It's not all sad news and doom and gloom. We had a top WWE talent go to bat for the creative team and their hard work. They noted that they didn't believe it was fair that either Heyman or Prichard got all of the credit, but much of the criticism went to "stupid" writers. It was stated to us that "95 percent" of the writers are really passionate about what they do, and care about the talent they're writing for, and that the idea that there's a lot of unscripted promos as stated by some isn't necessarily true. The talent says the writers often have a thankless job, and are only subjected to criticism.
When we followed up with a second wrestler on on opposing brand, they actually echoed that sentiment. They wouldn't go on record with their name, but gave us the anonymous quote- "there are a lot of people who make our jobs easier, writers and referees especially who go nameless because they're not mentioned by name on tv. Almost all of them work hard and are willing to help."
After a couple of tapings where the conditions weren't so wonderful, many who have attended recent tapings WWE have held spoke of improved situations. From air conditioning in the tents to chairs (yes!) in between segments, Fightful has heard that the more recent sets have been much easier to work. WWE has also brought in food trucks, added coolers for energy drinks. One of the catering shops actually told a person in attendance if WWE didn't use them so often throughout this process, that they would have had to furlough some of their employees.
Owens not at Raw
Fightful Select was able to confirm this week that Kevin Owens did not attend the WWE Raw tapings. We were told early Wednesday that Owens had communicated to WWE that he wouldn't be at the next Raw taping after news of the latest positive COVID-19 test within the company emerged. It was also said that WWE didn't try to pressure Owens into attending, and there were no issues on the surface with him opting to not participate.
Those that we spoke to in WWE said there was no heat on Owens that they'd heard of, and word was that he expressed his decision respectfully. They're hoping to have him back by the next set of tapings, but that status is unclear.
You may have noticed the Forgotten Sons missing in action for the last two weeks. As of Monday morning, they weren't expected to be on the next two episodes of Smackdown either.
The team of Jaxson Ryker, Steve Cutler and Wesley Blake were primed for a push within the WWE Tag Team division, before a pro-Donald Trump tweet landed him in hot water with the locker room. Most of the WWE wrestlers that we've spoken to say that he was well liked ahead of that and very respectful. They also note that Blake and Cutler distanced their stances from his following the tweet, and even came in for a meeting with Mark Carrano, as well as other wrestlers.
However, the vignettes have stopped for the trio. They weren't on the last couple of episodes of Smackdown, and were not figured into plans for the tapings last week or this week. The team was originally set to enter a program with New Day, which seems off the table considering Big E and Kofi lost to Cesaro and Shinsuke Nakamura. They could always be called in to film vignettes after the fact, but that doesn't seem to be the case.
Based on what we've heard, there's no heat on Wesley Blake or Steve Cutler, but they are catching the backlash from Ryker's tweet. It's worth noting that Ryker hasn't wrestled since the call-up.
Most we've talked to on the roster feel bad that Blake and Cutler are being lumped in with Ryker after the time they put in NXT to get called up.
James Storm Enhancement
James Storm recounted his WCW days to Fightful, saying that he started out doing extra work as a "security guard," before getting a series of Worldwide matches in 2000 because of his connection to NWA Wildside. He didn't think anything would come of it because he lacked size, but spoke highly of how he was treated when he was there. In one of the matches, he and Shane Helms warned Cassidy Riley against doing a springboard move, but he did it anyway and ended up face planting in the ring. The spot still made tape and was something they laugh about to this day. Riley is now a registered nurse and actually helped save a woman's life in the middle of a match with Storm a lot later on, then got back in the ring and tried to get more heat.
Storm was used to calling his matches in the ring, but Chavo Guerrero wanted to plan stuff out. Guerrero gave him positive reviews, as did Shane Helms and Shannon Moore. Kronik outright told him that the squash match was going to end up hurting, which Storm says he appreciated. Rick Steiner was surprised that Storm was willing to take a big bump for him in their squash handicap match, but it had to be done to set up Shane Eden getting the shit kicked out of him. Storm actually got that match because Terry Taylor caught the original opponent of Steiner's sleeping backstage.
When I spoke to Eric Bischoff last year before he worked for WWE, he mentioned that he thought WWE was produced too slick for their own good, and not nearly gritty enough. I asked him if he ever brought that up while he was in WWE, but he said that he wasn't really around long enough to even throw out something like that along the way.
He isn't a fan of brand splits, at least how WWE has executed them, because they've failed in their execution. It seemed a lot more like he was for the idea of a brand split as long as it was utilized and maintained some level of exclusivity and an aura around it, but considering WWE gets in their own way repeatedly, doesn't seem keen on it. We spoke about WCW's ill-fated brand split idea when Thunder was introduced, as well. Bischoff didn't want to do WCW Thunder, but agreed their roster was good enough to be split in half and performed well, but pretty early into Thunder's run, they had a whole new set of budget issues presented to them from the top of things.
I asked him about sure-fire talents he saw along the way in WWE, but didn't want to name names because he thought that could actually work against them. However, he did strongly imply Becky Lynch was among those names. He said there were about three or four others that stood out, but that he didn't end up getting a ton of time with the talent.
ESPN's The Last Dance highlighted Dennis Rodman skipping a 1998 NBA Finals practice in order to go to WCW Nitro. I asked Eric Bischoff if he got any heat from the Bulls or Turner about it, and he seemed almost surprised that he actually didn't. Eric elaborated that his boss Harvey Schiller was actually integral in maintaining the relationship between the NBA and TNT, who still have a major partnership going to this day. However, outside of a few questions, he didn't receive much feedback or blowback about it. Bischoff put over Rodman big time as being a once in a lifetime star and athlete, as well.
Bischoff is not a fan of gimmick match types, but admitted to me that there weren't many that he was pitched that he didn't do, because he did almost everything that was pitched his way. He was open to seeing what works even without a filter at some times. He said that a lot of times that lack of filter was him learning on the job and learning through success and failure. Though he admittedly doesn't like gimmick matches, that doesn't mean that other people don't like them. He pointed to the World War 3 battle royal as something that they threw at the wall and made work.
After being so well versed in TV for so long, I asked Bischoff his thoughts on the dreaded shaky camera and zooms, and was thrilled that he loathed them as well. He compared it to the vertigo he sustained when he first started flying.
WWE Filming Schedule
WWE saw a big change to their filming schedule last week, when they had to move things around heavily to accommodate COVID-19 testing.
Following a positive result, WWE canceled their Tuesday tapings and instead filmed a ton of content on Wednesday, including concurrently filming Raw and NXT at different locations. One episode of Smackdown had already filmed Monday, and aired June 19. However, they weren't able to get next week's done.
Now, we're told WWE plans on filming this Friday, June 26, and Saturday, June 27. This week's episode of Smackdown is included in this taping, but we aren't sure what else the schedule involves.