdown, I was very surprised. As any WWE fan that follows the business on the internet knows, there are rumors about a lot of things. A lot of it is bullshit, but there are plenty of things that are true as well. I did not see this rumor anymore, so when it was announced, I had to do a double take.
Like a lot of you, I wasn’t sure what it meant. As the morning went along, we came to find out that Heyman would run Raw from behind the scenes and Bischoff would run Smackdown from behind scenes, but they still had to report to WWE’s Chairman and CEO, Vincent Kennedy McMahon. That’s not a surprise because Vince has been running WWE for nearly 40 years and as the primary owner of the company with the most stock options, he has the right to do as he pleases.
Heyman has a long history with WWE from when he ran ECW in the mid to late 1990s and he was getting help from Vince McMahon to keep it going. We didn’t know it at the time, but it was revealed after ECW died in 2001. Years earlier, Heyman was a photographer at WWF shows when he was in his teens. Heyman was a tremendous heel manager in WCW as the leader of the Dangerous Alliance and then he took over as the booker as well as owner of ECW when he was in his early 30s. In 2001, WWE hired Heyman as an announcer to replace Jerry Lawler until Lawler returned later that year. Heyman also joined the creative team, then he was put in charge of Smackdown for most of 2002 and had a great run there, but it was time to move on because he rubbed people the wrong way. For a brief time, Heyman got to run WWE’s OVW developmental system, then there was the failed ECW reboot in 2006, which saw Heyman lose his job in December 2006 after the disastrous December to Dismember PPV. Heyman wanted CM Punk to be put over strong as the new face of ECW, Vince wanted Bobby Lashley in that spot and that meant the end of Heyman in WWE. In 2012, Heyman was back with Brock Lesnar and also CM Punk. Heyman, who first managed Lesnar in 2002, has been with Lesnar on WWE TV for the past seven years. Now at 53 years old, Heyman is back in a powerful role as one of the men in charge of WWE’s three-hour flagship show known as Monday Night Raw.
Bischoff started as an announcer in the AWA in Minnesota, he tried out for the WWF, but they didn’t like him and he found a home in what would become WCW. A few years later, he became an Executive Vice President in WCW because Ted Turner was impressed by him. Bischoff suggested that WCW start Nitro in September 1995 on Monday nights opposite of WWE’s Raw show and Turner liked that idea. Within a year, WCW was beating WWE regularly and won the Monday Night Wars ratings battle for 83 straight weeks. (Bischoff is so proud of it that his podcast is called 83 Weeks.) Bischoff’s greatest idea in WCW was turning Hulk Hogan heel to lead the New World Order stable in the summer of 1996. They had a lot of success, but when the WWF got momentum in 1998 thanks to Steve Austin as the top guy, they passed WCW and WCW died in 2001 even though Bischoff had tried to buy the company. McMahon ended up buying WCW. A year after that in the summer of 2002, Bischoff was hired by WWE as the on-screen GM of Raw. He had no booking or creative control, but he was great as an evil boss over the next three years. Bischoff went on to help run TNA/Impact Wrestling from 2010 to 2013 and they tried to compete with WWE, but it didn’t work out. Now, Bischoff is back in WWE at the age of 64 with more power than he’s had in the business since WCW died nearly 20 years ago.
Why did I give you that brief history lesson? To remind you that Bischoff is a wrestling guy just like McMahon and Heyman. That’s where they are all similar and they all have a history of running a wrestling promotion. Obviously, Vince is the most successful of the three men, but he must see something in the other two men and that’s why they were hired for these jobs.
I have taken the last several days to unwind a bit and to think about these two well-established men in these roles. What I’m here to do today is go over ten questions that I have had about these hires and come up with ten answers to those questions.
1. Does adding Heyman and Bischoff really matter if Vince McMahon has full control as usual?
Time will tell. I hate starting off with a vague answer to that question, but I think that’s the question that most wrestling fans have right now. We all know Vince McMahon owns the company and has been booking every WWE storyline for nearly 40 years. We just don’t know if Heyman or Bischoff will really change things. My hope is that the 73-year-old Vince McMahon learns to trust other people more in terms of running with their ideas.
Another thing to remember is that Vince McMahon owns the XFL football league that is going to launch (or relaunch) next February. (Personally, I think it’s a bad decision by Vince, but he’s a billionaire, so he can do what he wants.) While Vince is not as hands-on this time compared to 2001 because he has hired Oliver Luck as the President of the XFL, he’s still going to be heavily involved. Once the XFL kicks off, Vince may take a bit of a step back from WWE, so having Heyman and Bischoff in these jobs could be Vince’s way of alerting those in the company that Paul and Eric are going to have a lot of influence.
There’s no way of knowing how much impact Paul and Eric are going to have until they are fully entrenched in their jobs. It may be a few weeks until that happens.
2. Were these hires done because of ratings and attendance going down?
Most likely, yes. I think it’s a reactionary business. You can change things for the sake of changing things up all you want, but when key business indicators are down then you need to react to it. Vince knows that as well as anybody. Ratings are down about 15-20% from last year, which was down from the year before, yet WWE got way more money in their new TV deals – over $2 billion for Raw and Smackdown over the next five years. Are people at home watching less TV in general? Absolutely. The top sitcom and dramatic TV shows have less live viewers than then they did ten years ago and much less than twenty years ago. Netflix has over 100 million users, not to mention all the other companies like Hulu or Amazon that offer users a different way to experience TV shows. People are watching live television less than they used to because we have more options. In other words, we are spoiled.
Getting back to the attendance issue, last week at Stomping Grounds was very telling. It is rare for WWE to only fill up about half of an arena for a PPV. Then the next night at Raw, there were about 3500 people. That’s very low for a typical Raw. Smackdown was even less with around 2000 people. Two days after that, WWE announced these hires. Apparently, the discussions were on for a couple of weeks, but clearly, after the bad business week that WWE had as well as ratings/attendance moving in a downward direction, they felt the need to announce Paul and Eric in these new roles.
3. What excites you the most about Paul Heyman running Raw?
Paul Heyman has one of the most creative minds out of anybody in the wrestling business in the last 30 years. I can remember an interview with Heyman where he talked about wanting to accentuate strengths as well as hide weaknesses. That’s what I expect him to do. If somebody is weak at promos, Heyman will give them a manager or limit what they have to say. Of course, all of it is dependent on Vince letting Paul do his thing.
One thing that Heyman did so well in ECW, as well as when he was running the show on Smackdown in 2002, is developing characters. One of the biggest issues in WWE right now is so many of the guys look the same. It feels like half the roster has long black hair with beards. They don’t stand out at all. When you think about ECW, it was such a different cast of characters with Raven as the moody heel, RVD as the cool stoner guy, Tommy Dreamer was the typical babyface, Sandman was the popular guy that loved to party, Sabu was the maniac and Taz was booked like a badass shoot wrestlers that could break anybody down. They weren’t repetitive or boring characters. They were different and it worked so well. Heyman is also very good at long term stories. That Raven/Dreamer feud was one of the best of the 1990s with Raven winning every match until Dreamer won the last match to finally end it.
I think what Heyman is going to bring to WWE is more well-defined characters. Heyman has been a regular in WWE for the last seven years, so he knows everybody on the roster. If you look at Raw right now, there are very few interesting gimmicks. I think with Heyman wielding more power, we might get something fresh for Braun Strowman, Bobby Lashley, Baron Corbin, Drew McIntyre and all of these other guys that could be doing a lot more.
When Vince McMahon talked to Heyman about getting this job, I sure hope Paul pitched him on several changes that he wants to do. Once again, it’s all up to Vince giving Paul the freedom to make those changes.
4. What’s a good thing that Eric Bischoff can bring to the Smackdown brand?
Long term vision. The best angle that Bischoff did while in WCW was obviously the formation of the New World Order in 1996. It was an invasion angle that was lifted from Japan, but to a lot of us in North American, it was fresh. That’s why it worked so well. When Bischoff had Hulk Hogan turn on WCW to form the NWO with Kevin Nash and Scott Hall, that was obviously a huge game changer for the company. The angle carried them for a couple of years as they built up babyfaces like Sting, Lex Luger, Diamond Dallas Page and Bill Goldberg as rivals of the NWO. The problem with the angle was that they didn’t know how to end it or when to end it, but Bischoff deserves a lot of credit for making it happen.
If you look at Bischoff’s run in TNA/Impact, the best thing he did there was start the Aces and Eights stable full of wrestlers that were bikers. It was another long term angle that took over six months to develop that helped make Bully Ray into the top heel in the company while using Hulk Hogan’s daughter Brooke as a pawn in the plan. Some of it was silly and it’s not like it turned TNA around into a consistently profitable company, but most of us that watched it happen will think of it fondly.
I don’t think Bischoff is great at coming up with gimmicks for wrestlers. I think he’s better at setting up the bigger angles, which is a good thing because a lot of WWE storylines feel like they only have a one or two-month story arc. The longest storyline in WWE is the Shane McMahon feud with The Miz, but I doubt many fans would say it’s that interesting. They need to be better in terms of presenting long term storylines. I think Bischoff can help with that.
5. Do you think the Wild Card Rule should end?
Yes! Absolutely yes! It should…but I don’t know if it will.
When WWE brought in the Wild Card Rule in May it was done to try to help ratings. The feeling was that if you get more top guys on Raw and Smackdown then it’s going to help the shows. If fans see Roman Reigns, Kofi Kingston, Becky Lynch and whoever on both shows then they might be more interested in watching. Have ratings or attendance improved? Nope.
I think after Extreme Rules on July 14, WWE should announce that the brand extension is in full effect again and there are no exceptions. The reason I say after Extreme Rules is because the card is mostly set right now, so it’s okay to keep going in that direction. Don’t give up on the brand extension, though. Enforce it and make it count because that’s the way to make both shows better.
6. Should Triple H be upset that he wasn’t given one of these “Executive Director” positions?
No. It’s a no because he’s already busy and he has plenty of years ahead of him where he could be given more responsibilities. Triple H turns 50 years old later this month, so he’s the future boss of WWE. I think Triple H is too busy right now to be given the responsibilities of running one of these shows while continuing to do what he does.
Triple H is currently the Executive Vice President of Talent, Live Events and Creative, which is the job title he has had since 2013. In other words, he is the real-life General Manager of WWE if you were to compare it to a sports team. He hires the wrestlers. It was a job that John Laurinaitis and Jim Ross have had in the past with Ross doing a better job of it than Johnny did. In addition to that, Triple H runs NXT as their main booker, he’s the main booker for NXT UK as well, he helps to run 205 Live, I believe he still is responsible for booking all WWE live events on the weekends and there are numerous corporate tasks that he has to do on a regular basis as well. The Executive Director position is a full-time commitment, so I don’t know if Triple H would even want to do it if that means he would have less time for his other responsibilities. Raw and Smackdown are important to WWE obviously, but Triple H and his team developing talent is also a vital part of WWE’s future as well.
If Vince McMahon retires or something unfortunate were to happen to him to cause him to not be the boss anymore, then I think Triple H will be the one to step into that position in terms of running WWE creative. For now, I think Triple H is in the best spot for him at this point in his life because he has done such a great job with NXT. Let’s see what he can continue to do heading into the next decade as well.
I think Triple H is very good at what he’s currently doing, especially in establishing the NXT and NXT UK brands. There’s no need to mess that up right now.
7. Should Heyman and Bischoff be on-screen General Managers again?
Since WWE announced Heyman and Bischoff as the Executive Directors of Raw and Smackdown, that makes me think that there are plans to put them in control on screen as well. The authority figure role isn’t fresh especially when you consider Bischoff was doing it in late 1996 and then Vince McMahon was doing it in early 1998. Since then, WWE has usually had somebody on screen that makes the matches the same way Shane McMahon is doing now.
With that said, if WWE were to eliminate on-screen management positions altogether then that’s fine too. Ideally, what they should do is what NXT does with William Regal. He is not on every show. He’s only there when there’s an important decision that needs to be made. He might be in the ring to moderate a contract signing too. That’s really it. We don’t need the authority figure to be all over the show.
The reason I would support Heyman and Bischoff in those roles is because of how great they are in terms of delivering their promos. If it were up to me, I would completely change things up and not have a figurehead on the shows. Give the time to the wrestlers that need it, not the boss.
In the video above, courtesy of my good friends at Inside the Ropes, Heyman isn’t a fan of it. I’m with him on that.
8. Should WWE have hired other people for these roles considering the numerous failures on the resumes of Heyman and Bischoff?
They could have, but I think Vince wanted to go with “executives” that he was familiar with. Since Vince has had a working relationship with Heyman for decades and he seems to respect Bischoff for beating him in the Monday Night Wars, it’s easy to see why Vince picked them. However, it’s fair to bring up the failures as well.
Heyman’s original ECW company lasted about seven years. Heyman was fired as Smackdown’s head writer in the first brand extension in less than a year, which I think was ridiculous, but that’s what happened. The ECW revival in 2006, which saw Heyman work under Vince again, lasted about six months when he was fired by Vince.
Bischoff’s run as President of WCW saw Nitro beat Raw for almost two years, but then WCW fell off a cliff and died within a few years. When Bischoff went to TNA/Impact, they had some moderate success at first although, by the time he was gone, they were in a worse spot than they were in before he got there.
I think if you’re Vince McMahon, the hope is that “time heals all wounds” and that each guy is able to learn from mistakes they made in the past. I don’t think Heyman or Bischoff are too old to be in the job they are in. I think their experience is a valuable commodity that Vince covets, so that’s why they are in this spot. While both have failed, they also deserve a lot of credit for the success they had in their careers.
9. Is Heyman the choice for Raw and Bischoff the right choice for Smackdown or should it be the other way around?
I think they are both in the right spot for this to work. The reason I say that is because Heyman has been around WWE regularly since 2012 and he has been helping creatively for several months while going to Raw and Smackdown every week. Heyman probably knows every one of the wrestlers on the main roster pretty well along with most of the people working backstage in WWE. Considering all of that, he was the right choice on the longer Raw show where they need three hours of content every week.
Bischoff hasn’t worked regularly for a wrestling company since he left TNA/Impact about six years ago and we all know they were a mess by that point. I think tossing him into the fire and having him try to run the three-hour Raw show would be a difficult task. Putting him on Smackdown, which hopefully remains at two hours (there are rumors that FS1 might get one hour of Smackdown), is the right move. Plus, Bischoff has produced numerous non-wrestling TV shows in his post WCW career and I think his experience in dealing with network executives should be seen as a positive when dealing with the bosses at Fox.
Just because Bischoff was the GM of Raw 15 years ago and Heyman was the GM of Smackdown 15 years ago does not mean they have to be running those shows in 2019. It’s all WWE. I think they are in the right spots where they are now.
10. Was this the right move for WWE to hire Heyman and Bischoff in these key roles?
I’m leaning towards a yes right now, but “time will tell” certainly applies here as well. It’s going to be months or maybe even years until we can really know if this was the right move. I’m sure that fans are going to overreact to the TV ratings as soon as this week even though Heyman and Bischoff are not going to be in charge yet. Even when they are in charge later this month, it’s still July, which is traditionally one of WWE’s slowest months. You know why? Because it’s summer. People like to go outside and do things until 10pm at night. They don’t need to stay in the house watching wrestling shows. Angry wrestling fans won’t care, though. They’ll overreact to everything.
The reason I am content with the move is that I really like Heyman. I have been wanting to see him in an executive role in WWE again. I didn’t know if it would ever happen, but I’m glad that it’s a reality. I am less fond of Bischoff, but I respect what he’s done and from listening to his podcast regularly, I think he has learned from a lot of mistakes that doomed him in WCW.
I hope this works out and makes the WWE product better. I’m a lifelong fan of the business that covers everything in-depth, so the more fun I have watching the shows, the more fun I will have writing about it too.
Best of luck to Vince, Paul and Eric. I really hope it works out…pal.
I probably could have asked another 50 questions about this, but I’ll leave it at that since I covered a lot here. All feedback is welcome in the comment section below, via email or social media.
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