Last year, Paul Heyman and Eric Bischoff made a stunning and unexpected return to WWE. Vince McMahon hired Heyman to preside over RAW and Bischoff to do the same for SmackDown, but what those roles entailed are far more all-encompassing than many first imagined.
Bischoff was fired from WWE after just four months in the job.
Multiple reports, most of which piggybacked off Dave Meltzer, had suggested that Bischoff was hired because of his network experience and he would be a good middle man between FOX and WWE.
Sports Illustrated also said he was fired because of a ratings dip on SmackDown. Sportskeeda even reported that FOX claimed that “Significant promises were made that we don’t feel were upheld,” regarding Bischoff.
So what really was the deal? When talkSPORT caught up with Eric Bischoff this week, we decided to find the answers once and for all from the man himself.
Eric, there was a lot said about why you were hired by WWE. Reports talked about your network experience being a factor and dealing with FOX. In your own words, how was your role laid out to you and what did it entail?
It’s interesting that the media talked about my role, my responsibilities and the fact that interfacing with FOX executives was one of the primary reasons I was brought in. It speaks to the lack of information and ignorance – and when I say ignorance I don’t mean derisively.
I mean in the literal sense of the term – the ignorance of the people who write these things.
Here’s the deal: the deal with FOX and WWE had been going on long before my name was ever brought up to come to WWE. The details of that agreement, the strategies, the tactics, the creative, the production – all of those conversations took place long before I got to WWE.
When I got to WWE, most of the conversations – almost all of them – regarding any matters of any significance regarding FOX and WWE took place at a pay level much higher than mine. Not going to name names because I can’t, or I shouldn’t.
But I had nothing to do with those daily conversations and oftentimes I didn’t find out about the results of those conversations or decisions made within them until well after the fact.
My communication with FOX executives was almost limited to a once a week check-in. To see if there were any open-ended issues that needed to be addressed on either side of the equation that had not been addressed in a timely fashion – that was it.
Those who wrote about the significance of my role in WWE in regards to helping manage or maintain – or even lead as some people assume – the relationship between FOX and WWE was pure fiction. It wasn’t true.
In that case, what was the role?
My job really, as it was described to me, was to, in a general sense, oversee anything within WWE, and to a degree with FOX, anything that touched or related to SmackDown.
Which included, by the way, overseeing creative – that was a part of it. But, it was overseeing it, not creating. I was told clearly I wasn’t brought in as a creative person, I was brought in to manage to creative process. They are two entirely different things.
It would be fair to say the creative had to go through me to get to Vince McMahon, yes. But it also included licensing and merchandise. It included PR and marketing. It included scheduling. It included just about everything related to SmackDown which is a lot within a company like WWE. But it did not necessarily involve me dealing directly with FOX executives, that’s my point.
When did you realise that this wasn’t working out how you had expected?
That happened fairly quickly. But not for any other reason than processes. The process across the board in WWE is a very unique, complex and an intense process. Keep in mind, I’ve been self-employed for 20 years.
And for at least half of that, I’m kind of a one-man band. I conduct a lot of business, I’m developing a feature film for Netflix at the moment (the Hulk Hogan biopic), I’ve got other projects going on at the moment, but it’s not like I have a staff of people I’m working with. And I don’t really have anyone that I have to report to other than my wife and my banker.
So, for 20 years, I’ve kind of been operating as a solo practitioner and now I’m leading an orchestra. And it was a transition. For me, I had a hard time adapting and for two reasons. One is, and this is my fatal flaw, and I tend to overestimate my ability to adapt to almost anything, because for the better part of my life, that’s normally been the case.
I thought ‘Ok, I can do this’. I know I’ve been self-employed for 20 years, I know I live out in the middle of no where in Wyoming surrounded by beautiful mountains, I know I’m in charge of my own schedule, I can come and go as I please, I know I’m only accountable to me, my wife and my family, but, I’ve done that corporate thing before, I can do it again!
What I underestimated was just how difficult that adaptation would be for anybody that is good at adapting. It takes time. And I didn’t manage that well. My lack of performance, if you will, in terms of not fulfilling the role in the way that Vince McMahon saw it, that was on me. That wasn’t on WWE. It wasn’t because of any one person or group of people.
It was on me and my failure to adapt. I just didn’t work out. It was a bad fit and more of a chemistry issue, really, than anything else.
Vince McMahon is not a social friend of mine. We don’t have dinner together when I’m on the east coast or keep in contact a lot, but we’ll share a text every now and again. I still consider him a friend, to a degree.
And I have an immense amount of respect for him. So there’s no frustration or anger on my part, because it was on me, not them. I didn’t live up to the job.
So when the decision is made, did you see it coming? It was reported at the time that the sharp decline in ratings may have played a role among other things. How did Vince McMahon have that talk with you?
Number one, I didn’t see it coming. I was surprised. Number two, in terms of the narrative – again, these are people who are ignorant who don’t really know what they’e talking about.
They’re making assumptions on what makes logical sense to them based on the limited or lack of information they may have. But, it sounds good! It’s a click. It’s a headline. It’s something to talk about when you’ve got to create content because you’re running out of s*** to talk about. Then it’s out there on social media and before you know it, after a week or two, it’s now narrative that is written in stone.
I don’t think my departure had anything to do with the ratings. I think my departure had everything to do with Vince McMahon expectations of how I would fill a brand new role that had never really existed before.