In legitimately surprising news from the world of wrestling, WWE confirmed a Sports Illustrated report that Paul Heyman and Eric Bischoff will be named executive directors of Raw and SmackDown, respectively.
From Justin Barrasso at SI:
WWE has named Paul Heyman and Eric Bischoff as Executive Directors, Sports Illustrated has learned.
Heyman is set to become Executive Director of Monday Night Raw, while Bischoff will fill the same role for SmackDown Live. Both will report directly to WWE Chairman and CEO Vince McMahon.
WWE confirmed the news with Sports Illustrated, with an official announcement expected later today.
The two positions are full-time executive roles, with no plans at the current time for this to be introduced as part of a TV storyline.
WWE did indeed make an official announcement, very shortly thereafter:
WWE has named Paul Heyman as Executive Director of Monday Night Raw and Eric Bischoff as Executive Director of SmackDown LIVE, newly created positions reporting directly to WWE Chairman & CEO Vince McMahon.
In their executive roles, Heyman and Bischoff will oversee the creative development of WWE’s flagship programming and ensure integration across all platforms and lines of business. The creation of these roles further establishes WWE’s ability to continuously reinvent its global brand while providing two distinct creative processes for its flagship shows.
This is fascinating for a few reasons. For one, this is turning back the clock a bit; Heyman and Bischoff both made their names in wrestling by taking on Vince McMahon’s WWF back before Vince ended up driving everyone else out of business. Secondly, even if it all ends up being a storyline-driven move (despite the assurances otherwise), it does appear to be a reaffirmation of the brand split, which had been slipping lately thanks to a hastily implemented “Wild Card” gimmick that allowed competitors to appear on both shows. This is important as SmackDown heads to Fox this fall.
Perhaps most interesting though is how this effects McMahon’s control of the weekly television product. That’s long been his domain, and if these announcements mean he’s actually going to take input or even cede some of the weekly duties it will be fascinating to see what the shows can look like. It’s also very possible that this move is being driven at least in part by the impending relaunch of the XFL, in which McMahon has invested plenty of his own money. Perhaps Vince realized he can’t be everywhere at once, and the recent (and spectacular) failure of the AAF may have convinced him that his attention should be focused on football.
There’s no denying that a change was needed, something more substantial than “not wrestling during commercial breaks”, which has already proven farcical. In addition, ratings have been diving lately, and for the first time in a long time, there’s a well-funded, star-studded competitor. The shows have also just been, well, bad. There’s an irony in WWE having an incredibly deep and talented roster, along with five hours of primetime television every week, and filling those hours with promo parades and Vince’s son winning matches.
Whether this ends up making any tangible difference to the television shows remains to be seen, but it’s something! And WWE definitely needed to try something.