MLW owner Court Bauer was on a recent episode of the Talk Is Jericho podcast where he and AEW star Chris Jericho discussed Bauer’s time in WWE as a writer. Bauer noted that the time he was coming in to WWE, the company had started hiring more writers from Hollywood, but those writers did not know much about wrestling.
“So I started in the spring of 2005, and then the summer of 2007, I gave notice and left,” Bauer recalled. “So in dog years that’s 14 years, but then in WWE, that’s two years, and it was interesting because I came at a time when they had been stockpiling some interesting names from Hollywood to come in there and be writers. They’d run shows for Spike TV.
“They had done interesting things with interesting people, all walks of life from TV. This had been kind of complicated in that they’re guaranteeing these guys pretty nice paydays, but they’re not really understanding wrestling. What we’d love is someone that has a background in wrestling, has done some stuff on TV [and] that’s young enough.”
Jericho noted that when he first debuted in WWE, there were no scripted promos nor were they rehearsals for segments. Jericho revealed that writers were introduced around the time SmackDown was launched because Vince McMahon wanted to compete against “Friends”.
“It’s funny because when I got to WWE, my famous first promo with The Rock when I interrupted him, there were no writers at that point. That was late 1999 and no rehearsals either,” Jericho noted. “Rock, and I and [Vince] Russo went over in the back, but there was no going through it. As you know, a few years later, that became the norm, which is part of what my opinion of one of the issues there is everything is so overly scripted and overly processed.
“The reason why writers became a thing was when we started SmackDown, which was right after I got there, August ’99, Vince made it his motto that SmackDown was going to be bigger than ‘Friends’. We’re going to beat ‘Friends’ on Thursday, and his reasoning and idea and strategy was well ‘Friends’ has writers, then we need writers too.”
Bauer has discussed before the things he’s learned from his time in WWE, and he noted the hybrid system that WWE has where you have the wrestling matchmakers mixed in with Hollywood writers. Bauer said the problem with scripting out TV weeks in advance is that McMahon changes his mind, and there are a mix of other factors as well.
“I think there’s a few things, one’s product knowledge, and WWE’s such a hybrid system,” Bauer pointed out. “So they take aspects of TV, sports and show biz and they kind of create this WWE gumbo in their creative process. So it’s really foreign to people that come from wrestling that were matchmakers or bookers and then you have people that were winning Emmys doing this on network TV.
“And it’s kind of Greek to everyone. The legends and people who had been in there, Dusty Rhodes was with us. He would just take a piece of paper and write down the matches. So it’s a different process now that you’re having to go in there and have this very scripted thing, and you get everyone together and everyone’s on the same page. You write out all these grids, which is individual weeks of episodic TV that you’re going to be doing for a month or two months.
“The problem with that process is Vince changes his mind, or a wrestler gets injured or something else happens, and so everything you plan every week gets wiped out. And so it’s hard to long-term plan when you’re trying to be that rigid. So trying to be more fluid in planning, which wrestling tends to be at its best, you can get a feel for the ebb and flow.”
Bauer recalled a time where a match was changed on the fly involving Matt Hardy and Mr. Kennedy. He praised the two for being able to work on the fly and create a new match with a new finish. He said wrestling works better that way rather than a scripted out sequence of moves.
“There was a few times I remember Matt Hardy, maybe, going out for a tag match with Kennedy, and they’re literally going to the ring being told everything they were working on has totally changed and doing a totally different match. And the ref will give you the finish in the ring, and so everything they had planned and mapped out was changed because Vince decided to go longer with the match, change the match, everything,” Bauer recalled. “And give it to those guys, you really could see how they could freestyle it and just pivot and do something totally different on a live SmackDown at that time when they had been kind of working through all the spots in the sequences to get there.
“And I think that’s important too. It’s one of those qualities of wrestling is to have certain key things you want to get in the match but not have it be interconnected sequences that if you take something out, it all falls apart, and it’s a house of cards. You kind of have to go with the ebb and flow.”
Bauer admitted that things weren’t as chaotic as they are now. He also noted that things were never changed because someone had heat with McMahon. He said that some changes were good and some were bad and that was it.
“I think Vince was just in the mood and said, ‘No, we’re doing something different, and I just feel different about it right now.’ We had a real meeting, everyone signed up [and] he just felt like I’m just gonna call an audible and go in this direction now,” Bauer explained. “And that’s his right. It’s his right running the company. Sometimes, he would change things, and it would be better.
“Sometimes, you change things and it would be more complicated coming out of it, and sometimes, I think there’d be like ‘Oh, he’s trying to send a message to someone, or someone has heat.’ No, sometimes it’s just a good idea or bad idea, and as I don’t remember really there being too many instances where a guy was in the doghouse, and there was just someone playing with them. Some of it really was just bad ideas or good ideas or things that just didn’t click and people just shrug and say, what the hell is that? It’s weird.”