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  1. #1
    Administrator Prime Time's Avatar
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    Prime Time Profiles: Vince Russo

    Prime Time profiles is a new idea, in which I try and capture something of the truth of someone in the wrestling industry, filtered unapologetically through my own opinion and interpretation of them and the wider business, in no more than a thousand words. This first edition is something of an experiment, but I hope you like what I've produced here.




    There are many people I could have chosen for my first foray into this, and many will be surprised to see me choose Vince Russo, given that I’m on the record with how I feel about the guy. Long story short, if you are new to my work: I am not a fan. But I chose him for this first outing because I wanted to try and understand and put into words why the man who rose to prominence on the basis of making wrestling more ‘real’, who is outspoken about hating ‘that fake wrestling’, could sound so much like me at times yet simultaneously come out in such a different place?

    If I were to give Russo his full due, there’s no doubt he understands what a good moment in wrestling looks like. I have no faith that he knows how to build it up, keep it going, or create something that has meaning – but if all the pieces are in place beforehand Russo does have the eye to put those pieces into some very effective combinations. To hear him talk about how he would have done the WCW invasion of the WWF, with Scott Hall appearing early in the angle in a way that mirrored his jump of the barriers on Nitro, does make you wonder why he wasn’t able to do it more often.

    Some people still claim that he did, of course. There’s an argument out there that Russo’s booking drew big numbers, and people who want to make that case point to the fact that the highest rated episodes of RAW all came during the run in which he was one of the chief creative forces in the WWF. For those who follow this line of thinking, Russo is the one that got away, the lost genius from the Attitude era, someone who could lead wrestling to new heights of popularity if it weren’t for political correctness and the vitriol of traditionalists like Jim Cornette.

    It’s interesting too, isn’t it, that people always aim for the less-sympathetic Cornette when they want to make these arguments? They never invoke the far more popular Bobby Heenan, who tended to agree with James E. on pretty much everything whenever they appeared together. But I digress.

    My own reading of the successes of the Monday Night Raw is less favourable to Russo. The first reason is that in the WWF, the buck stops with Vince McMahon, and it is clear to me that the chief creative input in the company during that time was still the head of the company. I do not want to downplay the contribution of Vince Russo because his fingerprints are all over the product, but the truth is that everything was filtered through McMahon. The other important thing to consider is that the WWF put together an array of main event talent in one place – Steve Austin, The Rock, HHH and Mankind all on the same roster at the same time, with the McMahon family acting as the top heels. A better question might be how could anything fail with the talent resources available to them in 1998 and 1999?

    In truth, I also believe that the real high ratings of the late 1990s were based not so much on what the two promotions were doing, but the fact that they were in competition with each other. 1997 was a great year for WCW, but their ratings were significantly lower than 1998, and even post-fingerpoke. A good rating in the run-up to Starrcade 1997 was a 4.0, while a 5.0 was possible even after they were at their creative peak. Even in New York, 1997 and 1998 offered far better television than we got in 1999, when things were carried by the talent and often made little sense in the grand scheme of things. Put simply, wrestling was hot because it was hot, and its own momentum carried it to the heights that it reached. By 1999, Steve Austin could have plucked a chicken live on TV and people would have watched it, just so long as Nitro was on the other side.

    The other obvious thing to point out is that if Russo did as well as his backers would claim, is that this success would have been replicated. And yet there’s nothing in his record that has even hinted at his coming close. For all his failures in WCW and TNA, Russo is now toxic not only with the traditionalists, but also with many of those people who are at the forefront of pushing wrestling into new and strange places, as indicated by his status as persona non grata with the All-In crowd.

    But none of this answers the ‘why’ that I started this with. In truth I’m not sure I need a why. The very fact that Russo turned me against the creative direction of the WWF for the first time, against WCW stronger than I ever had been before, and is a major figure in ruining my enjoyment of wrestling, is probably enough. I’m not sure I need to offer anything more than that.

    I will, though, because I’ve given it some thought by now, and I think what is at the root of it is competing ideas of what ‘real’ involves. For me, Russo’s definition of ‘real’ is very much a forerunner to reality TV, a mode of television that not only leaves me cold, but also leaves me thoroughly unconvinced. What you end up with in that mode is a series of incidents, or moments, that doesn’t try and sell a coherent whole but attempt to merely persuade you that the instant you are experiencing is truer than all that other fake stuff that you are used to seeing on TV. It is a definition of real for the cynics of the world.

    And right there is the problem: I was never cynical about wrestling – at least until it was run by men like this.

    "The worst moron is the one too stupid to realise they're a moron."

  2. #2
    Member #25 SirSam's Avatar
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    Great profile and really great conclusion linking Russo's style to reality TV which is full of the same kind of conflict creation techniques that he uses: people turning on themselves, acting on their most basic instincts and programs selling themselves based on shock value.

    When I listen to him sometimes I hear things that make me nod my head, he certainly works heavily with the idea of wrestling as a fiction but the way it winds up I find very distasteful. Listening to Mizfan and Mystic on WCW talking about how he shaped WCW booking in the early 00's really was quite sad to hear.

    Really like the series PT. Looking forward to more. I feel like now you've done Russo you kind of have to do Cornette but I'd also love to hear your thoughts on guys like Bruce Prichard, Heyman, even someone like Gedo in NJPW if it is up your alley.



    @Sir_Samuel

  3. #3
    LOP's part time glass ceiling DynamiteBillington's Avatar
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    This is a great idea for a series, like Sam I hope you cover more of the behind the scenes guys as well as some on-screen characters.

    For all I know about Russo, it's pretty much summed up in this statement:
    the contribution of Vince Russo because his fingerprints are all over the product, but the truth is that everything was filtered through McMahon.
    For all that can be said about McMahon's vision today, back in the 90s he seemed to need that push out of his comfort zone whereas Russo needed someone to control him from getting too carried away.

    Given that between them they created some of the greatest moments in WWE history, maybe they were the perfect pairing?

  4. #4
    The Brain
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    Also worth mentioning that during Russo's biggest prominence in the WWF, he was one voice among many. An important voice, absolutely, but Vince had plenty of moderating opinions from guys like very smart guys like Jim Cornette, Pat Patterson, and many others.

    I think your assessment that Russo can create a good moment in the right circumstances is not only correct but self evident, based on his time in the WWF. However, there's also an argument that trying to create "moments" is literally the only idea that Russo is capable of having, and judging whether that moment is worthwhile or not is another question entirely. Suffering through his leadership of WCW was enough to convince me of that.

    If Russo does have a strength I think it's his willingness to challenge conventions, but like everything about him, he doesn't seem to have any idea when to stop. When he first came up in the WWF he was able to overturn or subvert traditions that were decades old and had lost some of their value, but before the 90s were even finished he was trying to subvert ideas that were weeks, or even days old, and there's simply no impact with that. The same goes for his attention to the roster, it's great that he wants to give everyone a gimmick but when you aren't taking the time to check if those gimmicks are absolutely rancid, you're not doing much good.

    Of course, no Russo profile would be complete without a mention of his particular fetish of babyface violence towards women, to say nothing of his side tendency to cover them in liquid or goo at every opportunity.

    Yeah, Russo. Great idea for a series and I can appreciate him as the first choice, but I think I'm looking more forward to guys who you enjoy more!

  5. #5
    Administrator Prime Time's Avatar
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    Sam - thanks for checking this out and glad you liked it. Those are some interesting ideas for the future, I may take you up on some of them. I think you're hitting the nail on the head with Russo. I have the feeling that his idea to get these fake gimmicks out of wrestling was spot on, because the only real downsides of the New Gen was the stuff he got rid of - but I'm not a huge fan of what he put in it's place and I think my idea of reality is just very, very different to his. So yeah you can nod your head along with the principle and lament the execution, for sure.

    DynamiteBillington - Thanks for the kind words about the series. Hoping to do a few more of these and glad to know they went down OK.

    I mean personally I don't think they were the perfect pairing. I honestly think it's largely a case of right-case, right time for Russo. People had been making similar points to Russo for a year or so before he got the job, but he happened to be a fresh voice when the lowest rating came in and McMahon was finally willing to pivot. In truth, I think that for every great moment they gave us in the mid-1990s, you have to balance it against those moments being bought with the ghetto that wrestling has been in since the end of that era. Those two things are intimately connected, in my opinion. And I'd run through a few things, too - McMahon did most of the good stuff, there were other names knocking around on creative, the appeal of the time being exaggerated by the very nature of competition, and finally an array of amazing talent lined up that could barely have failed.

    Mizfan - Yeah, Patterson was agent for most of the main events, Cornette had some of the more high-profile angles like Kane - I think Russo helped set an agenda and a few gimmicks rather than really being responsible for any detailed booking of anything memorable. And while I like the talent in a lot of cases, many of those gimmicks, like Val Venis, didn't ever get to be huge, and haven't aged well.

    Yeah, I completely agree that whether or not something was worth it wasn't something that crossed Russo's mind. When I look at the current generation of WWE programming as something of a sausage machine, where it's really just about filling TV time, I think that started with Russo. Prior to that, everything on TV seemed to have a purpose. Even in squash matches you were getting someone over for them to do something down the line - with Russo it was about that second, keep eyes watching now and we'll come up with something else to do later. I mean, in a war that was a useful mentality to have, but only because there were other figures around who could make sure that there was a payoff when the time came. When Russo was at his peak power in 1999 that was often at a bit of a premium, in the WWF.

    I'll try and hit you up soon with some more popular figures - or failing that, some of my pet favourites!

    "The worst moron is the one too stupid to realise they're a moron."

  6. #6
    I'm liking this new idea, Prime. From what I read about Russo in the past some people applaud his efforts in The Attitude Era while others completely trash his booking style. I was not watching while he was on charge so it wouldn't be fair for me to comment on that.

    What I do want to comment on is that you mentioned that wrestling drew big numbers in that era because there was viable competetion between two leading brands. I think that is a fantastic point as it makes perfect sense. Everyone wants to pick a side and forcing fans to choose waas good for business. Not to mention the fans that enjoyed both shows who got a treat by having both companies try to put on the most memorable (not best at times) shows possible. It was really a win-win situation between 1997-1999 across the board.

    More of these please, this was great.

  7. #7
    Administrator Prime Time's Avatar
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    Don Franc - thanks for the feedback, glad you're liking the idea. Just dropped another column under this banner actually, so we'll see if that holds up to another one! But yeah, I think that the competition between the two promotions was a huge part in the appeal of wrestling. Montreal had set the standard for real life betrayal and guys like Jeff Jarrett shuffling back and forth between the promotions had a huge amount of people pulled in who were just as interested in the real life story as there were in the product. Throw in a bunch of hugely talented main eventers and the heat around the Austin vs McMahon story and honestly I think it explains itself.

    Glad you enjoyed mate and thanks for reading.

    "The worst moron is the one too stupid to realise they're a moron."

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