Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Psychology of Booking

Most of the readings for this past Thursday centered on two pieces from a wrestler we'll be reading from several times this semester, Ole Anderson, and two pieces from longtime St. Louis wrestling employee Larry Matysik. Both of them were involved with booking in their respective territory, Matysik for Sam Muchnick in St. Louis, and Ole Anderson as the major booker for Atlanta at several points, as well as the Carolinas. Both were major areas for the NWA World Title, and Jim Barnett in Georgia was a major NWA player, with Muchnick being one of the major NWA power brokers.

The particulars of some of the stories they are telling may be lost on you not knowing some of the particular characters they are referring to, but I think it reveals a lot about the mentality of this wrestling period, not only with how the regional territories and the idea of the NWA worked but also about the logic behind booking these territories.

Matysik's piece reveals the political maneuverings behind deciding who the champion should be, and I hope it fleshes out a little bit more about Dory Funk Jr. and Terry Funk and their significance in NWA history, as well as the precarious politics behind deciding who is champion, when they would lose the title, who they would lose it to, etc. Imagine all the politics involved when all these guys come together trying to vote on who would be the next world champion, since each of them have "a dog in the race." Sam Muchnick and the St. Louis territory is pivotal at the center of all this.

Of course, some of Larry's writing is indicative to his fierce allegiance to Sam and his dissatisfaction at the way the business changed, but I think he makes some strong points about what made St. Louis work, particularly about the way matches were booked. I especially want to emphasize his point about protecting the title and making it a serious athletic contest, minimizing the run-ins and cheap finishes, etc. This was the point I was emphasizing about the seriousness with which Brisco/Funk was treated when we watched it last Thursday.

Muchnick emphasizes respecting fans and telling stories that make sense and that emphasize the sport behind the wrestling, and I particularly enjoyed this quote, from page 60: "The trick was getting the casual fans, whether they were lawyers, doctors, truck drivers, or teachers, to buy tickets. These folks might come out three or four times a year, but they were a big part of every sellout. To keep everyone of all interest levels inovlved, the 'Why' behind each match had to make sense" (60).

Hopefully, you enjoyed some of the little anecdotes about Andre the Giant, the Funks, Pat O'Connor, Jack Brisco, Lou Thesz, Killer Kowalski, Fabulous Moolah--all characters we've seen in the class in these first couple of weeks. And the way Mushnick brought in people from McMahon's territory, from outside the NWA, was interesting as well. We'll be reading and talking more about Sammartino in the coming weeks, but he's one of the most legendary wrestlers in history as the longtime king of the WWE for the most part of the 1960s and 1970s.

As far as Ole, he emphasizes the importance television has in selling arenas, the difficulty of booking territories and trying to plan finishes for multiple arenas running the same night, and the way to build a feud to introduce new characters. I enjoy Ole's honesty, including the jabs he takes at himself. As Ole says at some points in the book, he knows he's hard to get along with, an SOB even, and he lets that come through in his writing, providing what some consider a delusional book and what others consider a great example from the time period as to the psychology of booking television and wrestling in the territories.

Ole was never a national star because he stayed in Georgia and the Carolinas his whole career and spent much of his time in tag teams, but he was both booker and a top wrestler in these territories, which means that he has a unique perspective on the territory era. Further, because he was in power at the time of the rise of Vince Jr. in the 1980s, we'll be following more of Ole's short chapters from Inside Out later on in the class, and he'll be a character in Sex, Lies, and Headlocks as well.

For Ole, money tends to be one of the most major issues of success and of logic, and I particularly enjoyed this point about Bill Watts and his success in Mid-South with high ticket prices: "I never ran a town where 30,000 peopel came for anything, but Bill did, and he charged as much as $100 a ticket--and he was successful. He ran the New Orleans Superdome and packed the building. Bill would do that a few times a year, just like Eddie (Graham) and Dusty (Rhodes) did (in Florida, one of the NWA's top territories and where Gordon Solie was the voice, as well as the work Solie would do in Georgia and the Carolinas), but I was looking at going to those towns ona weekly basis. I just didn't feel there was any chance we could support a high-end ticket on a regular basis. I thought we could do it once in awhile, but I looked at it over hte long run and asked myself, 'Do I want to draw $1 million over a year, or do I want to draw $250,000 for one show?' That was the basis for my position. We were able to go back and continue to draw money consistently."

Look forward to some discussion of your takeaways from Matysik's and Anderson's memoirs about the territory days as well.

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