Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Bischoff and the business of the Business

Before reading the exceprts from his book 'Controversy Creates Cash', I didn't really know much about Eric Bischoff other than what I had been told by WWE programming and some behind the scenes work. I knew Bischoff was billed as the Vince McMahon of WCW, the president, the man in charge, who spear-headed the Monday Nights Wars, and who would read the results of the (at the time) pre-taped RAW show that would air that night. I basically heard all the negatives, from JR, who claimed Bishoff fired him, to Stone Cold Steve Austin, who also claimed Bischoff fired him (and which I still think rings true). I had never really heard a positive, or at least not an overwhelmingly negative, spin on Bischoff and his role in WCW.

Granted an auto/co-biography is not exactly the most unbiased source to take from, but at least it delivers another side to the story. Bischoff details his rise thrhough the ranks of WCW, from a on-air announcer to executive producer to president, etc, and how he did his mightiest to turn the company around from a 'redheaded laughing-stock of a stepchild' in Turner Broadcasting's ranks to a serious threat and competitor to the long dominant World Wrestling Federation.

Bischoff almost sells himself short as he details his rise: promotions are given more out of luck it sounds like, and the actual moment that Monday Night Nitro was conceptualized was due to Ted Turner's prompting and gusto, rather than Bischoff's incredible risktaking or anything of that sort (of course to be fair, when Ted asked what WCW needed to compete with McMahon, BIschoff said primetime, and that was the truth). Bischoff seems to let his guard down by saying he was learning on the job, that he was a TV guy learning how to be a wrestling guy, learning the business as he went. As he details his learning process and his attempts and ideas to turn the company around, we get a glimpse of the very nuts and bolts of the business behind The Business. This is not ring mechanics and selling to the crowd or psychology, but marketing and investors and the balance between television, pay-per-views, live shows and merchandising, the importance of having a unique and strong product and then selling it well, without overselling it, as Bischoff did.

Bischoff had the guts to throw decades of wrestling-business tradition back in the faces of all the old timers, like when he shipped them off to Disney World to tape in their high production quality studios in front of live (and more importantly, sober) audiences, and the rearrangment of writers, bookers and storylines, thinking months and years ahead instead of days or weeks. Bischoff may have downplayed his aggression, his ruthlessness, and all that, but he gave credit to where it was due, and took it where it was earned. He really did make substantial changes in the WCW to bring it out of the red and into the face of WWE, leading to the Monday Night Wars, and some of the most successful and high quality wrestling entertainment ever, on both sides. Without Bischoff, I bet you wrestling nowadays would be a lot less exciting, and far more predictable.


Luis Tenorio said...

I also had very little idea of who Bischoff was before reading about him. He did seem to fill that Mr. McMahon role however he did do many things that changed wrestling behind the scenes. The most important might be getting Kevin Nash and Scott Hall and starting the nWo storyline. However I do think he is one of those guys who did fire people and not in the most gracious way. He might have seen the future of wrestling but not as clearly as one would think. He fired Stone Cold Steve Austin for not being a marketable wrestler. OK, he wasn't stone cold yet, but he could have let Austin take a little more active role. I have heard and read of incidents where Bischoff would fire someone through the mail or over the phone through someone else. I also think that he does try to sell himself a little more than one would think by trying to claim that certain things that happened in the WWF were rip offs of similar storylines in WCW. Namely DX. He did do great things but any different from Vince McMahon in the way he approaches the business.

Sam Ford said...

While Vince did some "heel" work in Memphis a little bit, it's important to note that Bischoff was the evil promoter before Vince ever was. I find Mr. McMahon a much more compelling character and Easy-E the character pretty annoying, but I think Bischoff was a particularly good performer as the "general manager" of RAW when he later went to work for Vince.

It's important to remember that this is a book by Bischoff but published by WWE. At least implicitly, that probably shaped what he had to say.

Again, a particularly interesting contrast is the stuff we read again this week from Ole Anderson, compared to Bischoff's view of things, (including Ole).