Raj Giri of WrestlingINC.com recently interviewed former WWE creative writer Court Bauer. In part two of our three part interview below, Bauer discussed his problems with Stephanie McMahon, if Vince McMahon should step down, the future of the company under Triple H and much more.
Make sure to check back tomorrow for our third part of our interview, where Bauer discusses angles he regrets, Eddie Guerrero death being exploited, angles he's proud of, why he left WWE and much more.
WrestlingINC: When you started working with WWE, were you encouraged to interact with other wrestlers and get other ideas?
Bauer: It depends on who you spoke to and what day and what time and what year and what month and week it was. There were times I was told by Vince that I'm tasked with Ric Flair and setting up his Flare-For-The-Gold retirement run that Steve Austin had pitched to Vince at WrestleMania XXIII. So I start working on it. Then, a day later, before I can even get to Ric, Stephanie tells me, "You're going to be working on this but I do not want you talking to Ric Flair. Any ideas you have for Ric, you can bring them to me and we'll go from there." So, I'm like, "How the hell is this going to work and what's that mean?"
WrestlingINC: Did she give you any details as to why?
Bauer: I asked her and then some s--t-storm came into her office and never got an answer. Some def-con 5 phone call or something. I thought that was kind of a cop-out. So at that point -- this was towards the end of my run there -- I was like, "You know what? I don't care. I'm going to do the best that I can." A lot of the times, Stephanie would have erratic decisions or comments that just didn't really add up. So, you learn to live with it and just try again. Just try to produce the best product. I never compromised my integrity in doing that. But I also realized that you're dealing with people that have their own limitations. Sometimes, you do stuff that may hamper or hinder these things. So, I was just, "I'm going to do what I got to do and not really sweat this stuff." I mean, it's really strange. With Steph -- there's a great with Steph and there's also a side that just makes you shake your head.
WrestlingINC: Can you go into details over any of the major disagreements that you've had with Stephanie?
Bauer: I'll tell you a strange story where we were all sitting around the table, talking about the first time they got busted open or got color -- color of course being blood. So, Vince is talking about the first time he did and how terrified he was that he was going to f--k it up real bad. Then, Ted [Dibiase] tells a story about what happened to him and where it happened and all that stuff. Michael [Hayes] tells a story, Dusty [Rhodes] tells a story. One of the writers tells a story that had nothing to do with wrestling but it was a pretty horrific story about how he gashed open his arm and you could still see the scar. Then, I tell the story about how my mentor, Gary Hart -- who was a terrific booker out of World Class, was there and set them up for their run in the '80's and was the manager of The Great Muta, Terry Funk.
So, I start telling the story of when he was in MLW when he did an angle with Low-Ki and Homicide and they ultimately cracked a broom stick over me and they used the wrong side and there was a sharp edge to it that sliced my forehead open and I'm gushing blood. So, we start talking about that and everyone and it's a very chill, laid-back conversation. Stephanie then points to me and says, "Can you come here?" after the meeting. We used to call that "getting called to the principal's office." She told me never to do that again. I said, "Why?" She said, "Only the boys can talk about getting color." I said, "Well, I was in wrestling. You hired me for my experience in wrestling. I've been in wrestling since 1998. That was 6-7 years ago. This is 2005. This is a little shady. But that's what she wants and I was like, "Fine. No problem."
So, everyone came back wondering what happened. I was like, "She doesn't want me talking about any of that wrestling stuff." They're like, "Really? What do you do now?" I said, "I'm just going to not say it in front of her!" [Laughs.] She's a very quirky person and I think there some deep-rooted drama that goes back to our backgrounds and I think there was some conflict based on that.
WrestlingINC: Do you think that came from her or someone else and...
Bauer: No. That was her. I got along great with Hunter. Vince (and I) only once had a disagreement. It's not that I was a "yes-man" it's just that I could read him and tell him what he wanted to hear without compromising my concept.
WrestlingINC: What was the disagreement over?
Bauer: I think it was a house show or something and I think we were in a predominately-Latino market or a Tennessee-type market and they had New York City-level prices for ringside seats but they were all scattered. So you had Madison Square Garden-level prices for general admission seats in a market that wasn't going to pay that price because who would out of big, top-five markets. On top of that, all the radio was for the wrong demographic. You had Rey Mysterio on the card. I think it was in Texas in a border town. You had Rey Mysterio and maybe Eddie Guerrero on the show. Instead of promoting it on bi-lingual and Latino stations and networks, they instead were putting it on smooth Jazz or whatever it was. I think it was classic Rock and smooth Jazz or something that made no sense.
I said, "Wouldn't it be better to reconfigure these prices in the market and target the talent that has huge followings according to Nielsen and according to the arenas." It seems like this was a slight adjustment that could make a little bit of a difference. He just disagreed. Some days -- Vince is just the kind of guy that you can't just tell him something. You got to pick your battles and when you're going to fight him and that wasn't that day. Ultimately, we agreed to disagree on that day but it wasn't like it was World War III or anything. It was a pretty logical argument.
I always had very positive experiences working with Vince and to this day, once in a while, we shoot e-mails back and forth that are non-wrestling related. Just to put it out there; I'm not looking to get back into wrestling. I'm not putting Vince over because...
WrestlingINC: Right. You wouldn't be talking about Stephanie...
Bauer: Yeah. That's probably a good point, too. [Laughs.]
WrestlingINC: Now, Vince is obviously very ticked off that Lesnar appeared in UFC in May. Triple H really seems like he went up to bat to make sure nothing crazy happened. What do you make of Triple H wanting to make sure that Lesnar is around? I think a lot of people see it as Triple H really wants to beat Lesnar at SummerSlam. Is that kind of how you see it or do you see it as a legitimate business move?
Bauer: No. Hunter is trying to preserve a deal that is worth upwards of $5 million that was crafted and designed to push WWE forward after The Rock departed at WrestleMania. At the same time, it's to keep a level of interest and keep the ratings above a certain level, to be able to keep the product relevant, keep it fresh. With Hunter -- this isn't the guy that he was four or five years ago, racking up titles and doing this and that.
He's at a different point in his life and in his career. I don't think he's a guy right now that -- I think he's so preoccupied about so much stuff that I don't think he really cares about the wins and losses as much as he used to. [Laughs.]
WrestlingINC: Then again, he hasn't really lost. Outside of The Undertaker, he hasn't lost in years. Even with the feud with CM Punk, it would have helped C.M. Punk get to the next level. It didn't really seem to make much sense to have Triple H go over.
Bauer: But if you push back and look at the larger picture, there was a lot of parody booking going on. I get a win, you get a win. If you look at CM Punk and how they were really kind of Jekyll and Hyde on that with creative. They got him very hot and then they beat him at SummerSlam. He had problems with Triple H and then the match with Nash. It wasn't a smooth ride up until Triple H.
WrestlingINC: So, if you had to give a prediction for SummerSlam, what would you predict?
Bauer: [Laughs.] I can't predict WWE because you have a guy that's almost 70-years-old running the coming that sometimes forgets what's up. It's very hard to predict a company that is so impulsive and has such erratic booking. It really is impossible. If this was 2000, you could probably say, 'OK, this is going to lead to this and this is going to lead to this but we know Steve Austin is probably going to do this.' And if they didn't go in that way, then they'd go in a different way. But we always felt satisfied as a viewer and as a fan.
Today, if anything, you've either become numb to it or indifferent when they do these kinds of moves because you've seen so many of these dicey, creative directions for so many of their guys.
But, I just want to talk a little bit about Triple H. I don't think he is a prolific mind. I don't think he is able to fill Vince McMahon's shoes because no one can. When Vince was at his best, was a guy that could do marketing, a guy that could cut deals with licensing people like Mattel, LJN, Hasbro -- whatever it was. He was a guy that could cut deals with Donald Trump, that could get on NBC with Dick Ebersol. He was able to create stars and be all these things and wear so many hats. Executive producer, brander, marketing guy, the final say with booking. Just being the president of a company, the CEO of a company -- he wore a lot of hats. I don't really think Hunter could do that.
It's very hard. I don't think he has the ability in terms of marketing and branding and I don't know if he's a guy, like Vince, that could get the locker room behind him. Vince could get guys like Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels losing their minds because they wanted to be the father's number one son. And he knows that he could do that, he was brilliant at it. I don't think Hunter will ever get the loyalty of the locker room. If TNA came at them and they were spending a gazillion dollars, I don't think people would get Hunter's back like they did with Vince with The Undertaker as an example. I don't think Hunter would get that.
Hunter's almost 45 and to start learning corporate America at that age is very difficult. At any age, it's very difficult, but when you get older, it's much harder to be that dynamic and switch gears. I think that's a big problem.
Those issues aside, I think Hunter has a very hard time right now. He's just trying to keep the ship afloat. I know this, I've heard it front friends and colleagues on the inside: It's very difficult working for Vince McMahon in 2012. He forgets what he's doing in terms of creative. He forgets during a TV taping what the match order is, what's happening and sometimes who's booked to be at TV. He's just a guy that's almost in a bit of a diminished capacity. Not from a health direction, necessarily, but overall. He isn't the guy that he was 5, 15 years ago. It's a different time. That's going to happen as you get older.
So, Hunter's trying to keep that ship sailing along and keep things from getting catastrophically bad. [Laughs.] Meanwhile he's also the guy that married Stephanie McMahon. No matter what happens, no matter the successes he's earned inside the ring or outside the ring, he will always be looked at as the guy that married the boss' daughter. That's a very hard thing to live with. That's a very hard thing to live with. On top of that, he's trying to keep the ship afloat, but he has to do it in a tactful, diplomatic way because his father-in-law is the boss. So, there's another layer to this that's very hard. I mean, just dealing with in-laws can be tough. Just ask any married guy. It can be tough. And by the way, his father-in-law is Vince McMahon. [Laughs.]
He's also still a guy that was a champion, main event wrestler for a good bulk of his career and he's now in the twilight of his career. That, for guys, is hard enough. Just ask Ric Flair how he's coping. So, that's not easy. He's got that aspect of it. With all these things in the mix, it's got to be very, very hard to be Paul Levesque. Incredibly hard. I can't compare it to anyone in the business. By the way, he's got to fill Vince's shoes when it's all said and done. That's a very hard position to be in.
WrestlingINC: I definitely agree with that. Where a lot of fans get skeptical with Triple H is just with guys he's worked with, the guys that he's really put over. I can only think of one feud in the last decade with a wrestler that has come out of a feud with Triple H a bigger star then when he went in. That would be Batista. Batista's the only one I can think of.
Bauer: Sheamus. He put Sheamus on the map. I think Sheamus was his hottest when he was dealing with Triple H and how all of that was put together. I'll name another for you: Eugene, who a lot of people disagreed with being one of your top stars because of the character being mentally handicapped, a mental midget. Again, this is just how people were talking backstage and I wasn't with the company. But, a lot of the boys who I was very familiar with and friends with, they'd say to me, 'We're all laying down for this guy and then he lets a retard beat him.' Their words, not mine. And not just once.
There's been guys that, I think, he's definitely helped. I think that Randy Orton, while not the sterling gold example of how you make a star, he helped Randy Orton considerably. I don't think if you put Randy Orton with other people, out of the gates, it would have been as successful or he would have gotten that rub.
I think he did a lot to help Ric Flair at a time when Ric Flair's career was in its twilight physically and it was very difficult for him to be the Ric Flair that we held him to, in terms of standards. He kept him in kind of a realistic way capable of contributing. That's not exactly making new talent but you're managing talent.
If you look at CM Punk, it's not like that guy was in a situation where everything went glowingly, too. They did a great build for Money In The Bank, but what happened at SummerSlam in 2011? The whole thing with John Cena. I don't think that worked for anyone.
You have to be committed. There was a time in WWE's run where they were committed, they had a gameplan and it was 18-24 months of whatever and by that time, you had 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin taking off. Or you had Hulkamania running wild. Or you had Bret Hart slowly winning over the fans with his hard work. Or Shawn Michaels. But, they don't do that anymore. You have a very fast and furious, 90 day window of good grace and you had to succeed in that window. And that's probably not even -- two weeks! Not even.
It's been very difficult for guys like Kofi Kingston. It's been very difficult for guys like Evan Bourne to break out. It's hard for guys like Rey Mysterio. Rey's a guy that I was there when he was champion. It was a very, very hard run as champion because he was beaten every night and he was supposed to be the champion.
So, it's not just Triple H. It's more of an indictment of the overall operation and how they strategically place the talent to thrive and get over as babyfaces and heels. And they don't really do a great job of it. They haven't since they really had to. [Laughs.]
WrestlingINC: Yeah. I do think it's strange to hire all these Hollywood writers and then not follow the Hollywood route where you build things for 6 months or a year. Vince doesn't follow that model, even though he wants that atmosphere, where you look at your storylines well in advance. That's one of many things that's been hurting the product for a while.
Bauer: They haven't had to do that and it's a problem. We don't know what's going to happen on the flip-side when Vince -- when whatever happens to Vince happens to Vince. [Laughs.] We don't know if it'll be better or not.
WrestlingINC: What are your thoughts on the future under Hunter? Do you think it will be in a sense better without the crazy ideas of Vince and mood changes or are you a little concerned?
Bauer: I think it will be a more stable product then it is in the golden years of Vince that are not so golden right now. Vince is and will be the greatest promoter in the history of the business. Hopefully, there is a great future and someone rivals that but right now, he is that guy. The Hunter from 1998 is a radically different guy than the guy in 2012. Like everyone when they're younger, they're more of a more out-of-the-box thinker, more of a radical thinker. As he's now in his 40's, he's much more heavily conservative.
He's heavily influenced by St. Louis wrestling, Harley Race and Ric Flair, obviously. And that style of St. Louis is very, very, very "blah". If you've ever seen St. Louis wrestling -- you know, people love talking about it but watch it. It's not a cake walk, man. So, I think that's something you'll see. A very consistent product, but a very uneventful product. I think you'll see a product that's very much, you know, five numbers. You'll never see something like Kurt Angle talking about bestiality sex or some weird story involving Katie Vick or something crazy like that. But you're probably also not going to see something as dynamic as The Mega-Powers exploding or the twin Hebner refs which at the time when Pat Patterson -- who has been Vince's right-hand man and booker throughout the greatest eras since the late-'70's, early-'80's. Pat is one of the best bookers. Pat and Gary Hart, to me, are like, lights out. I don't think Hunter's that guy. Maybe he can find his strength in certain ways but I don't see it right now.
Vince is a guy that does 200 things and you need 200 guys to replace him. And I think he's at an age where he probably should start doing that and looking for those guys because he needs help. Vince is the Walt Disney to this particular genre of entertainment. Hunter's not going to be that and it's up to Hunter to surround himself with the best people which Vince also did. When years were great, he surrounded himself with great people. When years were not so good for wrestling or WWE operations, you saw people around that were like comfort food. They made him feel better about himself but they really weren't f--king doing much for the prosperity of his company and that's kind of where they are now. They have been for a long time.
So, it's hard to say where Hunter going to be. I think Stephanie's probably going to continue propelling this creative department into where it's going and I don't think it's in a good place and I don't think she'll ever quite get it to a level of success. If it were up to me, I'd reduce that division. If not, I'd shut it down all together. I don't think it's worked.
WrestlingINC: I'm sorry, which division? Did you say the film division?
Bauer: That division they should flush down the toilet. That shipped sailed long ago. But with creative, you only need two guys to really give you that stuff. You don't need a team. You don't need people to write promos. You really don't. To be honest, not many guys can [create promos] nowadays so you probably do need guys to help them. But I'd rather see guys struggle and ultimately overcome that struggle and become a good promo than see rigid promos. I can point out eight out of ten, maybe seven out of ten of the writers that are writing those promos because I know them still and know their work and how they write is the same for six or seven guys instead of it being just a wrestler cutting a promo and projecting his persona and dialing it up 1000%.
So, you have a great sample size -- a decade plus -- of what Stephanie and this department have done and it has yielded decreasing, diminishing results and performance. So, what do you get from that (department)? But that's just me and that won't happen. Hey, I was in the creative department and these are my friends. It's a tough thing to say, but I'm just speaking the truth. I really don't think it's done much for them. But then you get another problem. Name some good bookers out there that you can just pluck and bring in. That's another problem, you know.
Wrestling is a scary place. I wish I could say that I'm a really big fan of this booker but there's really no one out there that could present talent and could produce them for a TV product. Yeah, they can put on a good house show or make a great DVD release but it's not the same at running something at that level. It isn't. And writing scripts isn't the same as booking like Pat Patterson did and guys like Gary Hart did and all the other creative minds out there.
WrestlingINC: Having worked with Vince, Stephanie and Triple H, do you think that it is time for Vince to step down?
Bauer: I only know what I've heard. I mean, I haven't worked under Vince McMahon for close to five years. So, I can only say from personal experience that the Vince McMahon I worked for was a guy that was coming out of his glory years. He wasn't a guy that I felt was incompetent at his job. I felt he had great days and some days that I fiercely disagreed with the direction. I think you could say that about a lot of people. You have good days, bad days, so-so days. I never saw the guy that I hear is running the company now. So, it's a different guy.
I can only go by what I hear from other people and it's unfortunate. When you get a guy like Vince McMahon who has been a world-beater and such a competitive guy, it's hard to get a grip on where you are in your life. It's not like this guy has hobbies. He's not an avid golfer. His only hobby is lifting weights and that's it. He sleeps four hours a night, he runs his company 24/7/365, and he's a driven man.
But when you're yielding diminished results, you start to wonder, 'How long should this guy be in this position?' It's a very hard situation. He doesn't want to go live on an island in Bermuda. He doesn't want to do that, he wants to do what he's doing. There is no exit strategy, there is no, 'I'm going to get to this age and leave.' That won't happen, I don't believe that how he's wired. Dana White's not wired that way. There's certain people that just aren't wired that way.
WrestlingINC: Having worked with Shane McMahon as well and having seen the course they're going on with Stephanie and Triple H, do you think that Shane McMahon would be more suited for that role?
Bauer: No. I think Shane would have been better for the culture and the environment, but the bottom line -- I don't think he would have produced any better or any worse. Stephanie fosters a toxic environment. I don't think she's a good administrator. I don't think she has the skill-set to be as successful as you need to be. I will submit to you that for the last 12 years, she's more or less been involved with the central nervous system to the company, being creative. Have you seen someone that made some mistakes and learned from those mistakes? Did you see someone who tried to correct them and tried to become a more aware administrator? If anything, I think it's gotten worse.
So, I don't think she's done a great job in that direction. Everyone I know that worked with Shane McMahon at digital with WWE.com and WWE in general said it was a very relaxed environment. He had a terrific culture and the vibe in his department was terrific. It was like a lot of other places I've worked and been involved with. It was very laid back, very casual environment. The dress code was very relaxed. It wasn't a cut-throat, ruthless environment. It didn't feel like you were watching "Game Of Thrones." It felt like a good vibe, man. I feel like in entertainment, that's a critical thing. Especially when you're trying to be creative.
Stephanie has more of a shark tank/sophomore year in high school vibe. [Laughs.] I don't think it's very productive, I don't think it's very professional. If you look at 10 or 12 years of that operation, I don't think it looks like a very successful one or a viable one if you look at the turn over and the amount of people that say, 'This is a wonderful place.' You don't hear that coming out of creative.
It's sad, because WWE is capable of so many great things and they've demonstrated it over the course of 30 years. In the last ten years, I've never seen such a ground swelling on negativity surrounding one department. Not just from the people working there, but on the outside looking in. That says a lot.
They both have their weaknesses and they both have incredible traits that they could bring to the table. Again, it's very hard to replace Vince McMahon. How do you replace Vince McMahon? How do you replace Walt Disney? How do you replace these people? You can't. You can just surround yourself with the best people possible. I don't think Vince has done that and I don't think Stephanie has done that.
You can follow Bauer on Twitter at @CourtBauer. Make sure to check back tomorrow for our third part of our interview, where Bauer discusses angles he regrets, Eddie Guerrero death being exploited, angles he's proud of, why he left WWE and much more.