On June 27, WWE dropped a major announcement regarding the creative direction for Raw and SmackDown.
WWE has named Paul Heyman as Executive Director of Monday Night Raw and Eric Bischoff as Executive Director of SmackDown LIVE, newly created positions reporting directly to WWE Chairman & CEO Vince McMahon.
In their executive roles, Heyman and Bischoff will oversee the creative development of WWE’s flagship programming and ensure integration across all platforms and lines of business. The creation of these roles further establishes WWE’s ability to continuously reinvent its global brand while providing two distinct creative processes for its flagship shows.
With more than 30 years of experience in the sports-entertainment industry, Heyman served as President of ECW from 1993 to 2001, securing pay-per-view distribution for the company as well as a national cable television deal with TNN. After his time with ECW, Heyman joined WWE’s Creative team and is widely credited with helping launch the careers of many current and former WWE Superstars.
Bischoff is a former WCW President and New York Times bestselling author. During his WCW career, Bischoff oversaw the signing of some of the biggest names in sports-entertainment and helped create and develop the nWo storyline. He was also instrumental in securing a television deal for WCW Monday Nitro on TNT and WCW Thunder on TBS. After WCW, Bischoff co-founded Bischoff-Hervey Entertainment, a production company that launched TV reality shows and mobile games.
This is a huge move for WWE because they are bringing in the minds of two of the most daring creators of the industry. With interest in the WWE product having some ups and downs in recent months — with a good portion of it resulting from a mediocre TV product — shaking things up with this kind of announcement helps WWE get back on its feet.
We have seen Heyman on TV in his role as Brock Lesnar’s advocate but we cannot dismiss the great potential he can bring to Raw. Not only was he the mastermind of ECW, but he was also the general manager for SmackDown from 2003-04. Even though that tenure was short-lived, that may have been the best product WWE has put out on the blue show since the brand split. And since then, Heyman has had his hand in WWE development, the success of ECW’s One Night Stand and the voice of Lesnar over the past decade. He’s had a track record of success in WWE and bringing his mind to the product should have an instant impact.
Bischoff’s journey back to WWE comes as a surprise but his value to SmackDown cannot be discredited. Despite losing power in WCW, which led to the company’s demise, we cannot forget the 83-week ratings winning streak WCW had under Bischoff and creation of the nWo. Additionally, bringing him back as Raw general manager from 2002-05 was a surprising move but ultimately led to a strong wave for the product following the Attitude era. He’s remained involved in the industry after leaving WWE, which includes work as television production and podcast host, but it seems like his return in this new role is what best suits him.
With SmackDown’s move to FOX in October, WWE is in a position where they have to generate a lot of positive interest to its product. What has to happen is that they need to establish the uniqueness of both brands. Ideally, the brand split would have already done that but with the Wild Card rule, the rosters have been so muddled that both shows have lost its unique identity. With that in mind, bringing in two strong but separate minds will give both shows the boost it desperately needs. Superstars who were given little to no TV time can expect to get the proper exposure they deserve. We’ve already seen better booking for talents like Cesaro, Andrade, The Good Brothers, Ricochet and Kevin Owens in recent weeks. Even Shelton Benjamin’s odd promos look to be promising.
FOX is looking for SmackDown to be unique to itself, not a carry-over of what Raw is offering on USA Network. If they can replicate what SmackDown had when it had its brand split in 2016, then the partnership with FOX will start off on the right foot. During that first year of the 2016 brand split, SmackDown was very different from Raw. Both SmackDown TV authority figures (Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon) were faces, which was different from what Raw had. The production value (such as promos and camera angles) were different on SmackDown, as was the storytelling. Even SmackDown had their post-show program with Talking Smack, whereas Raw didn’t. WWE’s move to bring in Heyman and Bischoff would help create two separate and unique identities to the TV programming.
The biggest thing to take from the press release is that both Heyman and Bischoff report directly to Vince McMahon. No matter who runs the show, McMahon will still have the final say. But that doesn’t mean that Heyman and Bischoff may be held back. These two have never been known to be “yes-men” and they both are two creative minds who always push the envelope. This move actually signals that McMahon is willing to relinquish some of his authority in order to help the product. After all, would Heyman and Bischoff have taken the job if they felt restricted? Things will still have to run by McMahon but it seems unlikely that he would put up too much resistance in any of the new creative. The new changes will take time to develop and McMahon will see it through.
It’s not hard to see why WWE needed to make a change. In what seemed like a promising start to 2019 with the elimination of commissioners and general managers on both shows to the introduction of the Women’s Tag Team Championships, the product has fallen flat with its booking. The 24/7 Championship, which was first initially mocked, has become the highlight of both shows every week. And with the pressure (internally and from FOX) and deadline to improve the product by October, bringing in the big guns in Heyman and Bischoff was a smart move. Both men have what it takes to get WWE back to what the fans want — the initial promise from the authority back in December.
With last night’s shocking Money in the Bank cash-in from Brock Lesnar, Heyman has now the opportunity to start his tenure as the director of Raw with a challenging but exciting story. Lesnar’s reigns as champion have been received with mixed reactions, with many complaints about Lesnar being a part-time champion. This new reign could be different under the full guidance of Heyman. And over on SmackDown, it is very apparent that last week’s tirade by Kevin Owens is a sign of bigger things to come. Since the announcement of these hires, we’ve seen promising changes to the product.
Both Heyman and Bischoff will flex their muscles in making their respective shows the best product they can be leading up to the company’s second biggest show: SummerSlam. We’ve already seen some significant changes already. With McMahon’s blessing, it’s only a matter of time before we can see these changes come into fruition. The product might get edgier — possibly more extreme. Forgotten talents will make their way back to regular TV programming. Strong storytelling will once again reign supreme. This is what WWE expects out of its two new creative leaders. This is what FOX and USA Network want to see as well. And most importantly, this is what the fans have desired for some time.