Having a great match is fine, but if the audience doesn't care about the story, what's the point?
Speaking on the latest episode of his 83 Weeks Podcast (via AdFreeShows), Eric Bischoff discussed storytelling in wrestling and how a lot of promotions have taken a shortsighted approach to their booking, operating in a more independent/territorial fashion. Televised wrestling, on the other hand, should be heavy on story. He said the following:
"Real story. Story that has great structure and is managed appropriately so you get the important beats of a story so you're building anticipation. You're integrating all of the elements of any good story; whether it's a movie, a book, a fu**ing My Pillow commercial has more story structure to it than 90% of the wrestling we see on television today. It's frustrating for me because the audience is there.
When I first got into wrestling, when I was in WCW and WWE/F was at the top of the game, everyone that came over to WCW was like, 'man they tell such great stories there, they work their stories out a year in advance, six months in advance.' It's story, it's story, it's story. I was in WCW at the time where story really didn't matter because everybody involved on the creative side of things came from that weekly territory mentality where it was more 'hot angle, payoff. Hot angle, payoff. Hot angle, payoff. Long-term storytelling was something that everybody understood, intellectually, but didn't know how to do or apply. It took us a long time to get there and we didn't get there till the mid-90s. 95, 96 is when it really started happening. I'm not suggesting there weren't good stories in WCW before but they were more by accident than they were by design. They had a lot more to do with the talent than the people writing for the talent."
Bischoff believes that the amount of content being produced by today's larger promotions has hampered their ability to craft quality angles. He concedes that, yes, viewing habits have changed to a point, but that there are still plenty of shows drawing big numbers because they deliver great characters and compelling stories. Here is what he said:
"The sheer volume of what you have to produce sometimes leads to the quality of the story and the structure. Those two things go together. You cannot have a good quality story without a formula or structure associated with it... If you don't have a plan, you're just getting lucky every once and a while. I think that's what's missing.
People can convince themselves all they want that the reason people aren't watching wrestling is because they're getting all their content from so many different platforms and blah blah blah blah blah. It's true, to a point. But guess what, there is a lot of great television out there right now that is delivering massive television numbers because they're telling great stories with great characters and it can be done in wrestling. It can be. In some cases more easily.
It's not because people don't care or because people don't necessarily have the talent or access to the talent, it's because everybody is on this fu**ing treadmill and they're producing so much content that storytelling becomes a casualty. What is good storytelling is now referred to as storytelling, but it's really not, because there's no structure to it, there's no arc to it. When there's no structure and no arc there's no drama, and when there's no drama there's no passion. There's a good match that somebody will give 5 stars to, but the audience doesn't buy in emotionally and that's the part that's missing too often everywhere."
The conversation about writing in wrestling would conclude with Bischoff talking about how he felt bad for Christian Cage and the way he was introduced in AEW. He said that one of the arts of booking is managing expectations and building anticipation. Had Christian just shown up on the show in an impactful way, he likely would have been one of the hottest topics of discussion in the wrestling world for weeks afterwards.
Recently, Eric Bischoff also examined age in professional wrestling and connecting with an audience.
If you use any of the quotes above, please credit 83 Weeks with a h/t and link back to Fightful for the transcription.