The big WWE creative team shake-up that was finalized on Wednesday was brought on by several internal issues and concerns, including a severe botching of the SmackDown storyline with Roman Reigns, Daniel Bryan and Erick Rowan, according to a new report from The Wrap.
As we've noted, Ryan Ward is now out as the lead writer for SmackDown and the official word is that he is on a personal leave. With Ward gone from SmackDown, Ed Koskey is the new lead writer for the blue brand, and will be working with SmackDown Executive Director Eric Bischoff now. He also works as WWE's Vice President of Creative Writing. Koskey, who has been with WWE for more than 18 years with 10 of those spent as a top writer, had been working as the lead RAW writer.
The new RAW head writer is Jonathan Baeckstrom, who will be working with RAW Executive Director Paul Heyman. Baeckstrom was actually brought to RAW month or so ago by Heyman after working as the lead writer of 205 Live since November 2016. The new 205 Live head writer is Chad Barbash, who had been unofficially working as the main writer for that brand ever since Heyman brought Baeckstrom to RAW, but now the role is official.
We also noted how there had been an internal feeling that SmackDown creative changes were inevitable as Vince McMahon has been making heavy edits to the blue brand TV scripts as of late. The Wrap reports that the changes finalized on Wednesday had been in the works for weeks, and that they follow the botched storyline involving the doppelgänger for Rowan.
Regarding Ward's leave of absence, The Wrap reports that it will be short-term. Ward will likely join WWE's "home team" when he returns from the leave, which is the team of writers that does not travel each week. This would be considered a major step down for Ward, who re-assumed his role as SmackDown head writer earlier this year. Ward has previously been credited by many for the "glory days" of WWE NXT a few years ago. As noted earlier today, via Casey of Squared Circle Sirens, Ward recently got married and that may also have something to do with his leave.
We noted back in July how WWE had fired Steve Guerrieri. The Wrap adds that Ward had been sharing the lead writer role with Guerrieri until that departure. Before that, WWE Hall of Famer "Road Dogg" Brian James had stepped down from the same SmackDown role. While there were some issues with the blue brand, RAW has had much more consistency with Koskey leading things.
The Wrap noted that Baeckstrom is taking over a "lofty" RAW role from Koskey. He was moved "way up the ladder" of the company a month ago when Heyman brought him from 205 Live to RAW.
The creative shake-up is due to a perceived lack of direction on the blue brand. These changes come as WWE prepares to premiere on Fox Friday nights beginning October 4, airing live each week from 8-10pm ET under the new billion-dollar deal from Fox. That deal is putting a lot of pressure on the SmackDown writing team.
The changes also come amid growing questions about Bischoff's leadership of the show, according to the report. Their source cited Bischoff's decision to hire Stevie Long, a writer who formerly worked on the Sons of Anarchy TV show. Long was reportedly found asleep in the writer's room by WWE Hall of Famer and longtime employee Michael "PS" Hayes, during Long's first day on the road with the company. He is still employed. Bischoff declined to comment on the story when contacted by The Wrap, and Long's manager was unable to give a comment from his client before publication.
Going back to the botching of the Rowan doppelgänger storyline, The Wrap reports that Bischoff and the blue brand team have come under scrutiny due to the handling of the creative. Their source noted that the storyline was "botched so bad" that "explaining to anyone what it was supposed to be wouldn't make any sense at all."
McMahon talked about why he hired Heyman and Bischoff for the new executive roles during the WWE 2019 Q2 earnings call earlier this summer. Vince did not mention Heyman and Bischoff by name, but first referenced the new roles during his opening statement to investors that morning. Vince noted twice during the call how the new Executive Director hires will prevent him from "getting in the weeds" as he has in the past.
"One the things that we've done is hire two Executive Directors, one for Raw and one for SmackDown and in doing so, it allows me to look at a longer-range story and also spend more time on talent development and not get into the weeds as much as I had to do in the past. That is a really, really good thing for a long-term as well as short-term. Actually, we've seen a big result already," Vince said in his opening statement. (H/T to Seeking Alpha for the transcript.)
Vince was later asked by an investor about why the company chose to hire Executive Directors at this time, and how much latitude Heyman and Bischoff will have.
"Why now question is a logical one," Vince said. "I can't personally be in the weeds any longer and we have these two individuals who have a longer range of point of view and a developmental point the of view. Both of these individuals have extensive backgrounds in the business from various aspects and with the organizational aspects that they have and the depth of talent - executive talent - we now attract is going to be really good for our business. And how much latitude they will have, that's again it allows me to have a broader overview of things and escape from just getting on the weeds. So they'll have a lot of latitude."
WWE currently has approximately 25 creative writers across the company, according to the new report from The Wrap.
A Fox Sports representative did not immediately respond to The Wrap's request for comments. A WWE spokesman issued the following in response to a request:
"We don't comment on employee matters."