It looks like WWE chairman Vince McMahon is going back to “The Attitude Era” well again, tapping former rivals Paul Heyman and Eric Bischoff as executive directors to help oversee Raw and SmackDown Live brands. The executive director will be the creative “stop-gap” before final authority goes to McMahon.
WWE provided the details via ESPN. Heyman, who was in charge of Extreme Championship Wrestling from 1994-2001 after joining in 1993, will be the executive director of Raw. Bischoff, who ran WCW from 1997-2001 after joining in 1991, will have the same position for SmackDown Live. ECW folded in 2001 when the company went bankrupt and their television deal with Spike TV ended. WCW folded the same year when executives at Time-Warner decided the company wasn’t worth further financial losses, and sold the right to… McMahon.
Many ECW talents transitioned to WWE. Bischoff’s pending deal with a potential investor fell through when he couldn’t secure a TV deal as Time-Warner dropped Monday Nitro from TBS and Thunder from TNT. WWE purchased the leftover ECW and WCW’s assets and library. Only a small percentage of talent were hired by WWE, while those with high end contracts like Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash, Scott Steiner decided to collect for the remainder of their deals.
Both Heyman and Bischoff became on-screen characters as brand GMs becoming the dominant “heel” executive personas once monopolized by the McMahon family. The stints never meant to be long-term since both didn’t have any real creative control over what was written for them. Heyman appeared off and on before becoming the manager for Brock Lesnar.
Bischoff made the occasional rare appearance on both programs after his run as Raw GM, but had more of a presence on WCW-related programming for the WWE Network. Bischoff and Hogan were given the reigns to Total Nonstop Action (TNA, now Impact! Wrestling) to start a very brief (ill-conceived and brief) second “Monday Night War” with Spike’s deal with the organization at the time. Bischoff continued to work on independent projects and even made a taped appearance at Raw 25th Anniversary.
The move is shocking in sorts, because of how hands-on McMahon is behind the scenes. Stability in WWE creative has been rare given the rotating staff of writers and producers with frustrations often mounting between staff, talent and fans. Brian “Road Dogg Jesse” James resigned as lead writer of SmackDown shortly after accepting the job and currently is working on the NXT brand under Paul “Triple H” Levesque. TNA co-founder Jeff Jarrett took a producer role for WWE not far removed to the company’s induction to its Hall of Fame.
Pressure internally due to fan and staff unrest is likely the motivating factor for the moves. How much real power Heyman and Bischoff has is speculative. Heyman’s already an on-screen presence in WWE programming and he’s had a positive relationship with McMahon dating back his ECW days. For him to take a WWE creative position must be quite lucrative since TNA at one point, did try to court him. Heyman ultimately turned down their offer, because he wouldn’t be allowed the creative autonomy he desired. Fans of Raw should be excited given what he was able to develop in ECW.
When it comes to Bischoff, it seems to be more of a gamble. He largely succeeded, because he had Ted Turner’s blank checkbook and adopted the perfect story from New Japan Pro-Wrestling for his concept of the New World Order (NWO). He shoulders the burden on being on a bigger platform with FOX than he ever had under the Warner networks in TBS and TNT. Many WCW storylines fell flat and even the NWO grew stale with splinter factions and most of the roster becoming members. When given executive control of TNA with Hogan, Bischoff went back to what he knew best when he ran WCW in signing higher priced former WWE talent, which proved too costly for management.
We know what Heyman and Bischoff are capable of away from McMahon, but can this three-headed monster work? We’ll find out since I’m sure Vince doesn’t want to see lower-than-average attendance for his flagship shows, continued declining ratings, and also doesn’t want the fans to hijack them chanting for organizations he has nothing to do with, like All-Elite Wrestling (AEW).