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Huge shake-up of WWE Creative underway, will make little difference

Nm_mcmahon_070831_ms_medium are noting that Christopher DeJoseph is not the only creative release over the weekend: up to 4 other members of creative are gone too. This is apparently rooted in WWE unhappiness over dwindling ratings and ppv buyrates, and the aim is to get in some "fresh blood" and "new ideas" in there.  Dave Meltzer has since confirmed WWE are once again scouting Hollywood for new writers.

It would be easy to praise this move on WWE's part, and while it is ostensibly a step in the right direction, what often goes unmentioned when talking about creative team woes, is that it is not actually the writers that are the problem. Sure, some are rejected Hollywood hacks who couldn't make it elsewhere (long-term writer Brian Gerwitz springs to mind) but to claim that WWE has only hired untalented scribes is incorrect. It is actually the harshly political, creatively- stifling Yes-Man atmosphere that creates a problem with the writing team that cannot be solved simply by tossing out the old writers and bringing in new ones.    

Indeed, while many fans may label working for WWE's writing team as a "dream job" these people likely know little or nothing about the actual requirements of the job, which includes long hours, constant travelling and having to tiptoe around the volatile personalities of Vince McMahon and his daughter Stephanie, who has served as head writer since Chris Kreski's departure in 2000. For the record, no-one has ever been entirely sure what led to Kreski, one of the best writers the company has ever had, overseeing over a critically and hugely commercial product in late 1999 and 2000, departing from head writer position. Although Dave Meltzer, when asked about why Stephanie had replaced Kreski once on an episode of Wrestling Observer Live, stated bluntly that it had certainly not been Kreski's decision to leave: "Well, basically Stephanie wanted the head writer job. That's why." More after the jump.

It is certinaly not an easy job, as many former writers will readily attest to. Anyone who knows anything about wrestling will be criticised and dismissed as a loser or a dork; former writer Dr. Ranjan Chhibber noted to Powerslam writer Matthew Randazzo V that he had been scolded by Stephanie McMahon for "acting like a mark" after complementing John Lauranitis on some of his matches in Japan.  However, he conversely noted the difficultly in  dealing with wrestlers who considered him a Hollywood hack who knows nothing about wrestling ("You ain't one of those Hollywood writers out to ruin the business, are you?", Chhibber noted Patterson had accused him of.) When asked what his analyisis of this incredibly insecure backstage environment was, the well-studied and articulate Chhibber mused: "Wrestlers feel like anyone who wishes to belong to their club is too lame to be accepted."

Indeed, in that July 2008 Powerslam magazine article, Randazzo, aided by a plethora of quotes and horror stories from former WWE writers, many of whom were happy to go on the record, painted a scary picture of WWE Creative:

New writers learn that a creative team survivor is a writer who understands that the McMahon family's faith in their employees is fickle, and impossible to restore when lost. The key to survival is simple: caution, caution, caution. Always agree with the McMahon’s and their favourites, relentlessly curry their approval, never draw attention to yourself, never complain and never take a bold or risky step because a single stumble can be fatal.

The article also notes that, prior to the long-existing idea that WWE never hires talented writers or that people from Hollywood don't know anything and can't be good wrestling writers (Kreski, who died in 2005, was a Hollywood writer, and, as noted, few will argue his accomplishments in wrestling) it was the political atmosphere that stifled and sabotaged any new writer who may have had something useful to contribute:

"If a writer came in with any background that indicated they might be a success, the established crew would not quit until those writers were fired," says another WWE production source. "If you look at the writers who have survived in WWE for more that six months, their lack of any professional pedigree is obvious. It is not a coincidence that the Hollywood writers or the MTV producers or the Canadian academic have not survived in WWE: the top writers were extremely threatened by them and drove them to quit. One, in particular, is extremely rude to all new writers. To show his power, he orders them to get his food and coffee, and I have had three writers admit to me they gave him some "added flavour" over the years.

In a related note, former writer Dave Lagana (who managed to last a shockingly long 5 years from the company before being fired for reasons that have never fully been explained) when discussing the creative team with Bryan Alvarez in an interview earlier this year, noted that, during a conversation on an airplane with Brian Gerwitz, the duo had worked out that WWE had went through 50 writers in 5 years. Or 10 a year, to put it another way. By wrestling standards that is an astounding amount. Although when it was pointed out to him how high this humber was, Lagana seemed unwilling to place any blame on the company for the huge turnover, and instead claimed those fired were all "snooty" and "difficult". C'mon, Dave: All of them?   

In another interview, former WWE writer Dan Madigan (who has famously claimed Stephanie had yelled at him over the phone after he took time off from the European tour to spend time with his bereaved wife, after she had lost her father and suffered a miscarriage within a short period of time) had this to say:

"All the honest people I know on the writing team quit. I picture little girls and women doing that s*** going behind people's backs, gossiping, bickering, it's a nightmare." 

Madigan also noted that he had once had to be physically restrained by Paul Heyman after Madigan had tried to punch Dave Lagana after discovering Lagana had told a blatant lie to Stephanie about him in a bid to get him fired. Madigan also mentioned that while he had dealt with a lot of heavily political workplaces in his early career as a writer, WWE was considerably worse than all of them.  

The darkly humourous stories add up: Dave Meltzer noted in an issue of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter a year ago that Vince had, seemingly on a whim, decided that he had to have an urgent meeting with the creative team.  Vince, who has been known for his occasionally erratic behaviour, then demanded everyone fly down to his pad in Florida.  However, as soon as they all went through the (stressful) journey getting down there, Vince suddenly decided he doesn't want a meeting after all and they all had to fly back to Stamford for another meeting with Stephanie.  In another story that did the rounds, Stephanie was said to have had something akin to a nervous breakdown after her husband HHH had suffered his second torn quadicep muscle at the New Years Revolution PPV in Janauary 2007.  Backstage with the writing team and watching the monitor when the injury had occured, she fell to her knees, burst into tears and starting screaming "Noooooooo!" as if reinacting the ending of Godfather Part III.  While sympathetic to her plight (as anyone would be) the writers still felt incredibly awkward as they stood silently watching her, and wondered if Stephanie was perhaps slightly over-reacting.  

In another story, in which he went on the record, Dominick Pagliaro  (a writer from 2002 to 2004) noted how, in a bid to make some sort of conversation with his formidable boss, he had congratulated Vince on his success and asked how Vince had made it so big. Vince's response?"I've eaten s*** from everybody, every day of my life. That's all I do: I eat s***." Pagliaro was stunned into silence. 

Needless to say, at times like this, WWE backstage begins to resemble NBC's The Office, quite frankly, rather than a professional and competent business environment.  Possibly aware of the dreadful stories getting out, WWE has, according to Dave Meltzer, now written it into the contracts of any new writer that they cannot do interviews talking about their time in WWE after they have left.  

These Hollywood folks are often labelled out of touch with fans and  accused of ruining wrestling with bad comedy and nonsensical soap opera storylines, and occasionally the criticism is deserved. For example, in their infamous shoot with Highspots, Paul London and Brian Kendrick discussed how they had, frustrated by the stalling of their WWE careers, asked Dave Lagana just where their character where going. Lagana's response: "To the Taco Bell." And in the summer of 2004, there was also the story about the writer, as Bryan Alvarez reported in the F4W Newsletter, who had been fired after constantly calling up all the women wrestlers, to an almost stalkerish level, and generally giving them the creeps. 

However, ultimately, for the most part these are just regular people, like you or me, trying to keep a job in an awful ecomony and put food on the table. And that means keeping their mouths shut, acquiescing to Vince's whims, and doing their very best to blend in, lest they be labelled a threat by someone higher up the ladder and forced out. If none of them last or achieve success it's not truly their fault. It's the fault of a rigid power structure that outwardly encourages creativity, but actually expects total compliance and a distinct lack of creatively. When Vince and Stephanie change their attitude (and hopefully their behaviour) and become more open minded to other people's ideas, maybe buyrates and ratings will improve. Until then?  Well, they can hire every hotshot writer in Hollywood and it still won't make a bit of difference.

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