Nothing In Your Life Should Be As Complicated As WWE’s Writing Process

I remember once saying to somebody during a wrestling conversation that part of the problem with WWE is that they seem to overthink so much that they end up underthinking. So much effort is put into making sure that everyone talks and acts the same and that everything sticks to the same patterns visually and sequentially that not enough thought is given to important details like does the final product actually make any damn sense if our audience has a memory longer than about an hour. I’ve stood by that opinion for years, and I think my belief in it may have just been strengthened after reading these quotes from an interview with Jimmy Jacobs about his time writing there.

One of the things you learn is that the devil is in the details. You are tasked with coming up with things that are detailed, you’re doing everything month-by-month, episode-by-episode, hour-by-hour, segment-by-segment, all the way down to word-by-word. There’s no, “How about we do something like that?” You can’t do that. You have to come up with answers while you’re there.”

On the size of WWE’s writing team: “It’s roughly about 25 people. My first day in the job, I was in the room for about an hour until I realized that, hey man, these people are really smart. They’re very talented in their own ways. The way it’s split up, there are two teams. There is the home team, which stays in Stamford, Connecticut, and work in the office all week, and the road team that goes to RAW, SmackDown, and produces the TV on the road. The road team is also in the office a day or two during the week.”
On his specific role: “By the end I was a senior writer, not a lead writer. That meant I was tasked with some of the higher level stories, writing and producing them on the show. When I left, the last stories I was doing was the John Cena and Roman Reigns stuff on RAW, and on SmackDown it was the Kevin Owens and Shane McMahon stuff. Dave manages the team, then RAW has a home lead writer and a road lead writer. Then SmackDown has a home lead writer and a road lead writer. They are tasked with putting the pieces together and what the show is going to be. Underneath, you’re tasked with coming up with what those pieces are. I would produce the TV.”
On the writing process during the show: “So, let’s say it was a Roman Reigns-John Cena promo, now somebody will have written (be it me or someone else) a version of what that could be like, and then I take that promo and based off any notes that Vince would have, I’d go to the talent. John knows what he wants, and he has a lot of freedom since Vince trusts him. I ask them what they want to do, and maybe they want something completely different…but we would sit down and crack something out. We’d come up with a new version of the promo, I’d take it to Vince, and he would either give the okay or give us a few changes. Then I go back to talent, and then make sure the guys know what production they need.”

On writers’ weekly schedule: “It’s a seven day a week job. So, while the road team is at RAW, the home team is back at Stamford, and they’re helping out with rewrites on Monday & Tuesday, but by Wednesday the home team will have an idea of what they want to pitch to Vince. They’ll have a meeting with Vince and then he’ll give us feedback. Sometimes he’ll want to change a lot, sometimes it’s a little. Then on Thursday, the lead writers are putting together the pieces of what RAW is going to look at. Then Friday to Saturday we are putting pen to paper, and writing the promos. By Saturday evening, all the writers will send in the promos, and then by Sunday the lead writers will put it all together into a proper script. They’ll send that to Vince, and then by Monday then there’s the production meeting for RAW by 1pm. We go through the plan, and then all the writers and agents will give their feedback. Based off those suggestions, Vince will make changes, and then as a writer on the road, I’ll implement those changes. We compile those changes and put it in a new version of the script. Then I tell talent what they’re doing.”
On writing for Vince McMahon: “The Vince factor is a huge part of writing RAW and SmackDown. Even if you took Vince out of the equation, it’s an extremely difficult task to come up with new ideas, concepts and new matches for 3 hours each week. But yeah, it’s difficult writing for Vince. The prevailing goal is ‘Is Vince going to like this?’ So, [you’re writing things going] ‘Will Vince gonna yell about this?’ It’s hard to know what he wants because things will change, and he’ll want changes. He’s certainly a unique character and some people like to blame Vince for all the bad stuff, I don’t know if that’s true or not. Certainly, I’ll give the devil his due: if you blame him for the bad stuff then you have to blame him for the good stuff. ”

On the difference between two and three hour shows: “I work on IMPACT now and just finished up a creative meeting an hour ago, and it’s difficult to write a two hour show. However, a three hour show is significantly harder. When you ask yourself, ‘Why did they do this?’ The reason is that we have to do something, we have three hours to fill. So, you wind up giving some matches away. It’s a lot. You are given a blank sheet of paper, you have a roster, and you’re tasked with coming up with 16 segments. So, you’re thinking ‘What matches haven’t been done? What stories haven’t been told?’ Over the past 20 years, nearly everything has been done. When I was growing up there would be one hour of Superstars. It was all job matches, and then the main event would be Koko B. Ware versus Rick ‘The Model’ Martel, and that had enough value to be a main event. But in the world of supply and demand, a three hour show is too much supply and not enough demand. There’s no scarcity of marquee matches. They just had their lowest ratings of all time with a TLC match starring their biggest babyface in Seth Rollins, the Intercontinental Champion, against one of the mainly featured heels. And nobody watched it! So, it makes you wonder, what can you do? Even if you pulled out all the stops, what ammo do you have left in your gun that you haven’t done already. It’s difficult.”

On whether there are too many writers in WWE: “No, absolutely not. 25 writers is not too many. Do you feel like sometimes there are too many cooks in the kitchen the day of RAW when you’re making changes at the eleventh hour? Sure, you’ll feel like ‘Why didn’t you say something about this three days ago?’ But there’s so much detail…and it’s way heavier to produce. Doing one segment there is a very time consuming thing, and you’re responsible for everything during that segment. If something goes wrong it is on your head. The writers aren’t the shot callers, they’re the idea givers. There aren’t too many guys up top with the final say.”

Far be it for me to disagree with a guy who worked there, but yes, 25 writers is too many writers for a wrestling show. I know things are different now, but historically, a lot of the most memorable things in the history of wrestling were thought up by small groups of people. If the process wasn’t so bogged down with making sure “WWE universe” appears an exact number of times in each segment, there would be no need for home teams and road teams and rewrites and revisions and drafts and all of this other nonsense. Can you go back to nothing but squash matches up and down the shows every week? Probably not. But you can trust your talent to tell your stories in their own ways without scripting their every word and movement. If you can’t, you’re either hiring the wrong people, teaching the right ones incorrectly or there’s something the matter with you and you need to take a good long look at the way the micromanaging part of your brain operates. If you spend less time on the things that don’t matter, it frees you up to focus on the things that do, like making sure the thing I just saw doesn’t directly contradict the thing I saw right before it.

None of this is to say that creating and producing as much content as WWE does each week isn’t hard. It is. But you won’t ever convince me that the way they’re going about it isn’t needlessly complex. This is wrestling. It’s pretty simple when you strip it down to the basics. And the basics, for the most part anyway, are all most people want. Give a wrestling fan a few nice, easy stories to follow and some good action to match and he’s going to be pretty happy.

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