This week, the wrestling web has discussed & debated the return of the McMahons as characters on Raw & SmackDown, and the “new era” promises they brought with them. Last week, it was how difficult it is for WWE to create five weekly hours of sports entertainment, whose concern that was and what the fact of it being hard to write Raw had to do with flagging ratings.
The conversation of a week ago was spurred on by a tweet from former WWE writer Jimmy Jacobs in response to Wrestling Observer’s Bryan Alvarez. On Weds., Dec. 19, Jacobs joined Alvarez on Wrestling Observer Live (subscription required) to give more detail on why he said, “Writing a 3 hour wrestling tv show every single week is fuckin hard.”
That information is equal parts fascinating and confounding. Here are some highlights, courtesy of WrestleZone’s transcription:
“[The writing team] is roughly about 25 people. My first day in the job, I was in the room for about an hour until I realized that, hey man, these people are really smart. They’re very talented in their own ways. The way it’s split up, there are two teams. There is the home team, which stays in Stamford, Connecticut, and work in the office all week, and the road team that goes to RAW, SmackDown, and produces the TV on the road. The road team is also in the office a day or two during the week.
Dave [I believe this is the former Riajin Singh, David Kapoor] manages the team, then RAW has a home lead writer and a road lead writer. Then SmackDown has a home lead writer and a road lead writer. They are tasked with putting the pieces together and what the show is going to be. Underneath, you’re tasked with coming up with what those pieces are. I would produce the TV.
So, let’s say it was a Roman Reigns-John Cena promo, now somebody will have written (be it me or someone else) a version of what that could be like, and then I take that promo and based off any notes that Vince would have, I’d go to the talent. John knows what he wants, and he has a lot of freedom since Vince trusts him. I ask them what they want to do, and maybe they want something completely different…but we would sit down and crack something out. We’d come up with a new version of the promo, I’d take it to Vince, and he would either give the okay or give us a few changes. Then I go back to talent, and then make sure the guys know what production they need.
It’s a seven day a week job. So, while the road team is at RAW, the home team is back at Stamford, and they’re helping out with rewrites on Monday & Tuesday, but by Wednesday the home team will have an idea of what they want to pitch to Vince. They’ll have a meeting with Vince and then he’ll give us feedback. Sometimes he’ll want to change a lot, sometimes it’s a little. Then on Thursday, the lead writers are putting together the pieces of what RAW is going to look at. Then Friday to Saturday we are putting pen to paper, and writing the promos. By Saturday evening, all the writers will send in the promos, and then by Sunday the lead writers will put it all together into a proper script. They’ll send that to Vince, and then by Monday then there’s the production meeting for RAW by 1pm. We go through the plan, and then all the writers and agents will give their feedback. Based off those suggestions, Vince will make changes, and then as a writer on the road, I’ll implement those changes. We compile those changes and put it in a new version of the script. Then I tell talent what they’re doing.”
In addition to wondering if there couldn’t be a better way to do this (something everyone thinks on the outside of almost any job), I come away from this with even more respect for the performers. It sounds like the non-main event talent get to find out what they’re doing, and what they’re expected to say, very late in the process. No wonder promos don’t sound authentic if you only get a day or a few hours to memorize them, let alone dig into motivations, try out different deliveries, etc.
Jacobs also spoke to a few of the big specific reasons people say writing for WWE is a unique challenge.
On Vince McMahon’s involvement:
“The Vince factor is a huge part of writing RAW and SmackDown. Even if you took Vince out of the equation, it’s an extremely difficult task to come up with new ideas, concepts and new matches for 3 hours each week. But yeah, it’s difficult writing for Vince. The prevailing goal is ‘Is Vince going to like this?’ So, [you’re writing things going] ‘Will Vince gonna yell about this?’
It’s hard to know what he wants because things will change, and he’ll want changes. He’s certainly a unique character and some people like to blame Vince for all the bad stuff, I don’t know if that’s true or not. Certainly, I’ll give the devil his due: if you blame him for the bad stuff then you have to blame him for the good stuff.“
On the third hour of Raw:
“I work on IMPACT now and just finished up a creative meeting an hour ago, and it’s difficult to write a two hour show. However, a three hour show is significantly harder.
When you ask yourself, ‘Why did they do this?’ The reason is that we have to do something, we have three hours to fill. So, you wind up giving some matches away. It’s a lot. You are given a blank sheet of paper, you have a roster, and you’re tasked with coming up with 16 segments.
So, you’re thinking ‘What matches haven’t been done? What stories haven’t been told?’ Over the past 20 years, nearly everything has been done. When I was growing up there would be one hour of Superstars. It was all job matches, and then the main event would be Koko B. Ware versus Rick ‘The Model’ Martel, and that had enough value to be a main event. But in the world of supply and demand, a three hour show is too much supply and not enough demand.
There’s no scarcity of marquee matches. They just had their lowest ratings of all time with a TLC match starring their biggest babyface in Seth Rollins, the Intercontinental Champion, against one of the mainly featured heels. And nobody watched it! So, it makes you wonder, what can you do? Even if you pulled out all the stops, what ammo do you have left in your gun that you haven’t done already. It’s difficult.”
On if “there are too many cooks in the kitchen”:
“No, absolutely not. 25 writers is not too many. Do you feel like sometimes there are too many cooks in the kitchen the day of RAW when you’re making changes at the eleventh hour? Sure, you’ll feel like ‘Why didn’t you say something about this three days ago?’ But there’s so much detail…and it’s way heavier to produce.
Doing one segment there is a very time consuming thing, and you’re responsible for everything during that segment. If something goes wrong it is on your head. The writers aren’t the shot callers, they’re the idea givers. There aren’t too many guys up top with the final say.”
It’s a lot to digest, and check out WOL and WrestleZone’s report on Jacobs & Alvarez’s conversation if you think you can handle even more.
Feel free to share your reactions, or just think through the process together, below.