A Former Writing Assistant Speaks

Now HERE’S an interesting discussion-starter for people.  Glad it’s from someone who was already fired because whenever I’m contacted by WWE people it’s always “Don’t print this and don’t mention my name or even read it really or I’ll get fired.” 

Hey Scott,
So on the WWE board at GameFaqs.com, there’s a poster who worked as an assistant for the writing team from September to December last year and is giving away some neat insights about the day-to-day workings of the writing process and some tidbits on some of the stars and personalities. It seems legit; the detail of his work was pretty, uh, detailed, and he posted a pic of the office he worked out of and a couple of the one-sheets from the shows. Some of the information is obvious (Cena and Orton have backstage pull on their angles, etc.) but there have some some interesting things he’s revealed (Sheamus was the planned Rumble winner since the previous summer and not a last-second swerve as a result of Chris Jericho, D-Bry being against pairing up with AJ). I’ve gleamed some of the better bits from the topic and thought I’d pass them along since a common cry on the Blog of Doom is “What are they thinking?” And I think it at least beats a fantasy booking e-mail.
I’ve included a lengthy list, so feel free to cherry-pick. If you’re asking why I simply didn’t include a link to said forum, it’s because the WWE board is inaccessible to anyone who doesn’t have enough “karma” built up on the site to keep the trolls out. If this makes for a blog entry, I’d be more than happy to do a follow-up e-mail later on as the topic continues.

His duties: 
“Mainly note-taking and updating many documents that helped the writers do their jobs. There was a document that had the last 6 episodes of Raw and Smackdown broken down by segment. Another that listed the ‘Last 5 Times’ something was done (like the belt being used as a weapon, or a chair being used, or interference in a match). That stuff had to be updated every week so the writers could refer to it whenever needed.
There was a ton of word processing basically. Each week to write the shows we would write the numbers 1 to 11 on the board (the segments of the shows) and just discuss the stories and where to put things. Then I or another assistant would create a “one sheeter” out of those. Basically list each segment and a few bullet points of what they would consist of. The writers would then use this as a guideline to write the scripts.
The writing team is divided into a home team that stays in Stamford, and a road team that travels to all the shows. Unfortunately I was on the home team. My only backstage experience was at Survivor Series which was pretty dope.”

On who he answered to:
“Probably Brian Gewirtz, who was my true boss. If the writers told me one thing and Brian said another, Brian’s word goes. Always.”

On scripting promos and on-the-fly changes:
“Cena has been known to throw the script out and do his own thing on occasion. I’m sure Punk does occasionally. Ziggler has gone off script a time or two and was reprimanded for it. It’s hard to tell for me because the writing process is sort of an assembly line. We wrote the outline and first drafts of the script in Stamford after approval by Vince, then they’d go to the head writers and always through at least three more drafts. Then there’d be another meeting with Vince on location at the arena the morning of every show. More changes are made. Then there’s last minute changes that are made with so little notice that they don’t even have time to be put down on paper. Then of course someone may go out in front of the crowd and forget part of their lines, or choose to improvise for whatever reason. But the bulk of that happened outside of my view. So most times the Raw that aired monday was very different than the one that left the offices the week before, and I didn’t always know where the changes occurred.”
On backstage pull:
“About as much input as you would expect. Orton, Punk and especially Cena have a lot of say in their stories I think. After Survivor Series, Cena felt he shouldn’t lose clean again (or preferably at all) until Wrestlemania, and so he didn’t. When Jericho was in talks of coming back, it was under the conditions that he work with Punk and put him over at Wrestlemania (Jericho’s demands, not WWE’s). He also came up with the light bright jacket thing and paid for it himself (I heard $10g for the first one). Cody Rhodes said in a recent interview that he had his leather vest cape thing custom made and paid for it himself, so I guess to a certain degree the wrestlers are responsible for their own characters. But on the other hand, Daniel Bryan complained a lot about being put into a story with AJ because his last girlfriend storyline with Gail Kim was so bad, but he couldn’t really do anything about it.
So I guess you could say it varies quite a bit.”

On the tag and Divas divisions:
“The thing with Vince is he goes through these weird and seemingly random phases. For a while he’ll be into the tag division, then he couldn’t care less. He’ll want to do Diva storylines, then he doesn’t care if they make it on the show at all. He’ll hire someone like Tamina and not do crap with them for years, then one day ask “Why aren’t we doing anything with Tamina Snuka? She’s a Snuka goddammit!” and Tamina will get a random push.
Right now I guess he’s in the mood for some attention on the tag division.”

On HHH and Stephanie:
“Triple H is super cool. I actually met him in the men’s room. While he was washing his hands I nervously introduced myself and he took a second to stop, look me in the eye, say good to meet you and make sure he got my full name right. Also from my understanding he was the voice of reason that would reel in many of Vince’s crazy ideas in the meetings.
Steph is very nice also, but does have a tendency to stare at you in a sort of psychotic-looking manner. But she’s friendly and jokes around and tries to know everyone’s name. 
They’re just normal people really.”

On the anonymous GM:
“There were a few directions they were considering. The obvious one being Vince, but they also were heavily considering JBL. But Vince killed the story. In fact at one point when the head writers pushed him to at least tie up the loose end some how, Vince suggested to reveal that it was Laurinaitis all along in a “throwaway line backstage.”
The whole thing was dropped though. When Vince stops caring about something, it’s dead.”

“Sure there was a booklet that had bios of the “top talent” of FCW. We would also get weekly FCW DVD’s of the latest show which were available for whoever had time to watch them, but any decisions as far as new talent debuts or anything like that were done by Talent Development, which Triple H is in charge of together with Matt Martolaro, former FCW announcer.
But on occasion we would have a task like “We need a list of the top 5 choices for names for Donny Marlow.” And we discussed as a group and put our favorites on the board. They had to be cleared by the legal team to make sure we could trademark them. Marlow and Hunico themselves liked Camacho best, so Camacho it became.
I remember seeing paperwork for Ryback ‘s debut plan. It included the design of his attire as well as storyboards for his vignettes, but I guess they decided not to do the vignettes.
That’s the thing about the place, and about TV in general I guess, it’s so so SO fluid. Things change constantly and at last minute and you have to learn to just go with it.”

On Punk at Survivor Series: 
“I can tell you a CM Punk story from Survivor Series. Punk was warming up because his match was coming up soon. He was jogging in place and such backstage psyching himself up. MSG is a relatively small arena backstage, so things were a bit cramped. About 20 feet away Miz and Truth were about to pre-tape their backstage interview with Matt Striker (who btw purposely opens his stance up so he’s shorter than the people he interviews).
The PA asked everyone to quiet down so Miz and Truth could record there thing. It’s at this moment that Punk starts doing box jumps. While everyone else is silent, he’s jumping loudly on and off a storage crate. The PA comes over and says something like “I’m sorry Punk but we’re trying to tape this thing. Could you please keep it down?”
Punk says nothing, continues jogging in place but turns over to Miz and Truth and flips them off.
I think he was just joking around, but he did seem like kind of a douche.”

On Kane’s re-masking and feuding with Cena instead of Henry:
“From what I can recall, though Kane was taken out by Mark Henry, Glenn Jacobs did not want to come back and feud with him for whatever reason. So they instead had him return on RAW and go after Cena, though I think it was already planned when he was written off with the broken ankle that he would come back with the mask.
However the design of the outfit, as well as the look and filming of the vignettes teasing his return were both done by other departments and had nothing to do with the writers. We were as anxious to see what he would look like when he returned as everyone else.”

On the Natalya Neidhart “farting” gimmick:
“We used to make fun of Natalya a lot because from what we heard she had kind of an eccentric personality. It was in good fun though and not malicious, but at some point the “Nattie Neidfart” joke came up and we had a good laugh talking about stupid stuff like changing her move to the “shartshooter.” Several weeks later when I was already fired and the story actually made it to TV my jaw dropped and I cracked up. You’d be surprised how much stuff is done just as a rib on people.”

On Daniel Bryan:
“Everyone knew that DB would not hold the briefcase until Wrestlemania. I don’t know why that became part of his story, but likely it was a promise he could break later to facilitate a heel turn. I heard that Bryan winning MitB was actually a last minute same-day decision. From what I could tell, nobody had much faith in Bryan as a draw while he was a face. Bryan almost had to turn heel, because he wasn’t very good at giving face promos. When he first won the championship and started cutting promos still as a face, he would emphasize the wrong parts and say things in the wrong tone. It actually came out kind of obnoxious and heelish, which probably encouraged the decision to turn him. However when he became champion, Vince and the writing team wanted to do a very “sophisticated” and slow-burn gradual heel turn which obviously worked wonderfully. I think they had a lot of fun with that story. I remember something in the notes that came in once that said something like 
* From now on, when Daniel Bryan wins any match he should celebrate like it’s the biggest victory of his life
This is was when he was right in the middle of the gradual heel turn and that’s where YES! was born.”

On Nash/Punk/HHH:
“It was Nash not being medically cleared to compete by the time he was supposed to face Punk. The writers had to scramble and think of a reason to stall the story, and then it became Kevin Nash vs. Triple H. Again the story took on a life of its own and they had to go through with the feud, even though it was pretty clear Nash had nothing to offer. Instead of Big Daddy Cool, he was screaming all of his promos. His ring abilities were shoddier than ever. So it was decided Nash and Trips would have one blow off match and we’d be done with Kevin Nash on the show. Punk vs. Nash almost happened on RAW a few times, just to tie up the loose end, but I think they didn’t want Nash competing a big match before his match with Triple H so it never happened.”

On Brodus Clay’s gimmick change:
“The whole writing team was under the impression that Brodus would come back as the monster heel depicted in the vignettes. It was Vince who saw things differently. When the vignettes were already airing and the writing team asked him when they should debut Brodus, Vince said something like “What’s his character? We don’t have anything for him. I don’t understand who Brodus Clay is. Let’s hold off on his debut until we have a better idea.” 
Backstage it was well known that Brodus has a lot of charisma, loves kids and is a great talker. Vince decided he wanted Brodus as a face, and for some reason, despite Brodus having no dancing ability, he wanted Brodus to dance.
They worked on the gimmick for weeks, mainly down in FCW (as dark segments I assume). All of it was completely out of the writers hands and was probably handled by Talent Development instead. The reason his debut was teased so much was because at first we thought he was ready, then Vince would decide he isn’t ready yet. His ring work isn’t up to par, or the choreography isn’t good enough, or the outfit needs work still, or the whole production needs more time, or the timing is off. All kinds of stuff like that.
When Brodus finally debuted, the writers came into work the next day and the reaction was as mixed as it was [on the IWC]. Some thought it was cheesy and a disaster, some thought it was fun and entertaining, some thought it just needed time to get over.
In the end, it was a way more fun and original idea to make him the Funkasaurus than generic monster heel #622978 I think.
Although admittedly after a while we had Laurinaitis tease Brodus’s debut just to get him heat. There was an idea that Brodus would debut as a monster, but then turn on Laurinaitis and break out the dancing character. Or that Laurinaitis would be under the impression that he was bringing in a monster, only to be dismayed when Brodus shows up dancing. There were a few possibilities, but they ultimately decided to drop Brodus and Johnny’s connection all together.” 

On Zack Ryder’s depush:
“I didn’t feel that the writers had anything against Ryder really. I think Gewirtz feels that he’s a natural underdog, and that’s why people like him. The moment you give him too much exposure or success, he’s no longer an underdog and becomes annoying so they try to stick to that.
Any personal feelings that stop someone from getting more success probably come from Vince himself. Absolutely no major plot points, no title wins or face/heel turns get on TV without Vince’s approval.”

On planning for the Royal Rumble:
“The winner is determined months in advance usually, but it’s always subject to change. The way they usually book is that they set up the main events for PPVs all the way from now until next Wrestlemania. They then work backwards between PPVs to develop the storylines on RAW and SD. There’s a document that charts the main events, but a lot of the stuff ends up changing. When I flipped through this document in September, Sheamus was already scheduled to win the Rumble, but he was also supposed to take on Mark Henry for the WHC at Wrestlemania. But things happen. Henry got injured and had to drop the title, Bryan cashed in and became a phenomenon, etc. Del Rio was supposed to take on Orton, but he got injured as well. Sin Cara and Mysterio, same deal. So most of the stuff they had planned did not actually come to fruition. And even before the Rumble there was lots of consideration about making the winner Jericho instead since they knew they wanted Jericho to take on Punk at Wrestlemania. I think ultimately it was decided that Sheamus needs a Rumble victory more than Jericho, and Jericho could get to Wrestlemania by other means.
As for the specifics, Michael Hayes does most of it with some of the agents. They plan the list of participants, then work on the order and some of the big spots. The reason it was 30 people and not 40 again this year was because the roster was so thin because of so many injuries. Hell even with 30 they had to resort to guys like Jey Uso and Michael Cole.”

On Sheamus as the next Cena and a Cena heel turn:
“Sheamus is being built as the next John Cena. Which is a good thing, because it will free up Cena to do other things in the future, like turn heel. Kids love Sheamus. He moves merch. He’s good at press appearances and talk shows and junk. He’s the best possible candidate to replace Cena as the top babyface.  As far as the man personally, I don’t remember hearing anything interesting. He’s just a loyal hardworking guy. Last I heard he wanted to add a cloverleaf as another finishing move.
From what I’ve heard, Cena would LOVE to turn heel. The Thuganomics character was a lot more like his real persona, and I know he feels limited by being a face. It’s the company and Vince that doesn’t want to take the leap until they have an established replacement for him, which is most likely Sheamus. It’s not just the show itself, but they need someone that can do all the Make A Wish stuff, the PR appearances, the sponsorships, etc that Cena does. Cena works his ass off for the company, and nobody else even comes close right now. So there’s a lot of things lost in turning him heel.”

On the planning process from September onward:
“Tough question to answer. Like I said they had a very skeleton idea of the major feuds and matches all the way through to Wrestlemania. They always work backwards from the PPV card to book the Raws and Smackdowns in-between, so they always know what the end goal is. As far as specifics of matches and promos, that’s usually a week by week basis, with the team planning one week ahead of real time. Some feuds that were story-heavy, like Cena vs. Kane, would sometimes have “grids” which is basically a chart with four columns representing the four weeks until the next PPV. Writers were encouraged to work in that grid style, keeping in mind how one week relates to the next, rather than winging it week by week.”

On the sanitized TV-PG product:
“A lot of the restrictions nowadays are not so much about PG vs Non-PG but because the world has gotten more aware and more critical about health and sports as a whole. For example, whereas blood was rampant in the Attitude era, now if someone bleeds they practically stop the match and have a cut doctor with gloves work on them. This is not because of PG, but because of higher concerns over hepatitis and things like that that are tied to legal issues about workplace risks and red tape like that. Same goes for chair shots to the head. Has nothing to do with PG, but with society up in arms about concussions and life threatening head injuries in the NFL and anywhere else.
However PG was a roadblock on a few occasions. For example in the Cena vs. Kane story, we were told that lighting anyone on fire was not PG and was not a possibility, and even lighting any THING on fire was unlikely to be approved. When you’re dealing with a Kane story that’s kind of a kick in the balls.”

On the writers as a group:
“The writers are a lot like [the IWC]. They want stories to be entertaining, deep, and make sense. But sometimes their plans are derailed by what Vince wants to do. Sometimes they’re so busy working on the main storylines that the midcard guys like Primo and Epico fall through the cracks without having a storyline for weeks. They’re doing their best. And I believe Vince has always been the way he is.
You gotta realize that Vince has lived and breathed this company for 30 years. It’s all he thinks about, so he’s a very unusual guy and very disconnected from the “real world.” He has no time to watch TV. He has no idea whats going on in pop culture. He’s never seen most major movies of the last 40 years that everyone has seen. Like I remember making a reference to The Shining, and Brian Gewirtz said “I can guarantee you that Vince has never seen The Shining.” He has to have other people explain these things to him because all he knows is the WWE.”

Part two:  http://www.rspwfaq.net/2012/05/behind-scenes-at-wwe-part-deux.html