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Vince Russo Shoot Interview
Posted by Brandon Truitt on Dec 29, 2003, 18:00
Ho ho ho... I hope you enjoyed your Christmas because I sure enjoyed mine. I finally got a chance to review a new shoot interview and, hopefully, should be able to continue doing so for the next few weeks.
If you need a few laughs, be sure to find the MP3s of last night's Wrestling Observer Live show with special guest Ole Anderson. After hearing THAT performance, I'm going to have to do his shoot ASAP so the rest of you can see what a clueless putz this guy is these days.
On the DVD front, I've been enjoying some stuff I picked up recently, including one of my favorite TV series ever, Wiseguy. For those who don't know, Wiseguy is about Vinnie Terranova (Ken Wahl), an Organized Crime Bureau agent who has spent 18 months behind bars to build his cover. His only contact with the agency when he's undercover is through are his supervising agent (Johnathan Banks) and a man known as Lifeguard (Jim Byrnes of the Highlander series), who poses as his "Uncle Mike" when he phones in his information.
Instead of having Vinnie do something stupid like infiltrate and take down a crime family each week, the show is broken down into story arcs that typically last half a season before concluding, which was a VERY original thing in the late 1980s when this series was on TV.
The first DVD set, Sonny Steelgrave and the Mob, is about Vinnie buddying up to south New Jersey mob boss Sonny Steelgrave (Ray Sharkey) and becoming a made man in his family.
The second DVD set, which is being released tomorrow, guest-stars my man Kevin Spacey as Mel Proffit in the Proffit story arc. Mel and Susan Proffit (Joan Severance) are a brother/sister duo who traffic in drugs and guns, have international connections, and tend to exhibit a psychotic streak, which always livens things up. They also have a sixth sense at times, which is exhibited early in the arc when Mel pulls out of participating in a business associate's wedding because he thinks it's been infiltrated by the cops, which turns out to be true.
I also recommend picking up Tenacious D's two-disc DVD set, "Tenacious D: The Complete Master Works". This set includes the entire six-show run of their HBO show, music videos, and their concert at the Brixton Academy amongst other material. If nothing else, you should at least find a copy of Tribute, which is their ballad in tribute to the best song in the world, told in a "Devil Came Down to Georgia" mindset.
The third and final DVD recommendation I'm going to make is for To Live And Die In LA, a movie about a ruthless counterfeiter (Willem Dafoe from Platoon and Spiderman) and the Secret Service agents who'll do anything to catch him (including William Peterson of CSI). This was a 1985 release by director William Freidkin of Exorcist and French Connection fame.
Even if you don't like the movie as a whole, there are at least two sequences you HAVE to see, which are the start-to-finish process of Willem Dafoe making counterfeit money and a chase sequence later in the film which would be considered the greatest chase of all time if not for the highway sequence in Matrix Reloaded.
As always, you can feel free to Drop me an e-mail, read the archives, buy me stuff, or buy yourself stuff at Highspots.com.
Vince Russo Shoot Interview (11-5-2003)
Was he a big fan growing up? Yes, he was a fan back when it was the WWWF. He was always more interested in the entertainment aspect of it than anything else. He says that he knew it was fake the second he saw it but he loved the larger-than-life characters.
Who did he follow? Ernie Ladd, Jimmy Valiant, Johnny Valiant, Bruno Sammartino, and Chief Jay Strongbow were some of them.
How did he start networking to get into the business? He was running two video stores on Long Island when WWF guys like Jake “The Snake” Roberts, Demolition, Brutus Beefcake, and others would start coming in. John Arezzi, who ran a wrestling radio show, came in to sell him advertising time. After Blockbuster started kicking his ass, he started getting out of the video business and started thinking of wrestling as his next move.
Getting on the WWF magazine- He closed his video stores and was running a wrestling radio show on his own dime, which cost him most of his money. Eventually, he wrote to Linda McMahon about what he was doing and she set him up with a freelance writing job with the WWF magazine. He explains that he wrote to Linda because you never know who actually reads Vince’s mail because it’s probably not him but that he had a decent shot if he wrote directly to Linda and it ended up paying off. He wrote about an article a month at $150 a pop, which he says was good experience because he got to learn more about the business and meet some of the guys.
Who helped him out back then? Nobody, because freelancers were true outsiders there. Once he started writing full time, people started noticing him and helping him out.
Is it true that Kevin Nash was involved with him getting a booking position? No, not at all.
How did he get involved in booking RAWs? He worked his way up through the system. He started out as a freelance writer, moved up to editor of WWF Magazine, became editor of RAW Magazine as well when it started up, then started writing promos for wrestlers to use at house shows. He moved up from there when Vince McMahon came up with the Goldust concept and he helped McMahon develop the character, claiming that most of what the character became was from his ideas. He then started writing on-air promos and eventually moved up to writing the show. He claims that he learned every aspect by moving his way up like that.
Who were most receptive to his ideas at first? The two guys he worked with the most at first were Shawn Michaels and Goldust. No one was really difficult to deal with but Steve Austin was a challenge at times because sometimes he’d be easy to work with some times and, other times, he’d hate his promos or some other things that were booked and would be very hard to deal with.
Did someone have to approve stuff that was in his promos? Early on in his job, everything went through Vince McMahon before it got on TV. Later on down the line, he was writing directly for the wrestlers.
Vince McMahon- Got along with him fine. Says that people don’t understand that McMahon is a workaholic and that it’s somewhat contagious when you work for someone like that.
Did he almost end up in WCW before he was with the WWF? No, WCW started making offers for him around the time the nWo started up in 1996, which is where the rumors of Kevin Nash getting him his job writing shows comes from because Nash got the ball rolling on that. He did talk with Eric Bischoff about the possibility of working there but it never really went further than that.
Working under Bill Watts- He loved working for him and says that Watts gave him his big chance. Watts cut through the bullshit politics and put him on the committee that was writing for the shows, which pissed some people off a bit. (I’m betting that Watts’ original intent was to have the writer of his magazines know what was going to happen and be able to build towards that rather than having Russo write anything for the show) He says that if Watts played politics like everyone else, he’d never have gotten the opportunity he got.
The politics he refers to- There are very few booking/writing/whatever jobs, so it’s nearly impossible to get your foot in the door. Watts coming in for the short time he was there got him in the door.
Who else was on the booking committee? Pat Patterson and Bruce Pritchard at first, although Pat soon scaled back his duties and it became Pritchard and Jim Cornette. He was just sitting in for the most part at that time.
Were the meeting ever hostile? No, although there would be some debates about ideas thrown out. He came from the fan’s point of view while both Pritchard and Cornette had been in the business forever, so they’d occasionally “look at me like I had two heads” if he made certain suggestions.
The meeting where he asked to take on more responsibility- He felt the WWF product sucked and was hard to watch because of crap like TL Hopper and Who. He was watching the nWo angle around that time, so he started trying to bring them up to the times, as he felt that the company was stuck in 1986 while the rest of the world was in 1996. He went up to Linda and Vince McMahon and told them that he was thinking of going to WCW and that, if they thought he was only capable of writing the magazine, they should tell him that. They didn’t think that, so he stayed and the door was open for further opportunities. The next Monday, there was a memorably bad RAW where the matches were shot on one continent and the announcers were on another one. When the rating came in abysmally low, Vince McMahon had him brought to a big meeting and he was thinking “I’m in deep shit” until Vince threw a copy of the WWF magazine down on the table and said that the magazine was everything the show should be. It shocked him and probably wasn’t the best thing for him since Vince did it in that way, as it made people hate him. However, that did mean that he and McMahon were now writing the TV shows together.
How did the other writers feel? Bruce Pritchard and Jim Cornette were not happy. Pritchard wasn’t a writer by this time but, instead, the head of Talent Relations after JJ Dillon left for WCW.
Did Vince McMahon know he was out of touch? He think Vince knew he was a little out of touch but didn’t like that no one would tell him that. (Certainly not true these days… according to most accounts, he and Stephanie McMahon are VERY out of touch but won’t listen to people who say that, such as Paul Heyman.)
What ideas did he give Vince McMahon that impressed him? He changes the question to “what did you do?” then says that he brought the product into the 90s, like WCW, by reflecting mid-90s society and that he changed up the way that everything was presented on-screen because it had been done page-by-page out of the same playbook for years. You’d know when the run-ins would come, who’d go over, etc. In essence, unpredictability = viewers.
(True to a point… some unpredictability for the sake of keeping the audience on its toes can be a good thing, but doing it just to be cute, instead of doing it to meet some final money-making objective, is fucking stupid after a while. One of the few times I’ve seen that pay off successfully was when Triple H retained the title at Wrestlemania 2000, as everyone thought The Rock or Mick Foley would win the belt. It ended up drawing a HUGE buyrate the next month at Backlash when Rock faced Trips in a rematch that featured an appearance by Steve Austin.)
First angles he was involved with- He got involved with the Steve Austin vs. Savio Vega angle. He put Austin on commentary one night and let him just run with his character and it started the ball rolling with him. He says that he’d loved Austin in WCW but that he didn’t think that Vince McMahon knew much about Austin or his character before that night because he probably hadn’t seen what Austin did in WCW or ECW. Outside of Austin, he mainly worked with Goldust. Later on, he had a lot of fun working with Val Venis. He also takes credit for coming up with the characters for Edge, Christian, and The Brood. (It certainly explains why there wasn’t much depth to them… Besides that, Raven himself talks about how Edge’s original ‘enigma in the crowd’ character was a blatant ripoff of him.)
What were his initial impressions of being in the WWF and working with the McMahons? It was the work ethic of the McMahons and he says that “They taught me the work ethic that I have today”. (I think that quote’s worth the admission right there, considering his last few years in the business.)
Were any wrestlers unreceptive to his ideas? Yes, and the agents were too, especially Pat Patterson and Gerald Brisco. He says that some of the things people said really hurt him, such as Paul Bearer telling him that he’d spit in the face of everybody in the business. (That quote was after Russo had brought in Howard Stern’s “wack pack” sideshow group and I’ll have to agree with Bearer’s assessment of the situation.)
His booking philosophies- His goal was to do anything possible to get people watching the show, no matter what it was. All he cared about was getting people watching TV.
Were there any ideas he pitched that he thought would get over but didn’t? Not that he can think of, although he claims that it’s not due to his reputation for thinking every idea he’s ever done is a masterpiece. He says that he would spend a lot of time with the guys and get to know them then write something that would reflect something in them. (This is certainly a booking practice that many people believe in, myself included, so I can’t argue with it. However, I’m wondering what he saw in Headbanger Mosh to make him Beaver Cleavage…)
Favorite promos around that time period- He likes the dialogue instead of the promos. He figured that people should talk like they do in real life rather than the standard “I’m going to kick your butt” promos. (True, but when was the last time you saw anyone tell their boss to take their coffee cup, shine it up real nice, and shove it straight up their own candy ass?)
The Rock- Phenomenal. “There will never, ever, ever be another person in this business to reach the success of The Rock.” Besides having all the tools to succeed, he’s also very smart and Russo claims Rock was the smartest person he’s ever dealt with in Sports Entertainment. Because of his understanding of all the aspects involved, such as his character, one particular promo, a feud, a match, etc. and how they all affect each other, he’s become the most successful guy in the business.
Mick Foley- His other favorite guy to work with, next to Rock. Probably the greatest guy you’ll ever meet and he’s also very creative, as you could probably tell by his writing career after wrestling. The reason both of them were so good was that they could take an idea they were given and make it better. He is a big believer in the philosophy of coming up with something then taking it to the talent, because they know their character better than anyone else, and coming up with a final product that is much better than a road agent saying “We’re doing it exactly like this so just go out there and say it.”
Changes in his relationship with the McMahons- He doesn’t think that they changed but, rather, that he changed. For the longest time, he was Vince McMahon’s right-hand man 24 hours a day and Vince came before his wife, his children, and everything else. After a few years of that, he got burned out and was breaking down, which made him re-evaluate his relationship to the McMahons, which resulted in some changes in that relationship.
The typical writer’s meeting- When he and Ed Ferrara worked together, they’d go to his house, put Jerry Springer on in the background, then come up with storylines for every character from Rock and Austin down to guys like D-Lo Brown and Edge. They’d finish up about 8 hours later and have a story for everyone. They’d take it all to Vince the next day, get Vince’s input, then take that and write the final show. These days, it's all done by committee and they’re making it harder than it has to be. (I agree with him, although not completely. Some of his complaints are about how RAW and Smackdown have different booking committees, which is intentional because they’re supposed to be completely different brands, even if several people overlap onto both committees.) Putting five or six people in a room for a long time means that less gets done and wrestlers get lost in the shuffle.
Did he try to book Pay Per Views the same as the TV shows? In a way, as it was the same format but there was more match time because the people who paid for them wanted wrestling. They’d build up matches for four to six weeks then put them on the show.
How did adding Smackdown to the writings schedule affect things? It was the beginning of the end. He was thinking about RAW 24/7 by the time that Smackdown came along and he had to write an additional 2 hours of TV each week. He says he wasn’t told for a long time that there was going to be a second show he’d be writing for, so it was a bit of a shock to him when he was told he had to write more each week. It was also going to water down RAW because he’d have to come up with twice as much stuff in his already busy weekly schedule. He says it was a bad idea all along and that he knew it was a bad idea when WCW started Thunder before that. (I’d say that WCW agreed with him… they put little more into Thunder than they did WCW Saturday Night and the ratings for the two showed it.) He never told Vince it was too much for him to do and he thinks that was his pride getting to him. If he’d asked for help, he’d have probably gotten it but that he was so possessive of the product at the time that he’d have freaked out if someone else wrote for The Rock or Mick Foley.
How much editing did Vince McMahon do on his writing? Not much. His personal challenge was to write each show as good as it could be until he wrote a show that Vince didn’t have to change at all. What usually happened was that Vince would find fine details that would take a good idea and make it a great idea. The problem is that he thinks Vince is probably incapable of writing a TV show from scratch because he’s great at little things but has trouble with the big picture.
How did Vince change as the company became more successful? It happened to the whole company in various ways. He talks specifically about how they’d do anything for publicity when the ratings were in the crapper but, once they got hot, they would start ignoring those people who’d interviewed them when they were doing badly.
The ratings and their effect on the shows- He was always writing and trying to make the next show better than the last, so he might hear ratings but not take them into account when writing the next show.
Were there any angles he was stopped from doing that he thought would have been successful? There was at least one storyline that got stopped. He thinks that it dealt with Summerslam 1998, in which Undertaker and Steve Austin were supposed to wrestle in the main event but that they wanted to go into the match as friends. His original idea was that they’d go into the match as enemies but Undertaker and Austin wanted to be friends and he thinks Vince McMahon gave into Austin and Taker’s demands because he wanted to make everyone happy. (I look at it in a different fashion… if they were going to carry the company on the shoulders of one feud, like Austin-Taker did in various fashions for much of 1998 and 1999, they needed to start out as friends going into the match, develop a rivalry, then end it down the road. They didn’t quite do that but it helped give the feud some longevity that it SORELY needed.) Outside of that, there wasn’t really much that was shot down.
When did Shock TV get old and tired? He’s not sure that it ever did. He thinks that it just became poorly written instead. (Pot. Kettle. Black. The difference between what they’re doing and what you’re doing is that it was considered fresh when you did it.)
Why did he leave the WWF? It was for several reasons, partially because he was burned out. There were some questions that he had about his relationship with Vince McMahon, as he felt he was in a father-son type relationship with him and wondered if he felt the same way or if he was just thought of as a cash cow. It shouldn’t matter at the end of the day but he was getting preoccupied with it. When he talked to Vince about his burnout and possibly taking some time off, Vince made at least one remark that Russo interpreted to be “you’re a cash cow”, which upset him. The comment in particular came when Russo said that he wanted to spend time with his kids and McMahon said “Why don’t you just hire a nanny?” (I think that was just Vince being Vince. Linda was always running parts of his business so, when they had the money to throw around, they DID hire a nanny to raise their kids for them.)
Did Vince have any idea that he and Ed Ferrara had been negotiating with WCW? None at all. Ferrara came with him because WCW offered to bring him in as well when Russo mentioned him during the negotiations. Ferrara was completely burned out from dealing with Vince McMahon at that time, so it was a very easy decision for him to leave the WWF.
How did the McMahons take it? He says that his leaving is always cast in a negative light by the fact that he left immediately, but he says that WCW and the WWF were at war and “there was no two-week notice” during that war.
(Bullshit. Even when Lex Luger left the WWF and appeared as a surprise on the first Nitro, he’d given Vince a notice that said he considered himself a free agent… McMahon just ignored that notice because he had other things on his mind and Luger was a small concern to him by that time.)
Getting back to the story, he says that he was negotiating in Atlanta on a Saturday and that they wanted him to stay over for Sunday so that he could meet with Dr. Harvey Schiller and other WCW bigwigs, so he knew they weren’t letting him leave without signing anything. He signed the contract Sunday night but he was expected Monday morning at the Meadowlands in New Jersey to do that night’s RAW. He felt that, since he’d already written that night’s RAW and that week’s Smackdown, it wasn’t as bad as it was made out to be. In addition to that, the way all of his connections worked out for him to get home, the only way he could have told Vince about it would be over the phone. When he did call Vince up and tell him, Vince thought it was a rib at first. Once he realized that it wasn’t a rib, he told Russo that it was the most devastating phone call he’d ever gotten. He’s still sorry it happened but that it couldn’t have happened any other way.
(Russo never learned about thinking outside of the box apparently. As a trustee at Angola penitentiary said once, "If you’re given a choice between becoming someone’s bitch or getting stabbed to death in a fixed fight, take the third option and watch your surroundings so that you NEVER get into a situation where you have to make those kind of choices." If he knew that they were going to force him to sign a contract, he should have at least post-dated it a week so that he’d still be working for the WWF through the RAW and Smackdown of that week. Vince wouldn’t have liked it but it would have been better than what did happen.)
Masturbatory Russo- He starts justifying his own self-worth by talking about how Shawn Michaels, Steve Austin, The Rock, and Mick Foley were the biggest stars of this generation and that they were all at the same place at the same time, which will never happen again in his lifetime. While it helped that all of them were extremely talented, his writing was also a part of it.
(I look at this as the “Sun shines on a dog’s ass some days” theory of thinking. Michaels and Austin were well-regarded prospects years before Vince Russo ever met them, but they weren’t given their breaks before then due to politics, perceptions about how small a champion the people would accept, etc. Rock was pegged as a future main event guy before he ever entered a WWF ring, but the circumstances that made him get over big so quickly couldn’t be recreated if you tried, as Randy Orton is proving these days. Mick Foley was known as a top bump guy and a first class interview but no one took him seriously as a top-guy prospect for years because of the Cactus Jack and Mankind gimmicks as well as his underwhelming body.)
Political scene and egos when he left the WWF- There were none when he left because Vince McMahon had cleaned up the locker room once Austin became the top dog. Vince specifically told everyone that Austin was his guy and that if they screwed with Austin, they were screwing with him, which was enough to make everyone back off.
How did he get in contact with WCW? He got into contact with JJ Dillon through a friend and he initiated the contact with them. He did that shortly after the meeting he had with Vince that upset him and was going there under agreement that he wouldn’t have to do as much so that he could recover from his burnout. He’d have a staff that would have had to be at the Thunder or Nitro tapings for him.
Did he think the WWF product would go up or down after he left? He says he told Vince that he could ride that wave for a year before things started crashing because of the positions he’d left everyone in. (I’d say this is Monday Morning Quarterbacking here in several aspects. First, a lot of Russo’s crew from that time were chased out of their positions, such as D-Lo Brown and Jeff Jarrett, and replaced with guys like Kurt Angle, Chris Benoit, Eddy Guerrero, etc. Second, writer Chris Kreski was handling the storylines very well before he left in late 2000, which has been attributed to several different causes including burnout as well as pressure to give the job to Stephanie McMahon. If Kreski had stayed another six months or so, chances are that we wouldn’t have seen the abortion bucket leftover that was Survivor Series 2000 and that the RAW after Wrestlemania X-7 wouldn’t have seen Austin and Triple H both as heels while Rock, the lone top-tier face, was in Hollywood.) He also felt that there was nowhere else to go with the WWF and that WCW had a lot of potential because of the world of shit he was in.
His critics- He doesn’t understand why people are so critical of him considering that he’s heavily putting over the people he worked with from wrestlers like Austin and The Rock to Vince McMahon and other backstage people. He finds it a bit insulting that no one will give him credit in return. (They did Russo… until you burned through enough goodwill that people won’t take you seriously anymore.)
Making the transition from the WWF to WCW- The hardest thing was trying to meet 40 new guys in the locker room and come up with stuff for them. It was easier for him in the WWF because there were no true established veterans for him to work with, while he was dealing with Ric Flair, Randy Savage, Hulk Hogan, and others in WCW. It was difficult because it just doesn’t feel right telling Ric Flair or Hulk Hogan what to do.
Backstage politics in WCW- He tries to stay away from them, but there were VERY obvious politics going on in WCW. His feeling was that if the people that hired him were stupid enough to be influenced by the politicians, it was going to be their ass in a sling at the end of the day instead of him.
Who helped him out back then? Kevin Nash helped out, as did Ed Ferrara and Terry Taylor.
Who was against him? He doesn’t want to name names but says “it’s not too hard to figure out” because “those people won.”
Flair, Savage, Hogan, etc.- There was never any trust between any of them. He didn’t trust them and they didn’t trust him, so they couldn’t build anything.
Goals he had when he came into WCW- He wanted to bring them back to the 6 and 7 range of ratings because they were at 2.6s when he came in.
What made him do the “Hogan laying down for Sting” angle on PPV? He wanted to come up with something Hogan could sink his teeth into that would make him red-hot again. However, there wasn’t a lot of trust on any sides because it’s the wrestling business and everyone’s out to get everyone else.
Ed Ferrara as Oklahoma- They did it because Ed used to do it in the WWF and some people there thought it was hysterical, although he doesn’t name names. He claims that you could use your imagination and come up with it. (Bart Gunn?) It wasn’t that he was making fun of Jim Ross as much as it was funny because it was so over-the-top. They eventually decided to put it on TV because it was so funny. He still thinks it was funny to this day. (That’s a HUGE no-no in the writing community… write what the public likes, not what you like. If you give them a little of what you like and they love it, give them more next time, don’t shove it down their throats the first time they see it.)
Cornette’s phone call and message on his answering machine- Yeah, Cornette called him up and cussed him out. He says that he doesn’t think that George W. Bush calls up Will Ferrell and cusses him out for his portrayal of him on Saturday Night Live. (“What would be your one word, Mr. Bush?” “Strategery.”) It was not meant to be hurtful though.
Jim Cornette- He’ll hold back most of his comments on him. He says that he tries not to talk about people because he’s been taught for a long time that you rip down other people because you’re trying to make yourself better.
Cornette’s accusation that Russo helped smarten up the fans on the Internet to help get the writers over- He tried to explain to everyone back in 1996 that the business was going to have to change because everyone on the Internet (significantly smaller at that time) was smart to the business, but they just asked for statistics to prove it. The numbers were about 1 in every 20 fans, but Russo argued to them that the one fan would find out everything he knew then start smartening up all of his friends, so that the number of “smart fans” would increase dramatically. If anyone gets the blame for “killing” the business, the Internet should get the blame because it widened the audience that knew insider terms like “babyface” and “heel”. (True, but the “smart fans” aren’t enough of a percentage to book stuff exclusively for them or to make major changes JUST because of them. Shit… how’s THAT for irony? A “smart fan” saying that people should ignore him. Anyway, the point is that you take them into account and you don’t do things that will outright insult the viewer’s intelligence, but you don’t drop insider terms like “shoot” just because you can and expect everyone to know or care what’s going on. In short, if you book things RIGHT, we’ll find out about it and make sure to watch because we’ll fucking ENJOY it. It doesn’t have to be a surprise if it’s done right.)
He then changes gears and says that the coverage in the media of things like the current action in Iraq raise the bar on what people will watch because why would they watch pre-scripted wrestling when they can see some guy get his head blown off at 1000 yards? (Jesus fucking Christ, shoot ME in the head. The fact that something is pre-scripted doesn’t necessarily mean that it’ll be less interesting. People that went to see Titanic knew that the fucking boat was going to sink but enough people sat through all three hours of it that it became the highest grossing film ever. Everyone knows that Star Wars: Episode III will end with Anakin Skywalker becoming Darth Vader and that there’ll probably be a kick-line of Stormtroopers and 30 minutes of screen-time for Jar Jar Binks, but we’ll all pay to see it anyway.)
Stacy Kiebler and the pregnancy angle- The basic version of the story was that Stacy and David Flair were going to get married, then Ric Flair would find out that Russo himself had fathered the child, since Russo was on David’s side at the time and Ric would have threatened to expose that fact to David so that David would beat the shit out of Russo and become friendly with Ric again. However, the story would take another turn because Russo would reveal, through research done at bars in Baltimore, that Stacy was one of Ric’s illegitimate kids which meant that the married couple were half-brother and half-sister. (OK, answer me this… Why does this guy make fun of Southern people so much when HE is the one obsessed with incest?)
When Jushin “Thunder” Liger was defending the IWGP Junior Heavyweight belt in WCW against Juventud Guerrera, why was a tequila bottle involved in the finish? It was Russo’s idea and he did it because he just wanted to do another gimmick match and he saw it as a new possibility and something funny, not something racist.
How does he respond to critics who say “You’ve got one of the twelve best wrestlers in the world, why not just let them put on a great match?” His standard response is that there are high schools all over the place with amateur wrestling programs and you can go there to see great 30 minute matches but that he wants to be ENTERTAINED if he watches television. “I want you to find me one wrestling fan who hasn’t seen all those moves. Some guys are better than others but, generally, we’ve already seen it all.”
Sidenote- I think that these last few questions show a MARKED departure from a lot of what he’s been saying before, which coincides with the 1 hour mark of the interview. I guess WCW didn’t ask him about wrestling for that length of time because, if they did, they probably would have noticed something severely wrong. His concepts about how you need to write something from the top guys down to the jobbers is certainly true but he has no fucking clue about how to BOOK a storyline, which generally involves people paying to watch MATCHES at the end of those storylines he writes.
Putting Ed Ferrara on TV- He thought it was an entertaining character, so he put it on TV. When you’re #2, you need to do anything possible to get noticed and get people talking about you. If people are saying “How does WCW have the balls to make fun of Jim Ross like that?”, then it’s served its purpose. (That national exposure from putting the belt of David Arquette REALLY got people talking… I think everyone said the same thing, which was “Those fucking morons… I can’t believe they did that.”) He’ll apologize until the end of time to Jim Ross if he took it personally, but it was just something they did to get people talking.
The Ed Ferrara and Madusa angle- “If I was a wrestling purist, I’d probably be upset but I’m not and my job is to get as many eyeballs to watch the TV shows as possible. You aren’t going to get those kind of numbers with pure wrestling…” so he had to do things to appeal to all kinds of audiences.
Did he feel they got away from pro wrestling and into entertainment? Absolutely, which is justified by the fact that the highest rated segment while he was booking RAW was “This Is Your Life” with The Rock and Mick Foley. Everyone bitched the next day about how bad it was but, when the ratings came back the next day, it got an 8.4. “Do you know what that did for the wrestling business?” (Not much, unless that period came during Sweeps and SIGNIFICANTLY raised the average rating for RAW over the course of that month.) He justifies it by saying that it got 8.4 million people watching wrestling, but that a bunch of Internet people ignore that for their own selfish reasons. (Pot. Kettle. Black. There are multiple sides to everything and one of them would be “Did those 8.4 million people consistently come back afterwards or did they buy PPVs because of it, which adds to the bottom line?” and the answer would be no. Foley himself admits that the Rock and Sock Connection, though entertaining, never did what it was intended to do, which was to get more people to buy the PPVs and make more money for the company.)
Turning Bill Goldberg heel- He had to find something for Goldberg to do because he’d been on his 200-0 win streak where he killed everyone on the roster then won the title. (Apparently, “get the title back that he was screwed out of to begin with” wasn’t an option.) The only obvious and “different” thing to do was to turn him heel, but Goldberg didn’t want to do it and that’s probably why it failed. He probably shouldn’t have made Goldberg do it since his heart wasn’t into it but, at the time, he had no idea of what else to do with him.
His relationship with Ric Flair- As far as he knows, he and Ric had a good relationship although Ric may tell you otherwise. Ric seemed to be having fun while they were doing their angle together.
Did he get heat from the wrestlers when he cut Flair’s hair? No one ever said anything to him if they did it, but that it was Flair’s idea for him to do it. He wasn’t going to walk up to Flair and make him get his hair cut like that. The reason that Jeff Jarrett didn’t do it instead was that Flair had come up for the idea for Russo to do it instead.
Did he ask Flair if he wanted to draw money doing it, such as in a hair vs. hair match with someone? No, because “talking about money” is an “old-school” mindset to him, as he felt his job was to draw TV ratings. (I think that explains a lot… I wonder if he’s going to mention the time he asked JJ Dillon how much it would take to bribe the fire marshal at an arena so they could burn it down.) The reason it was good TV because he was a non-wrestling arrogant son-of-a-bitch Yankee “who had no business even being in the same ring” as Ric Flair, let alone cutting his hair.
Why did he put himself on-camera? It was Eric Bischoff’s idea when they were working together. He was willing to do anything to help the company at the time. He thought it would be a good idea because he knows he can make people hate him and, hopefully, transfer his heat to the people he had alongside him.
Putting the WCW title on David Arquette- It surprises him how the truth is never told about this. Tony Schivone came up to him with the idea. He hadn’t even considered it before, but it intrigued him and then he started thinking of ways in which Arquette could win the belt. The two points in favor of doing it was that Arquette won it by pinning Bischoff in a tag match, so he could legitimately be a non-wrestler and win, as well as the fact that WCW needed to get people talking about them at that time. The part that no one talks about, though, is that the booking committee met soon after that and all 15 people in the room thought it was a good idea. The people in that meeting were road agents, writers, bookers, Eric Bischoff, etc. Another thing wrestling people don’t like to talk about is that a picture of Arquette holding up the belt ended up in USA Today the next day and that they also got to shoot a promo, free of charge, with Arquette, then-wife Courtney Cox, Kevin Costner, Kurt Russell, and others to promote the product. He’d do the same exact thing all over again if he had the chance. He then talks about how people think that a wrestler “wins a belt” but that, in all his time in the business, he’s never seen one of them do it. (It’s called suspension of disbelief… something I’m sure you’re very familiar with. It only goes so far, though, which is why Triple H getting the “new” WWF title handed to him by Bischoff last year was BAD heat while Triple H cheating to win a mini-tournament and get the belt would have been GOOD heat, as it would have made the title seem more important and been done in a way that didn’t make it look like the prop it is.)
Did he think that it hurt the company that they did that? As long as “wrestling” is a part of the title of the show, wrestling fans are going to watch it either to enjoy it or to bitch about it. (Look at WCW’s ratings over the year after that stunt and tell me how much of your audience stuck around just because “wrestling” was in the title. Diehards will watch until something drastic happens to chase them off, at which point they’re probably not coming back because they’ve been burned too many times.)
Putting the WCW title on himself? It was done for shock value and it wasn’t like he won the belt by doing something good, as he got speared through the cage by Goldberg so he won the belt by virtue of being the first person to escape the cage. It got the people talking again as he knew the belt didn’t belong around his waist but he just wanted people to start talking again. No one in the back ever told him it was bullshit face to face, they just said it amongst themselves. He says that if you go down the list of people he has heat with in the business, it’s because he told them things they didn’t want to hear. (I’d say that’s true in a sense… not necessarily that he was telling them truths they wanted to ignore but, instead, that he was telling them something ignorant that pissed them off in at least some cases.) If someone like Bradshaw wants to hate his guts, then he’s fine with it because he was honest with them every day he worked with them.
WCW’s buyrates dropping around that time- The show before he was hired, Bret and Benoit went for three segments when they did their tribute match for Owen Hart and the show drew about a 2.4. The last show he did three months later got a 3.5, which he says is proof that what he was doing worked. When he was brought back in three months after that, the rating was back to the 2.5 he’d started with in November 1999. He also brings up that he had a two year contract with WCW but only wrote for nine of those months, as he spent the months of early 2001 at home recovering from a concussion while the company was dying off. He wasn’t involved with the direction of the company at that time, but people still blame him anyway.
(Let’s see… ratings went up a point, which doesn’t really mean TOO much unless they do it during Sweeps and raise the rates that the company can charge for advertising time. At that same time, the company was setting all-time lows for buyrates on PPVs and for house-show attendance and stars such as Bret Hart, Jeff Jarrett, Vampiro, and others were getting injured somewhat regularly. That means that a company already in financial trouble started losing money at an alarming rate and had less resources to use towards a recovery because their roster was seriously depleted. Bret Hart may not have been able to carry the ratings for them but, if he’d been on top in 2000 instead of sitting at home with career-ending injuries caused by Goldberg, he’d have kept people coming to the house shows because he could make any choad look entertaining when he wrestled them. On top of that, the reason the company was sold off in March 2001 was that the ill-fated AOL-TimeWarner merger was going through and they were trying to get as many liabilities off the books, which coincided with newly named TBS programming head Jamie Kellner cancelling the timeslots for all wrestling programs on Turner stations. The people at the end could have been drawing 10s on TV and it wouldn’t have mattered because their parent company was looking to get rid of the debt WCW was accumulating, partially because Russo couldn’t draw dick when he ran the company while putting on high-cost stunts and, more importantly, because the head of the TV networks they were on hated wrestling and wanted them gone at all costs.)
Booking alongside Eric Bischoff- Neither really trusted the other, although they worked together anyway.
Does he think his suggestion to put the WCW belt on Tank Abbott got him sent home the first time? Yes, but that was due to the situation becoming FUBAR (Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition, for those who don’t know) at the last second. The Pay Per View was on Sunday but he didn’t get the call from WCW champion Bret Hart saying “I’m too hurt to wrestle anymore” until that Friday. That was bad news because all of his plans were tied to Bret, as he wanted to capitalize on a guy who’d been a HUGE superstar in the WWF but had largely gone to waste for two years in WCW by that point. He pulled together his writing team, which included Terry Taylor and Ed Ferrara amongst others, and started brainstorming for ways to crown a new champion. The idea of a battle royal to crown a new champion came up (although the rules he’s discussing are actually Royal Rumble rules, though he says battle royal instead) and the plan was for Tank Abbott to be #30 and beat Sid, who’d been #1 or #2 and had survived everything else. He feels that it helps the realism of wrestling to have Sid survive everyone only to lose to a well-known Ultimate Fighting Championships competitor who could knocked someone out with one punch “and nobody would have saw that coming” and that, if Tank turned out to be no good, they could just put the belt on someone the next week and they’d have still had the “holy SHIT” factor.
(Fucking swerves… if that had been the WWF and the last guy was Ken Shamrock AFTER he’d proven himself to be a decent wrestler, such as in late 1998 or some time in 1999, it would have worked. The problem is that Tank Abbott was never proven to be a wrestler of any kind and, frankly, was never really a UFC competitor of great quality. His big deal was doing knockout punches but, if someone got in close after he missed a punch or got him on the ground, he was fucked. That’s why his record today is like 7-9, although it was probably closer to 5-5 in early 2000 because his recent record's been pretty bad.)
When did he realize WCW was a sinking ship? His first week on the job. He asked himself “What the Hell did you just do?” when he first walked in there.
Standards and practices- He claims he knows what can and can’t be done on TV because he’s certainly seen and booked enough of it. However, the things that they refused to let him do boggled his mind. (Vince, this WAS a Turner station… they used to call brass knucks an “international object” because they didn’t want to upset people by calling it a “foreign object.”) He wasn’t allowed to have Roddy Piper berate fat women because someone in the audience with a weight problem might get upset. Hall and Nash couldn’t be drinking on the show but could be drinking cough medicine and getting high instead. Things like that blew his mind. He tried to get Standards and Practices to give him a book of what he could and couldn’t do but they refused to, which he claims was due to them changing the rules on a weekly basis. When you don’t know what you can and can’t do every week, it’s very frustrating and difficult. (Gee, try writing a normal WRESTLING feud that doesn’t involve Viagra, incest, sex with transsexuals, and so forth.)
How involved were JJ Dillon and Gary Juster in the booking and did they try to stop a lot of what he did? He won’t name names but starts pissing and moaning about how he moved his whole family to Georgia from Connecticut over the Thanksgiving holidays then was told that WCW was going to be “changing directions” five weeks later. (Vince, there were dictators in Central America with more job security than the head of WCW… you just forgot to look before you leaped.)
Buff Bagwell- He never got over the way he thought he would because there wasn’t trust when he tried to get Buff to change some of what he was doing in order to get better. He then talks about how wrestling is the only dog-eat-dog business he knows of and that nobody trusts anybody. This wasn’t limited to Bagwell, either.
Why did WCW’s younger talent never break through to the next level? They were never given the opportunities they should have been given.
What would he have done differently? Not a damn thing because there’s nothing he could have done to make a difference anyway.
Why was Nitro cut from three hours back to two hours? He wasn’t involved of that decision, he was just informed of it after the decision was made.
Any particular storylines from that time? Not particularly because he was in and out so much.
Ending up in NWA TNA- He opened his own business after WCW shut down. He couldn’t get wrestling out of his blood because people would come in and talk to him about wrestling because they knew what he had done before and, on top of that, he was watching the WWF and just getting sick at how “his baby” was becoming something unwatchable. (Normally, I’d mock him but the WWF in mid-2001 WAS unwatchable for the most part due to injuries, Rock being out for Scorpion King and, especially, bad booking.) He finally called up Vince McMahon about possibly coming back, but things didn’t go well when he met with the bookers and the writers up there because they wanted him to be a consultant instead of a true writer. He then decided to get involved with TNA because it was being run by Jeff Jarrett.
Was it true that Triple H and Undertaker refused to have him writing shows again? He knows that Undertaker didn’t want him coming back but he doesn’t know exactly why. He doesn’t know why Bradshaw bitches about him all the time either. He has no idea why Triple H was so opposed to him coming in considering how tight he felt they were when he was writing there, but one comment that Triple H made set him off. He says that Triple H said something about how he shouldn’t just expect to come in and so forth because “we’re family here”. Russo’s response to that is that Triple H “should hear some of the things I hear, because that is NOT a family.” (Russo 1, Triple H 0) All he wanted to do was help out because he saw that the product had become something unwatchable but he decided that he didn’t need to get involved once he started hearing about comments being made by people like Taker.
Initial impressions of TNA- “It wasn’t the product that I thought it would be.” He talks about how The Sopranos and Sex And The City are two of the hottest shows on TV but they’re done on HBO because they can’t be shown on network TV. He figured that they’d be able to do edgier stuff that the WWF couldn’t do because it did TV and PPV. He figured there would be at least glimpses of nudity, although not bare-naked women rolling around on the mat. He envisioned “the Sopranos version of the WWF.” (Can we pay someone off to have Tony, AJ, and Meadow Soprano-McMahon-Helmsley whacked on the WWE Sopranos then? They’re all too damn annoying and take away from the people carrying the show like Junior and Bobby Baccala.) He’s not involved in the day-to-day stuff because it’s in Tennessee while he’s still living in Georgia. From what he’s seen, though, the show’s been all over the place.
His relationship with the Jarretts- He was supposed to be their writer but it never really happened. He’s always been Jeff Jarrett’s friend and wanted to help him, but it wasn’t what he thought it would be.
Who did write the show? He never wrote a show there by himself. At first, it was all Jerry Jarrett. For a while, it was Russo and Jeff Jarrett. It’s never been consistent because the writer of the show keeps changing.
What impact did Panda Energy have? TNA was about to go out of business when Panda bought the company. He can’t tell you why Panda even bought the company but that they must see some potential in the company.
Typical writer meetings in TNA- Trying to write by committee which, in his experience, NEVER works.
Whose idea was it to bring in Tony Schivone? It was his idea and he thought there was a place for Tony, but they weren’t sure what he was specifically going to do. It just turned into an angle between Tony and Mike Tenay on its own.
Roddy Piper cutting the promo where he said Russo was responsible for Owen Hart’s death- It was out of line and he thinks Piper has no clue about what went on the day of Over The Edge 1999 or the relationship between himself and Owen.
Memories of Owen’s death- It was one of the worst nights of his life and he says it felt like he was in the Twilight Zone because it seemed so unreal. No one was thinking rationally after Owen’s fall, so it’s hard to really lay blame on Vince McMahon’s decision to continue the show that night in spite of the tragedy.
Why was AJ Styles booked as a heel champion when he was over as a face? Because that’s how the owners of the company wanted it to be booked. He should have been a babyface, but it’s not his company.
Does he feel he took too much of the spotlight away from Styles by being his manager? He certainly didn’t try to and doesn’t think he did. He feels it may have come off that way because he’s a tall guy who’s supremely annoying while Styles is smaller and doesn’t say much.
His reaction when he heard Hulk Hogan was coming into NWA TNA? “Business is business.” If everyone thinks it’ll help the company, then do it. However, he’s not sure if it will actually help the company, but that’s because of the way he looks at things as opposed to the way that everyone else looks at things.
What does he think of people who think he’s secretly working for TNA? He still works for them, but not in any creative position. He’s working more with Panda Energy on the business side of the company. He’s going to be very involved in the announced video game, but there are no plans for him to get back into the creative side at this time.
What ideas did he have that got shot down? His philosophy is so different from the current writing team and there’s no other way to put it. Because he clashed with the rest of the team, it was a problem because all the time spent dealing with problems from the clashing take away from what’s put into the final product. The best thing for him at the time was to stand back because it would help the company do what they want to do.
What does TNA need to do to survive? They need a TV presence to start with but that’ll be hard to get because the networks will look at the WWE’s ratings as compared to what they were a few years ago. Because of that, it’s hard for anyone to get on TV now. (TNA actually has an offer from WGN for a TV timeslot, but it’s not a particularly good one and they want TNA to pay too much for it.)
The matches seemed to have a problem with doing straight wrestling- “I don’t book the matches.” The nuts and bolts are handled by others because “I have no business getting involved” other than possibly saying what kind of results needs to come out of a matchup. He didn’t book the finishes, though, so he can’t explain why there are so many screwy ones.
His commentary on 1-Wrestling.com getting stopped- “Those powers that be” wanted it stopped.
Why was he against longer matches on TNA? The attention spans have gone down these days, so you have to keep people occupied in order to keep them from changing the channel. The minute you bore them, they’re gone and they may never come back. He also feels that the average wrestling fan wants to know the finish the instant that a match starts, although this does not cover the Internet wrestling fans in any way.
Longer matches on PPV- It’s fine there because people are paying for it. He doesn’t think they want to see it on regular TV though.
The sheet writers- “Unless you’ve been there and done that, you don’t know.”
How much does he pay attention to what the fans say on the Internet? He does pay attention to them but he always gets a reputation from them and the sheet writers that he feels is undeserved. If anyone ever sat down and talked to him, he feels that their opinions would change.
His writing philosophy- Don’t insult the audience’s intelligence because, once you’ve done it, they’re gone. The writing level in wrestling is, in his opinion, at the ten to twelve year old level and it’s driving people away. Things happen that are too unreal so it’s hard to take it seriously.
Doesn’t that contradict putting the WCW title on David Arquette then? Arquette won it because someone knocked out Eric Bischoff and he just happened to pick up the pin. It wasn’t like he beat up the wrestlers and then won the title.
Is there anything he wants to say to his fans or critics? If you want to believe everything you hear about him without actually meeting him, he’s disappointed because his object has always been to get as many people as possible to watch wrestling.
Kevin Nash- Very intelligent guy. When they worked together in WCW, Nash always busted his ass. He says that the people who bust on Kevin don’t see him doing everything he was asked to do and working hard at it.
Scott Hall- When he’s on, he’s on. Unfortunately, he’s got some personal problems but he hopes that he can fix them.
Shane McMahon- Phenomenal. He says that people blame the writers for things but that about 50% of the blame should go to the wrestlers because, if they worked as hard as Shane, things wouldn’t be so awful on TV. He says that they do the same matches over and over again instead of trying to make it look real. (I think the road agents can be blamed for this one… guys like Tajiri have INCREDIBLE movesets but are rarely, if ever, able to exploit them for various reasons. We saw more moves in Tajiri’s first match against Crash Holly than we’ve probably seen out of him since because he wasn’t pigeonholed into a few certain moves at that point, so he got to do anything he felt like.) He also says that Shane McMahon will do anything it takes to get people to buy into a match and that, if everyone else did the same thing, people would be a lot more interested in the matches.
(Point of order- Shane McMahon rarely, if ever, works a full house show schedule so he can do all kinds of shit on TV then have time to heal up because he usually doesn’t have to wrestle again the next day. All he does is a few spots that get himself over that are fucking stupid, like 50 foot falls, that no one else can do because they have to worry about wrestling the next day. If you want an example of this, watch the street fight with Kurt Angle from King of the Ring 2001. After that, take a minute to realize that Angle was out of the ring for much of the next month because of that match while Shane was no-selling his injuries on TV the next day then didn’t wrestle again until Unforgiven three months later.)
Stephanie McMahon- Very intelligent. Great business sense. However, he never got a chance to work with her when he was in creative. He thinks Vince put her in a tough spot by making her head of creative because that position is always a fall guy.
Bill Busch- Great guy but in WAY over his head.
Sean Waltman (X-Pac)- See Razor Ramon… when he’s on, he’s great.
Sting- Gentleman. He would probably trust Sting more than anyone else in wrestling because he’s always been very honest to him.
Raven- Genius, although he’ll deny saying it because Raven will hold it against him. Very passionate about the business, but it’s usually misunderstood by people which is why he isn’t given the credit he should get.
Hulk Hogan- If it wasn’t for Hogan, none of us would probably be here talking about the business. Never had a problem with him.
Triple H- One of the greatest guys he’d worked with at the time he worked with him in the WWF. All the things he’s heard about him since, though, are hard to believe because it’s so far from the Triple H he knew back then. He denies the rumors that Triple H married Stephanie McMahon for the money and so he could get into the McMahon family, saying that he probably really loves her.
Ric Flair- The guy he worked with where he feels it was an honor to do so. He just hopes that Ric feels that it was a positive experience.
If Vince McMahon called him up tomorrow and asked him to come back to the WWE, would he do it? He’d say no because he was younger when he got that great run he had there. He doesn’t have the youth or enthusiasm to do that anymore because Vince expects you to hand your life over to him when you work for him.
The writing team in the WWE- He met with them for several hours and he left the room feeling that they didn’t have what it takes to turn the business around. He learned things step-by-step for five years so that he could look at things on all different levels before he was put in charge of writing the shows. Pulling a writer in from Hollywood and getting them to write for the wrestlers without having that kind of background is a bad idea because wrestling is unlike anything else and, if you don’t understand it, you won’t be any good at it.
Who’s the best he’s ever worked with? Shawn Michaels, even though Shawn did threaten to kick his ass on at least one occasion. Shawn is the perfect mix of wrestler and entertainer because he could do it all. The cockiness was real, at least at the time as he’s heard that Shawn’s changed over the years, and that Shawn was certainly capable of backing up anything he said back then.
Russo can talk a good game but, in the end, he either doesn’t understand that you have to book towards making money at the end of the day or he just doesn’t care. TV is all well and good, as you need to have good enough ratings to keep from getting kicked off of the network, but you can only make so much from ad revenue as opposed to house shows and Pay Per View, especially if your good ratings don’t come during Sweeps, which changes the amount of money you can charge for advertising. Anyway, wrestling’s money from advertising is always low no matter what the ratings are just because no one takes it seriously. Wrestling draws better ratings than anything else on UPN or TNN, but other shows are worth more to the networks because they can charge more for the ads since they don’t have a negative stigma about them.
Getting back to the point, he at least seems competent enough at what he THINKS he's supposed to be doing. The problem is that wrestling is a Pay Per View business and not a TV business, although TV is a large part of that. When it comes to Pay Per View and the actual wrestling parts of the business, he's fucking clueless.
Very highly recommended, if only to hear what a rambling dipshit this guy is when you ask him the proper questions.