Ivan's Blog

Featuring Ivan Trembow's Self-Important, Random Rants on Mixed Martial Arts, Video Games, Pro Wrestling, Television, Politics, Sports, and High-Quality Wool Socks

Saturday, December 17, 2005
Pro Wrestling--- I recently had some great back-and-forth exchanges on the Torch VIP Forum (which is probably the best message board for pro wrestling discussion) about Michael Cole, Stephanie McMahon, and the general culture that exists within WWE. It is not unusual for some of the most in-depth things that I write during the course of any given week to be on one message board or another, and it's often well worth sharing these things on the blog.

The source of this discussion was the appearance of WWE announcers Michael Cole and Tazz on WWE's Internet-based talk show, Byte This. On Byte This, WWE personalities are often told by management to "shoot" (ie, make unscripted comments, or speak openly and out of their pro wrestling character), but there are still certain lines that it would be unwise to ever cross. Here's what happened on the show, as recapped by Michael KopStick on the Torch web site:

"If we are wondering why their voices are so hoarse tonight, Cole lets us in that he and Tazz were just doing voice-overs for a new WWE video game that will be released in 2008. Cole says, 'You know, the storylines will be the same then as they are now. We repeat them every six months.' This comment even makes Tazz blush and he looks down. (Explanation: They were probably told to shoot. But even in the process of shooting, you still have to not cross a certain line. Tazz, being from the old school, understands that. Cole has no comprehension of it and doesn't know where to draw the line. What results from that is a classic comment from a guy who will be severely reprimanded the next day and won't understand why. 'You told us we should shoot,' he'll say, just not getting it.)"

Right after Michael Cole said that, Tazz asked Cole where he's going to work after he gets fired, and Tazz also made an imaginary shotgun with his arms and pretended to fire it at Cole.

Here's what I wrote about the situation: "I think Michael KopStick was right on the money in his Byte This recap when he wrote that Michael Cole is so ignorant about wrestling that he has no idea where 'the line' is that he's not supposed to cross. So when they tell him to go out there and say shoot-like things, he has no idea that such a directive does not include any negative comments about Vince McMahon, Stephanie McMahon, the writing team [led by Stephanie], or Triple H. As Michael KopStick said, Cole is going to get a tongue-lashing at some point for saying what he said, and he's going to have no idea why he's getting it."

Someone then said something like, "Come on, Ivan, he's not an idiot," to which I replied, "In terms of knowledge of the pro wrestling business, I think Michael Cole would be the first to admit that he's an idiot, and would be proud of saying it (after all, he's no pro wrestling mark!). Wade Keller has said as much in a few Keller Audio Updates... that while Cole is a hard worker, he doesn't want to be seen as a 'pro wrestling mark' and doesn't try to learn as much as he can about the wrestling business, in order to avoid that much-feared-within-WWE perception."

Someone asked if Torch editor Wade Keller was just picking on Michael Cole with some of the things he has said and written about Cole, which prompted me to reply with this:

"I don't really get that impression at all, because it's not just Michael Cole who has that attitude within WWE, and Wade Keller has made that very clear in the past. The vast majority of the company's employees (as in the non-wrestlers, as in the ones who actually get medical insurance and pension) have the aforementioned views about the wresstling business.

Wade has talked in the past about how Jonathan Coachman has those same kinds of views, and so do all of the WWE writers, etc. And I know that the Torch and Observer have both covered the fact that this attitude exists because it trickles down from Stephanie.

I believe Wade even used the word "obsessed" at one point to describe how Stephanie feels about Hollywood-izing the writing staff and not wanting them to know much about wrestling.

I also remember when the whole Jim Ross-Mike Goldberg situation in WWE went down, Dave Meltzer wrote a lot about how when the WWE looks for announcers, it's actually considered a plus if you know nothing about the pro wrestling business because they want people who are 'not pro wrestling marks.' The wrestling announcers in WWE who are actual 'wrestling people' is now down to just Tazz, Joey Styles, and Jerry Lawler.

So to say it's just Michael Cole, or that Wade or anyone else is only picking on Michael Cole, is not true. It's the culture of the entire company, and it all trickles down from Stephanie and to a certain extent Vince and Linda as well."

This is where things really got interesting, as the discussion entered into the larger issue of Stephanie McMahon and the culture within WWE. The following are excerpts from a good back-and-forth discussion that I had with a forum member named Graffix.

Forum member "Graffix" wrote:
"Ivan, I'm just curious here, that's why I'm asking this. It's not meant as an insult or anything like that. What is your beef with Stephanie? You seem to take a lot of digs at her. You seem to really hate her, almost on a personal level."

Ivan Trembow responds:
"I don't hate Stephanie, but I do dislike her job performance for the exact reasons stated in my previous post. It's not just that she has taken the company down the creative crapper since she officially joined the writing team in 2000, but she is also obsessed with 'Hollywood-izing' the company and eliminating the pro wrestling element of how WWE is run."

Forum member "Graffix" wrote:
"But WWE had writers from Hollywood before Stephanie. I believe even Ed Ferrera was brought in from USA Network, and had worked on several TV shows including things like Duckman. It was not all her idea and it had worked before. The only problem is that unlike in the late 90s, there are less wrestling fans in the general public, so finding die-hard fans who also know how to do the job is probably not the easiest task. I'm not saying Stephanie has not made a lot of mistakes and I'm not saying she picked the best part of the her dad's company to work that fits her. But making everything out to be her fault is unfair."

Ivan Trembow responds:
"It's true that there were some writers from Hollywood before Stephanie joined the writing team, but I also don't think it can really be disputed based on what the Observer and Torch have reported since 2000 that Stephanie has changed the culture of the writing staff as a whole, with Wade Keller recently calling it an 'obsession' that Stephanie has. Now it's all about wanting to get in as many 'Hollywood people' as possible and wanting to get the 'pro wrestling marks' out, because of this elitist attitude that the McMahons are 'more than just pro wrestling promoters.'

There's no doubt that a lot of that comes from Vince, and also that the buck ultimately stops with Vince on everything, but Stephanie has made it her own little project to Hollywood-ize the writing team, so to speak.

Also, I wouldn't say that everything is Stephanie's fault. I don't think that the decline in WWE creative since 2000 is entirely her fault. But I do think that she is a big part of it. I also believe that if one wanted to think of a list of people who are most responsible for it, she would have to be somewhere near the top of the list of names.

I also think it's not a stretch to say that she is a failure as the head of the writing team. If she wasn't Vince McMahon's daughter, anyone else with her job performance would have been fired a long time ago. The Torch and Observer usually tip-toe around this particular issue, so I was surprised when Bruce Mitchell came right out and called her 'incompetent" in his recent column. I don't think that wrestling fans should be any less dissatisfied with a poor creative team just because it is going to continue to have the same leader; I think people should voice their opinions either way if they feel strongly about it."

Forum member "Graffix" wrote:
"Wanting to make the WWE more Hollywood than Sports isn't a bad idea in theory. Obviously Hollywood TV shows do better with a mainstream audience than pro wrestling, which would mean more money. The problem is people don't want WWE for this reason and it alienates the fans. This is Stephanie's (and whomever thought up the Diva Search) biggest mistake. Her, or whomever takes over the creative department in the future, will have a big challenge. And that will be getting the wrestling a mainstream audience withough losing what made it so much fun in the first place.

I would not put Stephanie anywhere near the top of the list of people who are most responsible for the decline since 2001. The decline has happened for a number of reasons. The main one being that people have found something better to watch than wrestling and it's just not in style anymore. But it's not like a mainstream audience is watching another federation. If there was another show that was drawing 8's and 9's in the ratings while WWE got 4's, I'd say she was a huge failure. But people aren't interested in wrestling anymore. They are watching Hollywood-written shows, hence the idea to make the WWE more Hollywood."

Ivan Trembow responds:
"You make some valid points and I respect your opinions, but I've still got to strongly disagree with you. This is a 'chicken or the egg' kind of thing. I'm not 100% sure, but I think the people who know the timeline of events behind the scenes would say that Stephanie started to "Hollywood-ize" the writing staff and then their business in the United States started to fall apart... as opposed to 'their business started to fall apart in the US, so in an attempt to breathe new life into the company, Stephanie decided to Hollywood-ize the writing staff.' The way in which Stephanie handled the head booking job has been one of the biggest reasons that business declined so much in the first place.

All of the millions of people who were watching pro wrestling in 2000 didn't stop watching pro wrestling simply because they decided that they didn't like pro wrestling anymore, it's because they fall into one of two groups for the most part: A) People who were WCW fans who did not make the transition to being WWE fans when WCW went out of business, and B) People who completely lost interest in the WWE product, which Stephanie is in charge of creatively.

Also, it would be nice if the root motivation for Stephanie's Hollywood-ization of the writing team in the first place was to help WWE reach a more mainstream audience than ever before, but that's just not the case based on everything that the Torch and Observer have ever reported. And on this front, it's not just Stephanie and her writing team, it's also the people in charge of hiring announcers.

When hiring new writers or announcers, they don't want people who know anything about pro wrestling because those people are viewed as 'pro wrestling marks,' and WWE feels those people are beneath them. The McMahon family members absolutely hate to view themselves as 'just pro wrestling promoters,' so they don't want to be hiring people who they perceive as 'pro wrestling marks.'

The only people who would be semi-qualified to be writers in WWE who also know nothing about pro wrestling would be writers who have Hollywood writing experience and are willing to give it a try.

If a potential new writer or potential new announcer knows anything about wrestling or is a fan of wrestling, it's actually looked down upon and they are less likely to get the job, specifically because WWE management looks down on those people. That's just a grossly counter-productive way of doing things."