Wow! When Jim lays down his opinion in his new blog at www.jimcornette.com
I can’t count the number of times over the last 10 years that someone, usually not connected to professional wrestling in any way except as a fan, has asked me, “How do I get a job as a writer?” or given me a package of “scripts” as an audition for a “writing position”. This usually gives me the sour belches. It’s not these folks’ fault that they want the position, it’s the fault of the idiots who actually HIRE idiots like these that gives others the idea they, too, can get the jobs with no experience whatsoever. So the inaugural Cornette’s Commentary deals with what a “booker” is, what a “writer” is, and the difference between the two.
Let’s clarify our terms at the start. Pro wrestling doesn’t have “writers”, it has a BOOKER. “Sports entertainment” has “writers”. Since Toots Mondt laid the groundwork for the position of booker back in the 20’s and 30’s, the booker in wrestling served as the matchmaker, deciding who would wrestle who, who would win, constructed the finishes to lead to rematches if applicable, and set up the “programs”, or series of matches between two opponents. He determined the talent roster by hiring and/or firing the wrestlers who wrestled in the particular territory he was booking. As the TV era began, the booker also laid out the TV formats, came up with the angles to be worked, and gave the talent ideas for what to say in their promos.
The promoter, or owner, of the territory the booker was in charge of was the only person the booker answered to. He might have assistants to carry out his instructions, but he had sole control over any decisions relating to talent. If business was good, he stayed in the position. If business was bad, the promoter replaced him. The wrestlers, especially the main event talent, had great leeway in their performance as long as they carried out the booker’s basic instructions. The booker gave the finish and any important spot, the rest of the match was up to the talent. The booker told the talent the subject and time of their TV promos, content and delivery was up to talent. As an example, Dusty Rhodes’ instructions to me might be, “You’ve got 3 minutes, you’re wrestling the Rock & Roll Express in Charlotte, last show there you interfered with the racket so this time they’ve asked for a cage match, and it’s for the Tag Title. Go sell me some tickets.”
If the talent performed the booker’s angles, finishes and promos properly while getting their individual personalities and style over, they drew money. If they didn’t, they were replaced with someone who did. So, in summation, a booker assembled a crew of wrestlers that he felt were unique, charismatic and talented, gave them direction and a platform on which to get over, built up their won-loss records, and then manipulated them into personal issues or title matches with other stars he felt were compelling enough that fans would pay to see them. The talent did the rest, and that’s why main event stars got reputations as being able to “draw money”. You often hear these days that “so and so has never drawn any money.” In TODAY’s environment, few particular talents “draw money”, because few are put in positions to do their own thing and prove it’s THEM, not the “writing”, that people are paying to see.
Great talent can sometimes take mediocre booking and make it work, but it’s hard for great booking to draw money with subpar talent. Being a great booker was an art form, possibly the hardest job in wrestling, because it not only required great knowledge of and experience in wrestling, but the ability to spot and feature great talent as well. Many of the greatest bookers were also top stars in the ring. The reason for this is because only a proven money-drawing talent with a track record of success and years of experience would be trusted by a promoter with the most important job in his company. In many cases, only a top star known for his accomplishments would have the respect in the eyes of the talent to be able to tell a locker room full of stars and tough guys what to do.
Of course, there was often a problem with the booker also being a wrestler, in terms of ego, overpushing himself or his friends, etc., but there was also an upside in that the booker knew he wouldn’t walk out on himself, hold himself up for more money, and the like. So how did you become a booker in the “old days?” Every story is different, but the gist is the same.Unless you had some outstanding accomplishment on your resume, such as being a standout amateur champion, former pro athlete, local sports hero, or physical giant that made a promoter come to you, you generally followed a path something like this:
You were a fan of wrestling who hung around the matches, set up the ring, ran errands, etc. until your presence became accepted in the “closed society” of wrestling. An established wrestler took a liking to you and agreed to train you in the basics. After getting the crap kicked out of you in training, you started as a TV job guy or a “curtain-jerker”, got beaten like a drum, losing to everyone wherever you could get booked. You suffered through long trips and low payoffs until, IF you had any talent, you began moving up the cards, and MAYBE you would get a break if you impressed someone in power, and you would get to be involved in an angle or program. If that went well, you MIGHT get booked in a decent spot somewhere else. Over a period of years, working in many different territories, IF you were really good, you MIGHT establish yourself as a top talent.
IF you showed an interest in or aptitude for the booking end of wrestling, you might begin to get input in your own programs and angles, and IF that worked well, you MIGHT be offered a spot as an assistant to an established booker who had taken an interest in you and wanted to mentor you, and if that worked out, a promoter somewhere MIGHT have enough faith in you to give you a shot as his booker. So as you can see, it was fairly easy.
In my case, I was a fan for 5 years, a photographer/ring announcer/gofer for 6 years, and a manager for 7 years before I was given an opportunity to be an assistant to WCW booker Ric Flair at the age of 28, and THAT raised eyebrows as I had so “little” experience. I also had to overcome the fact that I was not a wrestler, but “only” a manager. Still, I had been a performer, and that was the key. Not only was it almost unheard of for a person without many years of experience to be given a booking spot, but it was even rarer for someone to book if they had not been a performer of some kind.
You needed the experience of actually performing angles, finishes, promos and the like to know, through trial and error and on-the-job training how these things were laid out and implemented, how crowds would react, and how slight variations would lead to the success or failure of anything you were trying to accomplish.
Contrast the old system, where idiots like the aforementioned Gewirtz couldn’t have gotten a job popping popcorn, with today. “Sports entertainment” started in the mid 80’s, as a term coined by Vince McMahon to con major advertisers into thinking they were buying something other than professional wrestling, which many considered “low-class” programming. Of course, it was really still wrestling, as fans have never said, “There’s sports entertainment at the Coliseum tonight”, or “Did you get your sports entertainment tickets”. But, especially over the last 10 years, the WWE has spearheaded major changes which have resulted in wrestling being possibly the only product of any kind where the fans, or the consumers, know more about the product than most of the people in charge of producing it.
The WWE executives and higher-ups have deluded themselves into thinking that they really AREN’T in the wrestling business, that they have created something better than “rasslin’ “, as they condescendingly refer to it. Even though they owe their homes, their savings, possibly everything they own to pro wrestling, they are so ashamed of being in the business of promoting wrestling that they refuse to even call it that. Over nearly a generation of hiring new employees, most of whom don’t know the true story, they have created an atmosphere in the company whereby many there genuinely believe they have created a new genre of entertainment out of something that was seedy and small time, never successful before Vince got ahold of it. Nowhere is this more prevalent as on their “creative team”, which is what they optimistically call their “writers”.