Putting on a WWE program or pay per view is a major production. There are hundreds of staff members working around the clock to make what the WWE Universe views on television something they can be proud of and brings them back week after week. Most of the things we as fans take for granted are painfully tedious jobs that go relatively underappreciated. Others are more subliminal tricks to keep our focus.
Recently, on an episode of Raw, Braun Stroman and The Big Show fought in the main event, where with one giant superplex, the ring collapsed creating a must-see moment for the WWE audience. Like a film crew planning a stunt scene for a major motion picture, that moment likely took a number or workers, meticulous timing and strategic planning to get right and make Stroman come off as a huge monster. The week prior, Stroman tilted over an ambulance (which was staged to appear as though Roman Reigns was inside it). The WWE Universe is also not far removed from WrestleMania 33 which boasted one of the company’s most technical stage setups of all time.
If you ever wanted to know some of the hidden secrets that go on behind the scenes of your favorite and longest-running weekly episodic television show, keep reading. We’ll shed light on 15 things you maybe knew but maybe didn’t about what goes on behind the camera. Some of these things will surprise you and some will help you explain how the WWE “did that.” Some are pretty obvious, but still fun to take a look at.
15. Taped Programming Is Highly Altered Before Airing
While it’s more difficult to do during a live broadcast, the WWE has the luxury of going back into taped programming and making changes. And, you can bet they do. These changes can include retakes of WWE performers interviews and backstage segments, reshooting entrances or piping in sound effects. In some cases, the WWE has been known to re-do ring entrances or edit out portions of matches.
One example of a more common edit is when the audio from an audience is altered to reflect what the WWE wants the television audience at home to see and hear. WCW used to help get Goldberg over by piping through the arena chants of “Goldberg… Goldberg…”. Today, it’s become widespread to cheer him in that fashion. The WWE will remove boos and chants against certain characters while adding cheers for the characters they want us to get behind. It’s a rather sneaky thing to do to an audience, but it’s an understandable luxury and a benefit when not going live.
14. The Entire Show Is Fully Scripted And Timed
With the creation of the WWE Network, the WWE has loosened it reigns a bit on the timing of its shows, but key to the success of any broadcast is getting the script, timing and length of a production just right. If you want to know what happens when the timing is off, just look back to WCW when the finish to the Diamond Dallas Page versus Goldberg match was cut off on a live pay per view and they had to give away the match for free on Nitro the next night.
Backstage, there are people like former wrestler Billy Kidman, whose sole job is to make sure interviews, in-ring segments and matches don’t run too long. This can lead to overruns on television, upset performers who get cut and improper timing for commercial breaks. Have you ever noticed that right before a commercial, a wrestler will get thrown to the floor on the outside of the ring? That’s to cue the crew on an upcoming break and part of Kidman’s job to get correct. It also means the delay won’t have the tv audience miss much action since a wrestler can buy time outside the ring during ad revenue time.
13. The Quantity And Quality Of Camera Angles Is Key
While the camera crew at a WWE televised event is massive, one of the things that make them better than almost any other promotion at capturing wrestling history is the camera crew’s understanding of how best to capture the product Vince McMahon wants to be shown to an audience. Knowing the science of a wrestling show is vital to getting it right.
One key component is making sure to be in the right position. Cameramen are taught where to stand so that they don’t walk into each other’s shots or viewpoints and to pan away when a wrestler is calling a move set. They are aware of a wrestlers move set and patterns so as to be in position for the series. This means that they’ll be multiple angles of any one moment and the WWE can choose from the best option to air on the broadcast.
To help the camera crew, performers are taught to look in the right direction and be aware of the cameras during entrances. let the camera capture the emotion of your character and give in-ring interviews toward the hard camera positioned in the stands on one side of the ring. This is one of the biggest learning lessons taught in NXT. Both the performers and the camera crew are also taught how not to reveal a wrestler calling a move set visible to the audience.
12. The Referees Are A Major Part Of The Show
If you thought that a referees only job was to provide a three-count to end a match, think again. Perhaps more important to the equation than the performers in the ring, the referee is responsible for helping the timing of a match, giving cues to the performers as instructed from the backstage area, calling the end of matches if required, notifying the wrestlers of commercial breaks, let the wrestlers know when to “take it home,” set up the ring, read the scripts and help sell a finish to an audience.
Each referee wears an earpiece or is in constant communication with a stage manager who does and is involved is always relaying information to all parties involved in the show. In some cases, they are the only ones who know about plans that the announcers, audience and even wrestlers aren’t privy to. If you ever needed proof, ask Earl Hebner who was a key component in the “Montreal Screwjob” that saw Bret Hart leave the WWE. There were only three people who knew what was going on. One of them was the referee.
11. The WWE Has Countless Professional Writers On Staff
It used to be Vince McMahon and Pat Patterson sitting beside the pool at Vince’s house coming up with the entire script and storyline for the matches fans would see. They later added Gerald Brisco. Can you imagine that? Only three people writing weekly programming, WrestleMania and live events?
Today, it’s countless writers, many of which are dedicated to a specific WWE Superstar who write 10-15 hours of programming per week. With more than 20 writers on staff, certain wrestlers have their own dedicated writers to help craft and mold their onscreen characters into what we see on television. Some of the writers have no background in wrestling but are well known for their experience in soap operas, film and previous television work. Freddie Prinze Jr. was at one time a WWE writer.
10. Blading Is A Thing Of The Past
It used to be that if a match was meant to really show hatred or a rivalry of biblical proportions, a wrestler would blade. Blading is the term used to cut oneself to create blood (usually from the forehead). Sometimes it worked to perfection. Other times blading went overboard and wrestlers wound up being seriously injured.
In today’s PG WWE, blading is no longer permitted and violating that rule can be met with serious fines and repercussions. You’ll also notice in highlight reels or video packages if wrestlers do end up bleeding in a match, those highlights are shown in black and white. Referees are also provided gloves and will stop or pause a match to try and clear up any cuts if at all possible before a match continues.
9. Wrestler’s Promos Are Now Scripted
One of the things that came with the move to a higher quantity of writers is the concept of scripted promos and interviews. In the past, performers were given small tidbits to ensure they relayed a message to an audience. Wrestlers today need to strictly adhere to the scripts and dialogues handed out to them. Quite a few wrestlers are not to veer from that script.
The scripting is better meant to help keep good timing for the show, get the character of a particular wrestler over and advance storylines. While speaking scripts likely do that, there is a large section of the WWE Universe that feels the authenticity of the show has been compromised. Just look at Roman Reigns as an example. One of the reasons he’s lost so much fan support is because his promos feel like they’re part of the WWE machine that is manufactured to “create” stars. The WWE Universe can see right through something so obvious and people like Reigns no longer relate to an audience. On the opposite side, there are some in the WWE (The Rock) who have the clout to stray from the promos and do what they want. That makes his promos feel authentic and original. The only issue with doing for everyone what they do for the Rock is that it has a tendency to derail the timeline of the scripted programming.
8. Vince Feeds His Commentators Live During The Show
If you’ve ever been at a WrestleMania weekend and tried the announcer’s booth at the fan experience, you’ll learn one thing quickly; it’s harder than you’d think to be a WWE commentator. Now, imagine doing that job with a not-so-little and often not-so-friendly voice inside your ear, WWE founder and Chairman, Vince McMahon. That’s right, McMahon is constantly barking orders to his announcers during the broadcast in an attempt to sell the drama, the sponsorship or the agenda of the company to the WWE Universe.
Commentators are restricted from using certain terms like “pro wrestling”, they’re told to emphasize certain moments and in some cases, fed direct lines to repeat. Former commentators like Mick Foley and Joey Styles have gone public about how much they hated getting yelled at during commentary and the job was too high-stress for them to enjoy. Mainstay Michael Cole was a whipping boy for years until he got the hang of the job Vince wanted him to do. To this day, Cole still has issues.
7. Live Events Are Practice Ground For The Big Time
We might think that when wrestler “A” wrestles wrestler “B” on Raw or SmackDown Live, this is the first time these two have faced each other, but it’s likely not. Live events are meant to give performers practice and familiarity with each other. Some wrestlers may wrestle 20 times before they get to the PPV that’s been so heavily promoted.
Imagine a duo like Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn. If you feel like you’ve watched that match one too many times, imagine how many times they wrestled each other as they traveled the country. The positive is that these duos have a live audience to test new moves or bounce off a crowd certain ideas. If they work, they’ll likely work them into their PPV match. If they don’t work, they may not try them again. Subliminally, this also makes the feuds on pay per views more relevant to WWE audiences who saw these two performers clash live.
6. The Layout of the Match
There is a big difference between the finish of a match versus the buildup to the finish. One can be scripted but is often not, while the other is always scripted barring an emergency like an unexpected injury. Both the buildup (the part of a match the wrestlers are given more time and space to do their own thing) and the finish are timed to ensure every match, interview and segment fit just right.
Who calls the match? How long can it go? The scripts take care of all that and the referees help implement the scripts. The veteran wrestlers are usually responsible for calling and designing the buildup and if two veterans are in a match, the heel character usually gets the responsibility. The finishes are instructed by backstage personnel like Pat Patterson, Dean Malenko or Brian James (Road Dogg).
5. Ready For Real Injuries
Not everything shown on the show is fake, and injuries might be as real as it gets. As much as the WWE hopes it doesn’t happen, they are prepared for when it does and the signal often used to relay a real injury is the dreaded “X” sign a referee makes with his hands. This sign indicates the performer needs immediate care.
Often, after a serious spot or planned bump in a match, stagehands or referees will come and check on performers to ensure they landed the move correctly and can continue. Don’t believe? The next time you watch a program with a move that has the crowd chanting “Holy S&*^, Holy S&**, watch the performers who just took the bump and how they signal with the ref or staffer that they are good to go on. It happens a lot more frequently than you might think.
4. Pay Scale of Performers
As unbelievable as it may seem, wrestlers don’t make much money inside the ring. Only a handful of WWE performers make really big money as a base salary per year. Instead, many wrestlers bread and butter come from bonuses, merchandise, and personal appearances. For example, AJ Styles is rumored to be making about $500K per year plus merchandise bonuses after a lengthy run in Japan, TNA and other scenes where we did quite well for himself. That’s good, but for 300 days on the road per year, most might think he’d make more.
As such, there is a mixture of competitive fire that burns backstage to be the best in the company and there is also a team mentality to make the show as entertaining as possible to ensure more eyeballs and more sales. Main eventing WrestleMania becomes not only a dream for any performer who ever wanted to be in the WWE as a kid, but a motivating financial factor to making it to the top.
3. The Fines For Breaking Rules Are Heavy
Some people say rules are meant to be broken. Even Vince has admitted there were times that performers decided to veer off script and blade or do something against policy. Vince will say publicly that he’s not fond of being ignored, but at the end of the day, if the WWE audience is eating it up, he’s more prone to be accepting of the change. That’s not necessarily true.
Ask Batista who was fined $100K for blading in a match with Chris Jericho after the WWE had gone PG. Vince also fined Jericho, producer Dean Malenko and referee Mike Chioda. Stone Cold Steve Austin was fined big time for leaving a show because he didn’t like the storyline and buildup leading to a match with Brock Lesnar. Others have been suspended or fined for foul language. It doesn’t take much to get in hot water with Vince.
2. Weapons Are Real But Some Are Reinforced
For every idiot who ever tried to put their friend through a table because they saw it on a television show like Raw or SmackDown Live, you learned one thing pretty quickly, it hurts. For the most part, the weapons used during production are real. Sledgehammers, chairs, kendo sticks… but some are a bit more reinforced than others. Rumor is that ladders and tables are played with a bit prior to showtime to ensure reduced injury.
One of the biggest weapons is the ring, the ropes and the floor outside. The ring is not terrible soft and the ropes will leave welts on a performer’s back, especially when not used to taking the consistent punishment. The floor is concrete and these three elements (a part of every match) create lasting pain for wrestlers.
1. Wrestlers Are Encouraged To Take Control Over Their Characters
While most of the WWE product is heavily scripted now, performers are still encouraged to get involved and rewarded for taking an active role in the success of their characters. The WWE and Vince McMahon have an open-door policy for wrestlers to talk about their character direction, explain the motivation behind certain actions or relay their concerns.
There are cases where wrestlers actually had to get the writers up to speed. MVP was once noted for having to explain the term “baller” to Vince. McMahon thought it had something to do with basketball. As much as fans hated the change, John Cena was instrumental in his reinvention from the “Doctor of Thuganomics” to the walking advertisement that kids love. It was a merchandising play more than anything. Wrestlers have input on their logos, designs and catchphrases as well.
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