Bill Banks Random Story: So, you want to be in Creative?

billbanks.jpgBill Posted the following article about what it’s like behind the scenes on his blog on MySpace. Sounds like too much work for us. We’ll just stay happy smarks and enjoy the end product.

A DAY INSIDE A BOOKING MEETING:

When you have a weekly show on television, you are constantly planning and strategizing what comes next. The booking for each week’s RAW happened immediately after we flew back to Connecticut from the previous RAW. On Tuesday morning, Ed Ferrara and I would drive to Vince Russo’s house in Trumbull, Connecticut, to plan out the following show. Being the “rookie”, my job was to be there at nine o’clock sharp with ideas in my hand – along with coffee. If I didn’t bring the coffee I wouldn’t hear the end of it

I always preferred the smaller bookings teams, which we had with Russo and Ferrara. They were always on the same page and disagreements were far and few between. In larger booking crews, sometimes too many chefs can ruin the recipe and makes for a long, time consuming and draining day – which we had many of with the WCW creative team.

Russo, Ferrara and I would gather in Russo’s living room. The television was always set to SportsCenter or Seinfeld, two of Russo’s favorite shows. Along with his coffee, Russo always had a giant bag of pistachios by his side.

Russo had a set system for booking the shows, as he would always start with the main storyline and what the main event needed to be based on what happened the week before. Once those two items were established, the rest of the show, elements and matches all fell into place.

Another aspect of booking that Russo excelled at was finding some way, any way, for every talent to be involved in the show. During WWF’s peak ratings period in 1999, each and every one of the talent on the roster was involved in some kind of storyline.

By the end of the first day, we usually had the basic elements for the show. Once we had a rough show in place, we would call it a day. For the rest of the week, Russo and Ferrara would meet with Vince McMahon to go over the shows at his house in Greenwich, Connecticut. According to Russo and Ferrara, the days with McMahon were always long and tedious. They would arrive at nine o’clock sharp and might stay until midnight.

When it came to evaluating each show, McMahon was a machine. It wasn’t uncommon for Russo and Ferrara to have to drive back to McMahon’s house after they left to go over something else or spend long hours on the phone discussing details of a particular angle. McMahon seemingly never slept and always wanted to talk about the next show. Even on the flight to the TV tapings, McMahon would always want Russo and Ferrara sitting nearby to go over the show. In other words, once Russo become the head writer for the WWF, he was at McMahon’s beckoning call 24-7, 365 days a year.

I’ve always been very appreciative of Russo for never subjecting me to that side of the booking with McMahon. To the average person reading this whose dream is to be the head booker for WWF, the reality is that you give up your life to Vince McMahon. There is no free time or personal time. You live to serve the master.

Russo’s home and family life began to suffer. When Russo went to McMahon to explain he was nearing burnout and needed to spend time with his family, McMahon told him to hire a nanny instead. That is the reality of working for Vince McMahon.

One example of that will always stay with me: One week, Russo was the sickest I had ever seen someone. He was suffering from the flu and could barely get out of bed, let alone drive to the airport to catch his flight. But he knew not going to television wasn’t an option with McMahon. Russo was sick throughout the flight, sick at the hotel (spending the entire time shaking in his hotel room bathtub) and sick at the arena. I honestly don’t know how he made it through the trip.

That night as we were checking into the hotel, Russo was so exhausted that he put his head down on the front desk. In came McMahon, who walked up to Russo, slapped him on the back and said jokingly “So, did I get everything out of you today?”

That was always McMahon’s running joke with Russo, but it was starting to get to him, especially on that night. Those were the days when I first started to see the pressure getting to Russo. Not even he could outwork Vince McMahon – nobody can.

The booking meetings for WCW were among the most entertaining – and draining – days in my time in the wrestling business.

The WCW booking meetings (while Russo was still in charge) usually consisted of Russo, Ferrara and myself, with Terry Taylor, Jeremy Borash and Glenn “Disco Inferno” Gilberti later joining. The creative team was larger than ours at the WWF because that’s the way WCW management wanted it.

Our regular booking meetings were held at a local DoubleTree Hotel conference room in Atlanta, Georgia. It was a nice, cozy atmosphere, but we sometimes wore on each other. For example, I thought there were times Terry Taylor would pick up his laptop and beat Gilberti to death with it.

Glenn Gilberti was one of the most entertaining people I’ve ever worked with in wrestling. He was never in a bad mood and it was near impossible to get him angry. Part of the reason Russo wanted him in the booking meetings was to provide comic relief. Whenever we all felt brain-dead with nothing left in the tank, Gilberti would always get us laughing in some way.

Gilberti was also the master of pitching absolutely horrible ideas – most of which he was never serious about in the first place. For example, I think he spent an entire month masterminding his ultimate bad angle – the invasion of martians in WCW, which began with Mike Tenay being revealed as an alien on a live Nitro broadcast. I won’t even go into his idea for the WCW debut of the Invisible Man. Although I haven’t had the opportunity to work with Glenn in recent years, I still wish he had a place in the business – he belongs in wrestling and can still contribute to it in many positive ways.

The WCW bookings meetings would usually take two to three days, depending on how much we accomplished and what particular talent problems we had to overcome that week.

In the WWF, there were few – if any – roadblocks to overcome when we booked the shows. Remember, Vince McMahon ran a tight ship and the talent did as they were told. If they didn’t like it, they could find employment elsewhere.

In WCW, it was an entirely different ballgame. Upper management might not like particular aspects of the show, wrestlers might balk at doing something or find creative ways to get out of it and even Standards & Practices would have their say. For those of you who may not know, Standards & Practices were a division established by Turner Entertainment to review content of their shows and take out anything they might find offensive (more on them later). So as you can imagine, we had many more hurdles to go over to write a show in WCW than in the WWF.

After we broke from the WCW creative meetings, Russo would type up the format for Nitro while Ferrara would handle Thunder. From there, I would get copies of the written formats. At that point, my job was to break down the show into scripts for each individual talent.

Each star would have their own script that I would pass out to them at the arena. It would have the details of their matches and interviews and which segment each would air. It was also my job to write out the promos and interviews for each talent. Some I would only provide bullet points for, while for others I would type up a entire generic interview that they were free to put into their own words. It all depended on the star and their particular strengths and weaknesses with interviews.

After Nitro and Thunder were finished and we flew back to Atlanta, the creative process would start all over again.

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