Jeff Katz recently spoke with Raj Giri of WrestlingINC.com about his start in the business, his time in WCW, the upcoming Wrestling Retribution Project, problems with wrestling, TNA & much more. You can check out the entire interview below.
WrestlingINC.com: I don't know if you remember but I actually interviewed you way back in the day, like the late 90's.
Katz: I think I was in college, if I remember correctly.
WrestlingINC.com: Yeah, I think you were working on the WCW hotline during that…
Katz: I do remember, absolutely... your site is generally sort of my go-to catch all wrestling site, so I've retained my loyalty over the years.
WrestlingINC.com: Well thanks a lot, we appreciate that.
Katz: My pleasure.
WrestlingINC.com: Back then you started working for WCW you were 16 when you started, weren't you?
Katz: I was hired at 16... I want to say I didn't start officially going to shows until I was 17, but I have to go back and look. I was brought into my first meeting by Eric Bischoff when I was 16 and had to fly my mother out with me because I was to young to go to Atlanta by myself.
WrestlingINC.com: How did you get discovered?
Katz: I was a talk radio host in Detroit when I was 15 which was really my big sort of career break. I was the only guy who at that point who thought that wrestling was really cool... [Hulk] Hogan just jumped to WCW and he's brining in Jim Duggan and The Honky Tonk Man... Steve Austin was getting squashed by Duggan... it was not a period where the business was particularly hot. Actually I was one of the only guys in the market that would consistently interview their guys and promote and put stuff over, because I was a fan. I built up a nice relationship with WCW and WWF at the time and Zane Bresloff, who was kind of one of the more under-rated really important players in wrestling over the last 25 years was the guy who really said, "You guy gotta meet this guy, this guys good."
When they came to Detroit to do Halloween Havoc, at a press conference for a Ric Flair - Hulk Hogan retirement match, which is laughable, I ended up meeting Eric and we just sort of hit it off and it would end up being several months later, maybe even a year later before they actually ended up bringing me in and hiring me. So the relationship sort of started from there.
WrestlingINC.com: What were your duties when you first joined WCW?
Katz: All over the map. I did play by play on the internet, a bunch of writing... it's funny, when they flew me in they were like what do you want to do? I was like, "I want to be a booker, that's my interest," and they were like, well, we'll bring you along slowly in that area. As rough as the reputation that the WCW has, a lot of that is just written by the history of the winner and that just always happens. I was treated great and at the end of the day it was incredibly helpful to my career in Hollywood. I have nothing but positive things to say about my time there and the impact it had on my career.
WrestlingINC.com: What was it like working Eric Bischoff during that time?
Katz: Terrific, I never had any issues. Anyone you've ever heard bad things about in the company -- I'm not saying that others didn't have issues -- but you're the boss, that's going to happen. I've been the boss, I know what that's like. And in some positions you can't really win. But I was treated great, Hogan treated me great, Eric treated me great. I was praised, I was never harassed, I was treated like one of the guys. I went out drinking with them, I went hanging out with them I was really … It was like, as a teenager doing that it was like living a dream, it was sort of like being almost famous for the world of wrestling. I understand the negative connotation that was out there and I think in some ways, at least from the locker room perspective, I don't know had I been at WWE had I … I would be willing to bet I would have had a much harder time just based on reputations. But with WCW, no one gave a s--t, I made friends there that I will be friends with for the rest of my life.
WrestlingINC.com: How long were you there for?
Katz: I think 3 years, but by the end of the last year, [I was] much, much less active. I was sort of unique in that I was in high school going into college so all of those sort of pressures going along with it... and also I was very honest that my ambitions were always to go to work for Newline Cinema, which was always my childhood dream which was in Los Angeles so I had a really weird sort of … I guess a feel for want of better term. The wrestling industry doesn't really end well for a lot of people, you know if you look at the history of it. I went from making great money from WCW and living in my dorm in college and living like a king to moving to LA and working for free basically for 6 months, 40 hours a week. It was I trade I would make a 100 times out of a 100. It's the best move I ever made. I still kept my stuff out in the business pretty heavily. Up until the last year, I was a pretty hardcore fan and I'd be competitive with most people that would be reading your site and I would be on these sites, your sites and others multiple times a day.
WrestlingINC.com: When WWE bought out WCW, what did you think at that time? You were there when the business was hot and then just a few years later it's gone and changed in ways that are still being felt today. What were your thoughts when you say that, did you see it as a good thing - like they might able to turn WCW around or did you see it in a more negative light?
Katz: I always viewed it as a negative because a monopoly in this business is not good., it's not what you want. It's not good for the boys, it's not good for creativity. I just never thought they would run them as two separate groups juts because that's not how the television business works and our business suggest that… I mean you go back and look at the NWA and UWF merger, how did that turn out? How are these talents sharing, come on, we all know how this works. So I can't say that I was overly surprised at how things turned out.
WrestlingINC.com: You went to the internship with Newline Cinema and I know you were involved with a lot of different movies like Freddie Vs. Jason and Snakes on a Plane, so what have you been doing basically after you left WCW?
Katz: I went down to Hollywood, I started as an intern at Newline was hired off of that, promoted to executive within a couple of years, and really never looked back. So I did a bunch of movies, wrote some comics. You know, always maintained my relationships in the business, I always felt this sort of loyalty. When I moved to LA, I took a work for free internship, it was the money I had saved from WCW that I lived on, so I've always had a real loyalty to it, put a couple of guys in movies over the years as well. Tried to be as much of a dot connector as I could. I really felt I had kind of a responsibility to be a friend to the business so to speak. I think if you as ask most of the bigger name talent when it came to industry connections, generally speaking I was viewed as the main between the two there for a while. Always just tried to remember where I had come from at a certain level. So I did.. I just …I don't know that people can fully understand that the three years spent in wrestling, which is analogous to Hollywood in a lot of ways, was the best training, despite the fact I was a college drop out… to come to Hollywood and compete against these kids. A lot of these kids were Ivy League educated kids. But I had this base of knowledge from several years of acting as an adult, working as an adult, even as a teenager to where I could just out-hustle those guys. Without my time in wrestling, I never would have moved up in Hollywood as quickly as I did, there is no doubt in my mind.
WrestlingINC.com: In 2009 there was talk of you and your company American Original working with TNA in some fashion, what happened there?
Katz: I have a great relationship with those guys, ultimately I did some stuff for them at Comic-Con. I frankly… with great love to all of them, I just wasn't .. I don't' think it was something they were overly interested i. I got in a little bit of trouble for telling the truth and basically saying that trying to replicate 1998 wasn't the answer. Which I think most of us would say. I still, I have good relationships there. I'm very friendly with Dixie [Carter] and Jeff [Jarrett], I'm very friendly with Hunter [Triple H] and Stephanie [McMahon], it's not personal. It's really for me just more about the fact that I just don't love the business anymore the same way. I just kind of got bored and instead of sitting there and fermenting in it, just try to do something. But I think at the end of the day… I don't think the answer is ever going to be in either trying to be WWE, or chasing their model because that's like chasing the NFL model, they have a head start in their genre that is so significant that unless you do something that is uniformly different from them, your destined to basically be at best number two. The model of entertainment has changed so dramatically that kind of changing the old WWE model to me is not the way to do it anymore, that's just me… I bet a bunch of people don't agree.
WrestlingINC.com: I couldn't agree more, it seems strange.. There is such a big audience for wrestling, since so many millions of people left when WWE bought WCW that haven't come back. I feel like there is an audience for something different and that is where I think TNA fails is instead of presenting something different, they are presenting the same kind of format that WWE was.
Katz: I think that … when I became a fan of their product and when I got friends who had been latched and hooked on it, it was the X-Divison stuff that hooked them all and the reality is that was 10 years ago and that style has been exposed, and exposed relatively heavily. So I don't know what the answer is unless it's a fundamental look at sort of from the bottom up how you do it, and I just think if you're going to be an alternative, you have to be an alternative. I have a lot of friends that work there and I wish them all well and I would suggest the audience that left, I don't think they are coming back. I am at a point that I don't think I am coming back.
WrestlingINC.com: You have since started the Wrestling Retribution Project. It's interesting because you guys did the funding through the fans, right? Is that were most of the funding came from?
Katz: Yes, to be frank with you, I didn't think any of this would work. I was just a guy trying to make a point that at a certain point and time it's like going back to an abusive boyfriend and you keep going back while you're complaining about being abused… why do you keep going back? I was sort of trying to make a point that you know you vote with your dollar and let's use this as a model. It really started to get some decent traffic and we did really nice those first couple of days and once I clicked on the model of how I wanted to approach this, I was like, I have to get this done. I'm lucky enough that I work in a business where I go to meetings and I tell people what I am doing and so we had people coming in, donating from in town here... I have to say, I really was just trying to make a point so… the fact that it worked the way it worked and it's had kind of this bizarre run has been great and it's been great and had very positive ramifications on my Hollywood career. It's just that it's been a crazy several months.
WrestlingINC.com: You filmed, back in October, you had a set of tapings. Who were some of the guys that really impressed you at the tapings?
Katz: Well, I think it was a mix, because I really go out and try not to cast the most obvious sort of crew. I wanted something that was eclectic and also made a point to have… I'm going to go get the MVP's of the world and the guys that are more exposed, but then also go get a bunch of guys that maybe people haven't heard of. So, while I'm excited to see the way that a MVP's or Joey Ryan or some of the guys tweak their character to be somebody new. I also think exposing people to guys like Psycho Mike Rollins, Pat Buck and those kind of guys, being able to help sort of give those guys a showcase was in a lot of ways, to me, even more exciting. But I have to say we had a crew of guys who nobody complained, everybody went out and had a phenomenal attitude and we had no drama in the locker room, everybody got along, it's been uniformly positive. It was a special group, there was none of the theatrics that you associate with this sort of thing. I think partially because of the way we approached it, I knew coming in who they were feuding with, what their arches were, etc. It wasn't the sort of thing were a guy is going to up to me and say I'm not putting that guy over, because I just won't put up with it, I'd fire the guy immediately and deal with it. I wasn't going to cast anybody that was going to give me any bulls--t anyway. We got very lucky, we got a very special crew and it's been fun to watch them continue to interact on Twitter and social networking and stuff, like they all bonded.
It was a real pleasure, this entire thing has just been like on a lot of levels it's been exactly what I needed to go do. Even on the Hollywood end it's been very positive. Which frankly I was curious to see how people on that end down there responded and it has been great.
WrestlingINC.com: So what can people expect from the show? Like how is it different from what they are seeing on the TV right now?
Katz: Well. It's fundamentally modeled differently. I am a seasonal model, so you know if you watch the show your getting a middle and an end in every character, story line or arc. I think also you'll see the way I handle my 3rd act in my title structure is fundamentally different from WWE, TNA, ROH, those types because also frankly I had to devise a system just knowing how the business worked where if I come back and do more of these things, you have to assume your not going to have the same significant selection of the same talent because if they get signed elsewhere, they get poked, whatever, so I had to design a system where I could lose Chris Hero and still keep going. It's designed in that way. I'm not.. I think when people say it's a promotion, I think that it's wrong. That's not what it is. I'm not interested in running house shows, pay-per-views or any of that sort of stuff. I'm looking at this like to create your own comic line at a certain level, that I can return to over the rest of my career at points, and the system I set up in terms of the universe and all of those things lends itself to that. My universe exists with the idea that WWE, TNA, they don't exist, they're not in my world. Some people will be able to deal with that, some people won't.. I'm fine with that. I thought it was really imperative to cut the cord entirely on a WWE dominated narrative where it would be… I don't see the point in taking like Eugene and repackaging him as U-Gene. That's just lazy to me personally, not to knock on him, but to me it was like.. This is a hard re-launch. We understand the concept of multiple universes in comics and these things why not apply that to wrestling. Why sit here and hold it to a chronology that automatically suggest that you have to be in fear of the WWE, I don't believe in that.
WrestlingINC.com: Now how do you get, with WWE and TNA storylines that just started and dropped without any pay off all the time, to where fans have kind of become numb with storylines.
Katz: That's right, nothing matters anymore because you don't trust.. Everyone asked me when the CM Punk thing happened, and I have great respect for him, he's an awesome talent. I think he and Jericho will do terrific together, but I had stopped watching at that point and I remember being down at Comic-con and everybody kept asking me why aren't you watching the CM Punk thing and I said very frankly because I didn't have any stake that they would follow up on it because I had been taught over the last decade that they never follow up on stuff. Just look at the Nexus which is the hottest moment you would have in years and what was the follow up? By then end of two months later they were all worthless. So I don't have any faith that the decisions that are made anymore are the best for continuity or in that zone, and so that is why I just stopped watching. I was like, this is a waste of my time. I wouldn't forgive these types of massive storyline holes from any other media, why should I forgive it from wrestling? Because it's wrestling? Well that's stupid.
WrestlingINC.com: I completely agree. Do you still watch wrestling at all? I mean even casually or are you kind of completely off?
Katz: I'll watch, I'll bring some stuff in from Japan. The Royal Rumble, which my friends basically paid, we do a drinking game every year which has become popular with my friends down here. They all basically said we'll pay for it if you host the drinking game again, so that was the first WWE television show I had watched since May of last year and I have to say, I don't have any desires to start watching again. I mean I have a lot of friends in the company so I'll root for them and I'll definitely keep tabs on what Jericho and those guys are doing, but I think I've moved on. I don't say that to be holier than thou, I don't miss it. And that is why I think the people that left have left for good. Once you realize that you don't need this in your life, it's actually kind of weirdly free. I think I have become the guy who will… I don't know that I'll buy Wrestlemania this year, but I may just because Jericho and Punk are interesting me. But if I think if anything, I'm the guy who buys Mania and I'll buy the video game. I haven't watched a Monday Night Raw now, it will be a year in May because I really don't miss it at all. I hate saying that, I don't take any joy in that.
WrestlingINC.com: Yeah, and back to what you were saying with the Royal Rumble, I thought that match was very telling of the problems right now.. in that half…
Katz: I didn't even know who half the guys were!
WrestlingINC.com: Yeah, that's the thing. In the past 5 or 10 years how many stars have been created? That seemed like the Rumble with the least star power I've ever seen.
Katz: And it was very noticeable, I agree with that.
WrestlingINC.com: Yeah, like you said with the CM Punk thing last year … I was like, "they are going to mess this up," but there was that 1% of me that is like, please let them follow through correctly on this and unfortunately they keep…
Katz: I'll tell you a funny story, we were sitting in Comic-Con and I bumped into Dave Lagana. I'm talking to Dave and so they had just done the angle where Punk shows up at Comic-Con in the middle of Triple H's press conference, which I thought was brilliant, and Lagana says, "I guarantee he's on TV on Monday, they wouldn't do this if he wasn't on TV." I sat there and I was like, that's insane. Because if it's me, I'm doing Sting and the run up to Sting and Hogan, I'm keeping him off television for 6 months and I'm having him pop up like where's Waldo at baseball games, wearing that belt like he's the real world champion. You do that up until like Royal Rumble… and by never having the guy wrestle, he would have been a bigger pop culture star. Instead, what do they do? Well Dave was right, the very next Monday when he comes down, not only do they have him come down, but he comes down the ramp with entrance music. The minute you do that, he's another guy again. It's like Howard Stern, I am a huge Howard Stern fan and when he re-ups with Sirius and now he complains about his treatment, it's like, well you just had a chance to leave! Duh… I love you but I don't have a lot of sympathy in this scenario because you knew this at the time.
WrestlingINC.com: So back to the Wrestling Retribution Project. I saw that trailer, it looks great, so when can fans expect to see it?
Katz: We are cutting now. We will start doing audio tracks relatively shortly. I don't want to spoil overly what we are doing but as I said earlier, it's been really kind of cool in terms of the response in town, so you'll see, and I hate using this term by the way, because in wrestling it's tainted, you'll see a certain extension of the brand as well, kind of going in conjunction with the release. We had a conference call with Image, who is our distributor, last week so we are starting to back into a date now but basically we are cutting this like a movie. So it's got a very different sort of feel.
It's basically 100%, but there will be more WRP universe sort of stuff going forwards. The real question that I am going to have to deal with is how I handle doing the next batches of these. They are designed very typically where if I could do one of them a year, which I would love to be able to do it, I don't know if realistically schedule wise I can, but it's the sort of thing that basically like for the rest of my life I get to kind of return to my own wrestling universe, continue to build it out and it's. .I really do look at it like the creator of a comic at a certain level. It's going to roll out in a fundamentally different level, it's posted at a fundamentally different level… I'm sort of just playing by my own rules. Which I have to say, which is a credit to wrestling fans, people seem to get it. I think that people that don't get wrestling tend to stereotype wrestling fans as not being sophisticated enough to get the stuff. The response that I've been getting is really positive. I think I've had two negatives on my Twitter that were saying well it doesn't look as glossy as WWE and I was like, well that's the point! TNA is a slightly less glossy version of WWE, right? There is no point in chasing that because once you ape the production style it's over. So I have been very pleased with people's responses and I have already starting outlining what I would do for season two and it just becomes a question now of how these things all bridge but with Image as our distributor, who is I think the biggest independent distributor of America, have been really tremendously positive and again, it's just like a script in the business normally. It's written by executives that don't work in the wrestling business, which in my case Mark Ward our Executive at Image is a huge old school wrestling fan and I've known Mark for years so Mark got it immediately and thus made my life 1000 times easier.
When you deal with people that get it, it's remarkable, when your not that's how you get Jamie Kellner saying I won't have wrestling on my channel and the next think you know WCW sold for $5 million dollars. We had a conversation in the office, the MVP was here the other day and we were joking around that you know if you look back and the idea that the WCW and it's tape library was only valued at $5 million dollars, and now New Japan and it's tape library is at $6 million dollars. You look at that and go, my God! For not a lot of money, you could have had thousands of hours of fine content that you certainly could have monetized. I just think that wrestling's inherently under-valued as it is. But again, I did a season of the show for 1/6th of the cost of an episode of one single Monday Night Raw. So.. You look at those economics, at WWE, they will never change their mode because they have overhead, they have a system that they have contracts that they have to fulfill and all those things. I have the luxury of not having to do any of that. It may not work, we'll find out. That's the beauty of it, at least I can try.
WrestlingINC.com: Right, you never know until you try.
Katz: I would rather be the man in the arena than the guy on the sidelines, even if I lose.
WrestlingINC.com: Are you looking at a TV deal, or will it be available on the internet?
Katz: We've had a couple of snips in that area. I'm not stupid, it's a license, it's a lot of money, I'm not going to say no if I get a chance to do it. The was designed very specifically to be Netflix, Hulu, iTunes… the whole point of this was basically to go you don't have to do it the whole WWE model and you can still make money and still be successful. So I am much more interested personally in trying to trail blaze in a few of those areas. I'd rather fail being able to go I am the first to direct connect to netflix… you know what I mean, because I think that experiment.. I may only get the ball inside the red zone, and some other kids who's like 15 now may come up with a better version of this and then score, you know? I'm really pretty set about this sort of stuff, so to me it's really just about proving that it can be done in a way that doesn't require USA network or any of that sort of stuff. Again, it's all relative, it's all by economies of scale. I don't have that overhead. It's me and an editor sitting in a room. So, it's a fundamentally different sort of equation that sort of quantifies success. Really at the end of the day just the fact that I have distribution, is like I've already won. I've got the biggest independent distributor in America putting my s--t out. I'll be okay. That will work. And if it doesn't work, I've got a career, I'll be all right. I always said at some point I would do something in wrestling and I got to go back and cross that off the list. It's been just uniformly positive for me.
WrestlingINC.com: Well, I definitely hope this works and people watch it and it becomes a big success.
Katz: Even if people don't like it, at the very least I can guarantee you at least you are getting a complete story told and you know your not going to have a guys story line dropped in the middle. Which to me is probably the biggest complaint. So at the minimum you can say I don't like the fact they went… did the characters are to edgy and this and that… at least at the very minimum you at least know your getting A to B and B to C and C to D all the way to Z, instead of A to F and then dropping it or A all the way to Z automatically.
WrestlingINC.com: Do you have any other comments for the reader's of the site?
Katz: I just thank everybody for their support, I appreciate all the feedback from everybody. My Twitter is @KatzMoney, and our Twitter is @TheWRProject and I'm always interacting with everybody over there.