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Brian Gerwirtz: Absence does not make Vince McMahon's heart grow fonder

The downfall of Brian Gerwirtz has more to do with working from home for the past year, opening himself up to be buried by his rivals, than Monday Night Raw's ratings falling to a 15-year low point, which was just the catalyst to pull the trigger on a change that was inevitable sooner rather than later.

Top wrestler points fingers at Vince McMahon for Raw's recent ratings decline. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

As Geno Mrosko reported here on Monday, Brian Gerwirtz has been suddenly removed as WWE's head writer in response to Monday Night Raw's ratings falling to 15-year lows in recent weeks, but he remains employed by the company for the time being as a consultant. Gerwirtz was thought to be a WWE lifer in the chief writing position, but when you start taking that seniority for granted too much, eventually you will become unstuck, as so many others have been in the past like Earl Hebner, Dave Lagana and Bruce Prichard did (fired for selling bootlegged WWE merchandise, sexual improprieties and falling out of favour for being a lazy backstabber and taking too much time off for "personal issues", respectively).

The seeds for Gerwirtz's demise actually came long before Raw was changed to the new three hour format that made a fall in its ratings almost inevitable. The beginning of the end came when the WWE creative team was restructured last year to have a home and an away team, where some writers always attended WWE's TV tapings to help run the show and produce segments, while others worked from the comfort of their abode and focused on writing the scripts and making any necessary last minute edits and re-edits. In an understandable but perilous decision, after over a decade of being on the road, Gerwirtz opted to lead the home team where he would have a lot less face-to-face time with his boss, Vince McMahon. Predictably, this allowed his rivals to steal Vince McMahon's fickle attention away from him over time and to then pass the buck when the shit hit the fan last week.

As Wade Keller of reports, the main benefactor of Gerwirtz's demotion and the person who most likely stuck the knife in his back was Eric Pankowski, a former senior executive at Warner Bros. who was hired to be WWE's "Senior Vice President, Creative and Development" in February:

One of the reasons Brian Gewirtz was relieved of his duties was that his replacement, Eric Pankowski, had really impressed Vince McMahon and earned his trust over the last eight months since he was hired. Also, Pankowski is considered "a Triple H guy." Meanwhile, as has been reported, Gewirtz had been working a lot from home lately, hadn't been on the road much at all, and was only in the office a few days a week. While just a couple years ago Gewirtz was considered as close to McMahon and as trusted by McMahon as anyone besides family and Kevin Dunn, he has fallen out of favor since.

The lesson here is absence does not make Vince McMahon's heart grow fonder, as he has a "what have you done for me lately?" attitude where he lets no-one rest on their laurels, not even for a second. Any perceived lack of dedication to the WWE cause will be duly noted, which will quickly lead to having a permanent place in his doghouse. The perfect example of this is Jim Ross, whose descent into becoming McMahon's favourite good ol' punching bag was triggered by his decision to start winding down his office duties in Stamford, CT and move back home to Oklahoma.

Keller's account was matched by Bryan Alvarez in the subscriber only Figure Four Wrestling Newsletter, noting that Gerwirtz had been buried for being lazy and carrying himself around like his shit don't stink over the past year:

It was said that over the past year he only showed up in the Stamford offices three or four days per week, which got him heat from others, and was described as having a "they need me more than I need them" opinion of himself over the past year.

However, even with this increasingly bad reputation, Alvarez's sources didn't blame Gerwirtz for WWE's current ratings quagmire, but fingered the highly polarising figure of Stephanie McMahon, who has been bashed from day one of taking over the responsibility of running the creative team in late 2000:

"The reality is Brian isn't the real issue or even a band-aid," said a source. "Stephanie has run this dysfunctionally toxic division for the entire duration of its ratings decline. Her horrendous structure from the committee dynamic to who she fast-tracks and how rigidly the shows are structured are why this product isn't gangbusters. Plus, three hours is a [disaster]."

The problem is that Vince McMahon will never demote his daughter Stephanie, probably falling on his own sword first, so they need to find someone who can work underneath her and slowly change her creative philosophy for the better. Whether someone like that exists is the big question, as inevitably any writer who holds strong conflicting views to Stephanie's opinions falls foul of her discipline. But with Stephanie "not nearly as involved in the [creative] process as she has been in the past" according to Dave Meltzer in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter due to raising her kids, maybe that isn't as big a problem as it once was.

Speaking of Stephanie, another source of Alvarez noted how concerned she is with Vince's increasingly volatile temper and how it affects his health, a worry that was likely heightened after seeing him being bashed with kendo sticks in a hard-hitting match and then blowing a gasket backstage over CM Punk assaulting an innocent fan in the crowd:

"The past two week's ratings are not the full factor, but they are playing into his mood swings today," another person noted Monday. "The Vince that is at the arena today is someone who hasn't been around in a while. Stephanie and Hunter don't like seeing him in this mood because of his age, and the fact that he isn't looking the greatest lately."

That said, I'm sure their displeasure is not solely due to genuine fears about his stress levels, but also due to having to take the full brunt of his anger too on such a regular basis.

However, apparently the biggest factor in Vince's sour as a crab apple temperament on Monday, wasn't from feeling the pressure to deliver ratings or Punk's physical faux pas, but from a performer having the guts to stand up to Mr. McMahon and tell him that he should be blaming himself, not others, for his WWE storylines sucking, as Wade Keller (and others) reported:

Also of note, Vince McMahon went on a tear before 'Raw' on Monday, but in the midst of all of that, there is a buzz because one prominent wrestler fired back at Vince and didn't hold back. Details are sketchy because so few people were in the room, but PWTorch has learned that at least one powerful player in WWE let Vince know that he is a big part of the problem and blaming others and trying to intimidate people into fearing his wrath doesn't change that fact.

This may explain why when McMahon told everyone on Monday that "I want results or I want resignations", he made sure to note that statement also applied to himself. Though the wrestler who gave his own boss a dressing down has been unnamed so far, one would suspect it was a friend of Gewirtz's and a big enough star that he could get away with it. Really other than John Cena and possibly Punk, does anyone else fall into that category, Cagesiders?

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