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Renee Paquette: Peeling back the curtain on The Sessions, Talking Smack, WWE Backstage and more!

Starrcast Events

Wrestling fans from across the globe will be converging on Nashville at the end of this month. Not only is WWE SummerSlam going down in the Music City this year, but one of pro wrestling’s biggest conventions is making its triumphant return for the first time since 2019. Starrcast V is taking over the Nashville Fairgrounds July 29-31 and promoter Conrad Thompson has made sure it has an all-star cast.

Those in attendance will have the chance to take part in countless meet and greets with current and legendary stars from all the top promotions. Expect merchandise tables, memorabilia, photo ops, autographs, and everything thing else you’d typically see in a convention style setting, but it’s the live stage shows that really set Starrcast apart from all the rest.

Headlined by Ric Flair’s Last Match and accompanying Roast, Starrcast V will feature over a dozen live events including podcast recordings with Mick Foley, Kevin Nash, Matt Hardy and someone I had a chance to speak to recently — Renee Paquette.

The former WWE host and interviewer is going to be broadcasting an episode of her hit podcast, The Sessions, live on Fite TV in front of a studio audience. Her guest is making the occasion all the more special. Multi-time World Champion, current AEW professional wrestler and Blackpool Combat Club member Bryan Danielson will be joining Paquette for a Talking Smack reunion.

“I’m so excited,” Paquette said. “I was so excited to go down to be part of Starrcast anyways, because I definitely had some like major FOMO when I didn’t go and do anything as part of WrestleMania week. So I was very happy to be able to pop down, see familiar faces, get to hang out, see fans, all that good stuff. And then you add the cherry on top of everything, that I get to do an episode of The Sessions with Bryan Danielson. It just couldn’t be cooler. Just like a reunion of the ages. You look at all the things that happened from when Talking Smack ended, to him and I both leaving WWE, to him now wrestling in Blackpool Combat Club with Jon [Moxley, Renee’s husband], with William Regal. It’s so cool.”

Talking Smack debuted in the fall of 2016 and quickly garnered the attention of the WWE Universe. Hosted by Paquette and Danielson, who was retired at the time due to injury, Talking Smack allowed performers an open and unscripted platform. It was unlike anything else under the WWE umbrella and constantly created moments and generated headlines. The prime example being that one time The Miz went absolutely insane and delivered the promo of his life, right in Danielson’s face.

To this day fans look back on that version of Talking Smack fondly and many were thrilled when they found out the band was getting back together one more time in Nashville. When I had a chance to catch up with Renee Paquette on the Bleav in Pro Wrestling Podcast, she gave her thoughts on the show for roughly the millionth time. In Nashville, the shoe will finally be on the other foot.

“I wanna talk to Bryan about this, because I obviously get asked about it a lot. But I’m a broadcaster. That was a show that I hosted with him, of course, that everybody loved. But I wonder... what his feelings are. I loved doing that show, but for him it was definitely like a different point in his career and he might not have the fond memories of doing the show that I do.”

Talking Smack’s first run came at a time when Danielson was still growing accustomed to his life after pro wrestling. He had just retired from in-ring competition a few months before the show launched. In July of 2016, he was named the SmackDown GM, his first on screen role in WWE that didn’t involve wrestling.

Bryan has gone on the record before about how much he disliked his time as an authority figure, saying he just didn’t have the same passion as he did when he was an active competitor. Whether or not he felt the same about Talking Smack remains to be seen, but regardless, Paquette says she was very lucky to have Bryan as her co-host.

“I loved working with him. There’s something so special about working with him. I mean obviously you look at Bryan, you look at his accolades, and everybody loves the guy. He’s one of the best wrestlers in the entire world. But he was at a time in his career where he was just kind of like, F it. Throwing s*** against wall. We were saying things we shouldn’t be saying. We were pushing the envelope. And that was the thing to me that was so much fun.”

The show was also one of the first times in Paquette’s WWE career where she got to be more of herself on screen, and she loves that Talking Smack connected with so many fans. Unfortunately, it didn’t connect with the one person who decided whether it should continue or not.

Talking Smack was cancelled during the summer of 2017, less than a year after the show launched. Despite its popularity among the fanbase, Vince McMahon reportedly pulled the plug because he felt, “it did not serve the company’s best interests.”

Conventional wisdom would suggest that appeasing the audience and giving them something they enjoy watching would, in fact, be in WWE’s best interest. Which made the move both puzzling and upsetting to many.

“Especially when the core group of people that were working on it, we were all just having such a good time,” Paquette said about the show being cancelled. “The feedback was great and it felt like we were doing something different and something fresh. And obviously that’s something that the fans were really craving at the time. Was being able to have something like that, where it is a peel behind the curtain, but like not too much. We’re kind of in and out of characters and whatnot. Yeah, it’s a bummer that the show got canned and, you know, the show still lives on in some capacity. But it’s obviously significantly different than from when we started doing the show. And I’m sure the version that they have of it now is more what they were looking for, but I’m really glad that we got to just like, really f*** around at the beginning.”

Eventually Talking Smack was brought back and has seen different hosts come and go during it’s time. Recently, the program was rebranded to the SmackDown LowDown Show. It streams Saturday mornings on Peacock.

A couple of years after her version of Talking Smack met its demise, Renee Paquette would get another chance to show the WWE Universe the other side of the curtain. This time, under the direction of the Fox Broadcasting Company.

About a month after SmackDown made the move to FOX, WWE Backstage launched on FS1. Paquette once again sat in the Captain Kirk swivel chair, with WWE Hall of Famer Booker T becoming her Lieutenant Spock. The two would be joined by several regular contributors including Paige, CM Punk, Mark Henry, and Ember Moon (now AEW’s Athena), and they would breakdown the biggest news and stories in WWE.

Ryan Satin, who remains with FOX as the company’s main WWE interviewer and contributor, came on board as the show’s version of Jay Glazer. Satin served as the insider and broke multiple stories, including when the New Day and Street Profits signed multi-year extensions with WWE in 2019.

The show had all the makings to be a success. Especially when CM Punk made his shocking return to WWE programming. Yes, the show belonged to FOX, but this was still a WWE show. Unfortunately, WWE Backstage had a steep hill to climb from the start. While SmackDown had a prime night and time slot, FOX decided to park Backstage on the less popular FS1. The show aired on Tuesday nights at 11pm and struggled to maintain an audience, especially during the early days of the pandemic. While the show was ultimately cancelled, Paquette thinks a similar program could thrive.

“Absolutely it could. You know, we started doing that show and we were all so bright-eyed and bushy tailed and like so excited to be doing this show. And we walk in this beautiful studio set that FOX had put together with us. I can’t say enough amazing things about the people over at FOX that were putting this show on for us and the cast and crew that we put together for this show. But yeah, you look at the circumstances of you get caught in the COVID era. Like, what are we going to do? How are we gonna keep this going? And unfortunately, we were one of those shows that was so early on with FOX that we just, we got nixed.”

Paquette says success for a new show is all about finding the right formula. Something she admits they didn’t figure out right away when WWE Backstage went on the air.

“A show’s not great in those first, what was it, six months or so. You’re figuring stuff out. Like, that was us figuring out what our boundaries are. This isn’t a Talking Smack. We’re obviously still working with and for WWE. So, you know, you’re giving them the show that they want while you’re still trying to give the fans the show that they want. It can be a really many shades of gray area to be working in. But I do think that there is something in there that would work and could be great. It just needs some time to figure out what that is.”

Patience is something that is sorely lacking in many circles these days. Networks, companies, and viewers alike, want instant success and gratification. I witnessed this first hand myself, during the earlier years of my career. I was hired on to a brand new all sports radio station in Cincinnati. The staff was told we’d have all the resources and time to make ourselves a competitor. Just a few months later, most of us found ourselves on the unemployment line.

“I even use The Drew Barrymore Show as like an example for this. Like, that show came out and people were like, boo, we don’t like it. We don’t like it,” Paquette said before firing back at those critics. “It’s like guys, it’s f***ing Drew Barrymore and it’s gonna be great. Just let it get there. Like everyone relax. There’s like this really scary knee jerk reaction when you’re working with big networks that they want something to click right away. It just doesn’t work like that. And it’s really unfair, especially when you do have great talent and you’ve got these great chemistries and a great concept. It just takes a second sometimes for things to catch on.”

These days, Paquette has put her career in her own hands. She left WWE in the summer of 2020, at the height of the pandemic, when there wasn’t exactly a bevy of opportunities — even for someone with the experience and talent of Renee Paquette. All productions were halted. No one was hiring. So out of necessity for one, but also the desire to do her own thing, The (Oral) Sessions was born.

“I love being able to have a podcast and you have the YouTube and you work on the consistency and you can build your audience as you’re going. There’s something just more organic about that. And it’s that stress free, you know, obviously there’s still like other stresses involved in that. It’s a lot of work. It’s certainly a lot of work. It is not this like, oh, just throw it up, whatever. It’s like, no, it’s ton of work involved in it, but it’s definitely nice to be in the driver’s seat on that and not have some exec breathing down your neck.”

The Sessions, which moved to Colin Cowherd’s The Volume Podcast Network in February of 2021, allows Paquette the freedom to dive into other other worlds outside of professional wrestling. Which presents a whole new challenge.

The wrestling podcast business has exploded in recent years and is showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon. It seems as though there’s about as many wrestling podcasts (including my own) in existence today as there are fans who watch the product. But that avid fanbase can’t get enough it seems. For show’s like The Sessions, which has busted through the oversaturation of the market and earned a great following, it can be a bit of a risk to break from the routine.

Paquette is trying to figure out how to get a large chunk of her audience to join her when she does decide to branch out.

“Obviously I love wrestling, duh, and all of my friends are wrestlers. So it’s great for me to be able to have those people come on my show and have these interviews that I love and conversations that I’m like super proud of. But anytime I like dip my toe into another world, I’m like, ‘Hey, come check out this thing too. Come check out this other person, that’s not a wrestler.’ They’re like, ‘no thanks.’ It’s really hard to get viewers to follow you into something that’s not wrestling. They just want the one thing. And it’s cool. I like being able to provide that for you. But I also, I do have interests that aren’t just wrestling.”

Even if the downloads aren’t as high as they normally would be, Paquette agrees with an assessment that I made during our conversation. Sometimes you need to branch out for no one else but yourself. Wrestling burnout is a real thing and it’s 100 percent necessary to cleanse the palette every now and again.

And Paquette is not afraid to cast a wide net. Katie Nolan, Michelle Beadle, the bassist from Sum 41, comedians, adult film stars, they’ve all had a session with Renee in recent months.

“It is definitely nice to just pop your head above the surface for a second. I mean just the way I like talk for a while too. It’s like you have on every single person that’s been released and you look at this list of all of these people, but then you’re hitting on the same note over and over and over again. And not that those stories aren’t important and I wanna hear those people’s stories, but at the same time, you do kind of need a little bit of a breather. I think listeners need a breather. It’s definitely nice to just pump the breaks for a second and be like, let’s have on a sex therapist.”

Whether she’s talking wrestling, broadcasting, mental health, or sex therapy, Renee Paquette has become a household name to many, including yours truly. Not to steal a line from Chris Jericho, but Paquette is without question, one of the best in the world at what she does. A concept that Renee finds a bit difficult to wrap her head around.

“I definitely don’t view myself as that,” Paquette said. “I love my job and I love what I get to do. And I do feel like I’ve been able to hit a really good stride that I’m really happy with interview wise. There’s a lot of times that I have people on and I have these conversations that I end up thinking about like far after, and far long after we have shut down and we’ve moved on and I love that.”

Renee really enjoys the treasure hunting-like journey an interview can take her on. She loves unearthing interesting stories or tidbits she never knew about before, even with guests that she’s known for years.

“I always go back to my Cash Wheeler episode,” Paquette said. “I had him on after I had on [Wheeler’s FTR partner] Dax Harwood and I knew with Dax’s what we were gonna kind of get into, because him and I had talked ahead of time. So I sort knew what we were gonna navigate with that. But then I had on Cash after that, I’m like, ‘Oh my God, how am I gonna match the Dax interview? What are we gonna do?’ And I really didn’t know where we were gonna go. And I really didn’t know that much of his story. So once we started talking, I was like, oh my God, I had no idea. Like literally for days after I was just thinking about him and thinking about like his life. There’s something really powerful about that. And I hope other people feel the same way too. It’s it’s pretty cool.”

You can watch Renee live in action at Starrcast V on Saturday July 30th when she and Bryan Danielson have their big reunion in Nashville. Paquette will also be taking part in meet and greets ahead of time, as will Danielson. Tickets are available at starrcast.com.

Please check out my full conversation with Renee Paquette in the video above where she talks more about Jon Moxley’s journey back to the ring, whether it ever gets easier watching his matches, becoming a mom, moving to Cincinnati and so much more! You can also listen to the Bleav in Pro Wrestling Podcast, available wherever you get your podcasts.

Rick Ucchino can be reached at Rick.Bleav@gmail.com. You can follow him on Twitter @RickUcchino and make sure to subscribe to the Bleav in Pro Wrestling YouTube Channel.