Guest Booker: Vince Russo
Written by: Brian Bayless
This was filmed in 2012
The host is Sean Oliver
It runs at one hour and forty-five minutes long
Oliver starts off by introducing Russo as a booker and a writer then asks him the difference between the two. Russo says that a booker books wrestling matches while a writer writes a television show. Russo then says the writer makes it more episodic and leave you wanting to see the show again next week.
He then asks Russo when he found out that someone was actually controlling the product. Russo says he remembers as a kid seeing Captain Lou Albano and The Valiants on TV and was instantly mesmerized and entertained but knew they were not “for real” because there is no one in the world who could have these personalities. He then points out the Chief Jay Strongbow getting his ass kicked for the whole match until he starts doing the war dance and calls them some of the best actors in the world because of how great they made things. Russo takes it a step further that the characters are what makes TV shows.
Oliver now asks Russo if the wrestlers today do not bring enough originality and creativity to the table and how its not fair for the writers to take all of the blame. Russo says he the wrestlers today grew up in the “video game” era and played those instead of seeing the popular characters of the 60’s and 70’s and as a result, imagined that they were wrestlers doing these moves and have brought that into the business. Russo said at TNA, he would see all the guys spending their time going over the actual match and only thinking about the moves instead of thinking about their character and how they would react, adding that guys like Bruno Sammartino and the Wild Samoans were not worrying about their next moves. He talks about getting over Madison Rayne the most in TNA because she always stayed in character during her matches and as a result, developed an emotional bond with the audience.
On the angles that got him emotionally invested as a kid, Russo remembers Spiros Arion turning on Strongbow and how he yanked out the feathers on his headdress and shoved them down his mouth as Russo says despite knowing this was all fake the characters did such a great job that he was still flipping out. He also said that when he was older he loved Jake Roberts and how when he took out Ricky Steamboat and had his snake bite Randy Savage, saying they were unforgettable moments. He said there are probably about three matches he remembers but instead has fondness for all of the “moments.”
Russo then talks about wrestling doing everything “big” in terms of angles for over 50 years and as a result, it makes it harder to make things stand out anymore. He also adds that is not fair to blame on the wrestlers themselves today.
On the first time he booked anything in wrestling, Russo talks about his start as a freelance writer to “WWF Magazine” then becoming and editor. In 1994, he began to write promos for the wrestlers at house shows. Russo then said he came up with the Goldust gimmick and Vince McMahon gave him what he wanted from the character so he developed the character based off of that. Oliver asked Russo if the things like the letterbox format of his ring entrance was his, being that he was a movie buff, and Russo confirms that it was.
Russo then says when writing for a character, he has to put himself in their shoes and how they would react to a certain situation. He says wrestling has gotten away from doing that with characters today.
When asked what qualifications a good TV writer can bring to a wrestling show, Russo said its’ having the freedom to go where no one has gone before and daring to be different. He then adds that a boss has to let the writers run with an idea and how putting constraints and handcuffs on a good writer will no longer make them good. Oliver then asks Russo what kind of restraints a boss should put on a writer. Russo says the boss should tell them what they want, who he wants to push, and to give them the big picture, and let the writer create the week-to-week process of how they get there. Russo also points out how detrimental micromanaging is to the writing process and says a lot of that comes from inexperienced bosses letting their opinion get formed by the internet. Russo also says that the internet is not the wrestling audience. He talks about writing for the WWF during the “Attitude Era” and how he would find what the audience wanted by literally going out into the crowd and how he did that every week to hear how they reacted to any vital match or segment, adding that it is the most valuable way to hear what they want.
Russo said he found out over the years that the best wrestlers and workers needed the words scripted for them because their focus was in the match, which is what made them so great in the ring. He then said giving those guys professional writers made it the best of both worlds as you have a great wrestler who now has material to become a better character.
Oliver asks Russo about the time of the WWE purchase of WCW and if he was still following the business. Russo said if he is not writing then he cannot watch the wrestling as its tough for him to sit and watch without having a hand in the product. Russo said he would have loved to see the last episode of Nitro, saying he has still not seen the show to this day.
On the Shane vs. Vince feud and if that was a smart idea to go with the InVasion, Russo said its not the way he would have went but it could have worked. Russo puts over Shane for being a great in-ring performer, just liked his dad and for that reason it could and probably should have worked.
Oliver asks why the big name WCW talent was not used for the InVasion angle. Russo said at the end, WCW was known as an “ATM Machine” and most guys made a lot more than they deserved so Vince was probably sending out a message that you were not going to walk into his company and make that kind of money. Russo said that made sense from a business perspective but that he needed a few key members from that group to tell the story. Russo believes he was just looking at the salaries and drew a line.
When asked about the two-month gap between the WCW purchase and the InVasion angle starting and if it was too long, Russo said it was. Russo also said everything needs logic, even in wrestling as he talks about Jeff Jarrett once telling him what type of logic he wanted seeing that wrestling is a fake business. Russo tells us that you need to use that in how the characters would react.
On if starting off with a Booker T vs. Buff Bagwell match was a good idea, Russo says it was illogical as they should have taken the angle first and let it play out. Oliver brings up DDP and what made him attractive to Vince, Russo guesses that DDP’s love for the wrestling business and dream of making it to the WWE and not only caring about money was probably the reason. Russo then talks about successful characters being an extension of themselves and how DDP’s stalker character was the complete opposite of who he was in real life.
Russo said that running WCW as a separate entity could have worked but most likely would not have gotten the most “bang for their buck.”
When asked if ECW being part of the InVasion was an ill fit, Russo said that he does believe there was a logical way to put them into the story.
Re-Booking the Invasion
We now have a white board as Oliver asks Russo what to do with the angle. Russo said he would first make it logical, compelling, and seamless. Oliver asks him to look at the WCW roster and see if there was anyone he would demand Vince keep their contractual obligation to tell the story. Russo said no matter what cost and what headaches they would cause, you need Scott Hall, Kevin Nash, or Hulk Hogan in order to tell the story, even going as far as saying you shouldn’t even bother doing the story at all if they are not included. Others Russo said he would bring in would be Booker T, Goldberg, Ric Flair, and Sting as you need those guys for the story as well.
When asked how to handle the champions, Russo said the titles were not important as far as this story goes, stating it would make the angle seem “fake.” He said that it should have been about “logical progression” but instead it turned into a “wrestling angle” and that’s why it sucked. Russo elaborates and says you turn a real-life story into just a wrestling angle.
On his first week, Russo said you want to make a seamless bridge. So, you have Vince immediately dissolve WCW and tell the actual story of why the company went under. He said it was a huge part of the wrestling business and they should be honest about what happened then pay tribute to WCW afterwards. Russo then goes off on people blaming himself, Bischoff, and Hogan for WCW’s demise and how it was not them but rather a business decision.
When asked which WCW guy should have appeared first on WWE television, Russo said the first step should begin with logic and that anyone could book this and it would have been successful. Russo asks Oliver what he thinks should happen. Oliver says they should have guys ask for their jobs. Russo tells him to go back and think when Scott Hall first appeared on Nitro and how Hall should have come back through the crowd and ask for his job back. When that happened, Vince would cut a vicious promo to humble Hall and bury WCW and after that, Hall would tell Vince he is not finished and would return next week but this time he will not be alone.
So, for week 2 of the angle, Hall comes out from the crowd but this time with Kevin Nash to interrupt the show. Vince confronts them and tells the other talents and security that rushed out to step aside. Russo says you can even have the talent surround the ring so Hall & Nash know if they try to assault Vince, they’d be easily outnumbered. Russo said Vince’s promo on Nash in that situation would have been incredible as he would have run him down like he did to Hall the week prior. Russo thinks this is what the Vince character would do in that situation. Russo then talks about the Hogan/Vince face-to-face promo and how you could have done a huge rating on TV and drew a gigantic PPV buyrate based off of that and it would have been easy and logical.
Week 3 would be where Hogan makes his return, as he would come down from the crowd with Hall and Nash to interrupt RAW. When asked if they should come out with nWo gear on, Russo said they should just come out as themselves then when they finally stick it to Vince then they could show that stuff. Russo said Vince would tell Hogan to go somewhere else and start something or film a reality show somewhere but that he would not hire him back. Russo also said let the guys grovel a bit over not getting hired back and when asked by Oliver if it would weaken them, he said that it would not as the more Vince buried them, the more they would want to seek revenge. Russo said Hogan would plea with Vince for getting him over as Vince would tell him that was the case then bury him and as a result, Hogan would shoot on Vince and that would be when the nWo came back. Oliver asks from a fan’s perspective if these guys would be heels but Russo said he doesnt care so as long as people are watching the show, which is all that matters.
Russo said he would not have the WWE champions address these guys or tell Vince to let them come in because it would be a “wrestling angle.”
During weeks 4 and 5, Russo said he would keep Hall, Nash, and Hogan all off of the show. He said the end of the week 5 someone like Kurt Angle, Rock or Steve Austin (he later said it would be Angle as he had less time on top than the other two) would be found bloodied and laid out in the locker room at the end of the show, with the audience hoping and wanting the nWo guys to be a part of that and when it is revealed, they will be happy and not disappointed.
Russo then said week 6 Angle would say he felt someone hit him on the back of the head but did not see the attacker and you could base a whole week of programming off of that with Angle accusing everyone of attacking him. Then, at the end of the show, Austin is found attacked. Then, week 7, he would have The Rock on his back laid out then when he rolls over, it would reveal “nWo” spray painted on his back. Russo then says the ratings would be huge and everything would go the right way because it was all logical. And Vince would be second-guessing himself regarding the promos he cut on those guys.
Oliver asks Russo if any of the WCW midcard guys would be popping up on TV working matches he said the more Vince talks about not hiring WCW guys he would keep any former WCW talent off of TV and conduct the WWE product as “business as usual.”
Back to the story as Russo said during week 8, Vince would cut a promo on the nWo guys, saying that he will have them arrested and file suit if they interfere with his company again. He then says while wanting to keep things as real as possible he cannot stop thinking about the grainy, black-and-white videos the nWo shot when they first came out so he would suspend disbelief for a minute and have the nWo interrupt Vince during his promo by hijacking the Titantron. The nWo would tell Vince they are not going away but will make his live a living hell and promise to take out someone close to him at SummerSlam, where they would take out Shane McMahon, making things personal. The SummerSlam show would still feature all of the WWE angles but has a threat from the nWo lingering over the event.
When asked how he would write SummerSlam, Russo said that he would keep true to everyone’s character and that Shane would not be afraid if threatened and come out to the ring and tell the nWo to come out and fight. Then, the nWo would attack him from all different sides and end up roughing up Vince a bit before fleeing when the WWE guys run out for the save as Russo said you need to make it seem like a “shoot.” Oliver then asks Russo what he would tell Hogan to do in that situation, referencing Nash saying how it was tough to get Hogan to film those early nWo vignettes as he acted like it was “1985.” Russo said he wouldnt want to have Hogan use his “cheezy grin” so he would instruct him to sit back and watch the attack without showing any emotion whatsoever.
Oliver and Russo now go back-and-forth about using the other WCW talents, with Russo questioning why Oliver is so eager to use everybody and “give money away” as they do not need anybody else at this point because the ratings are high and everyone is watching at the edge of their seats. Russo then says we have 52 weeks here.
Back to the angle, the 9th week Vince is out in his workout clothes calling out the nWo. He even tells the others to stay out of things as he will take care of things himself. During the show, the shot of people’s shoes as they step out of a limo are shown and as Vince keeps calling them out, nothing happens. All of a sudden, through the crowd, he has Eric Bischoff walk through with his smug smile to end the show as we set up for a confrontation between Vince and Eric for the first time the following week.
Week 10 we see the Vince/Eric showdown, with Russo saying presented this way would be the highest rated episode of RAW. He then goes back to what the WWE ended up doing with Bischoff and questions why the first time you have him appear on WWE it is in a backstage segment. On the actual confrontation, he would have Vince come out to the ring and run Bischoff down while calling him out. Bischoff would come out and tell Vince that he was not behind the attacks and couldnt control them while they worked for WCW so how could he now. However, Bischoff would end up telling Vince he could take care of his problem and ends up getting a WWE contract, which would be presented the following week. Vince would give Eric 60 days to take care of the problem or else his contract would be null and void.
So, since Bischoff does not know anyone in the WWE locker room, he has to look for help somewhere else and that is where the other WCW guys come into play like Booker T, Goldberg, Sting, and Ric Flair as Russo says you will get “pop after pop” from the crowd for the next six months as they all come into play. Bischoff assembles his team to go after the nWo and during that point, Vince would have to allow them to get into the ring with some sort of stakes like winners getting contracts or losers having to leave for good. During that match, the Bischoff turn on Vince would take place.
On how Bischoff would assemble his team, Russo said it would have to take place in the ring. Oliver asks Russo who he would put around Eric, he said Booker T would be his first guy because he was the last WCW champ and could talk about the nWo holding the locker room down. After that, he would bring in Ric Flair as he was previously in the WWE then after that Sting would come in and the reaction would be huge for seeing him the first time and they could even touch upon Bischoff and Sting not getting along. After him, Goldberg appears and you could use how he disliked the nWo to play into things.
As far as putting a match together, Russo calls himself the “swerve king” and the fans would assume everyone under the WCW moniker is in on this, masterminded by Bischoff himself. So, the nWo comes back on TV to accept the Team Bischoff challenge with the nWo needing to go over as they become more threatening than ever before and when that happens, WWE top guys come in and get together to go up against the nWo and eventually, Goldberg and Sting, two WCW faces, turn on Austin and the Rock.
On who would take the fall in the Team Bischoff vs. nWo match, Russo said Sting and Goldberg cannot get pinned on their first WWE appearance so it would be Booker T. And with the nWo accepting the match with the provision they get contracts if winning, you now have all of these guys under contract. Then when Team Bischoff turns on the WWE guys as Team Bischoff aligns with the nWo, you have all of these ex-WCW guys all under WWE contracts. Russo takes it a step further and says you can have Goldberg turn on Austin and the Rock turn on Sting and from that, you have two singles feuds that would get over huge as the foundation is already laid out.
Oliver then asks Russo about a midcard WWE guy and WCW guy who he could have elevated and thought they deserved a better spot. Russo talks about how a lot of names jump out and the one WCW guy he would give a job to is Lex Luger as he started things off by appearing on Nitro back in 1995. He said from the WWE he would let Chris Jericho take care off him by having Vince give Jericho the opportunity to take care of Luger. Russo said its purely logical to have Vince run down Luger for appearing on the debut of Nitro.
On the end of the angle, Russo said it has to end with the WWE winning. He thinks they should have had Vince beat Bischoff in a match at WrestleMania. After that, Vince can come out on TV and say he was the best and won then Paul Heyman would come through the crowd and you can start the ECW invasion from that.
Oliver asks why the InVasion angle went the way it did, Russo talks about his brief return in 2002 and how he went into a writers meeting and had his jaw drop as Russo calls Vince out for changing something that worked for the worse by adding way too many people to the mix and how the extra people and salary you paid for these people gave you a lesser rating, even citing TNA as an example of that. He doesnt know if this is the corporate people in the WWE wanting people from Hollywood on the show. Russo then says that Vince has lost touch with what brought him to the “dance” as he doesnt know what he wants wrestling to be anymore. He thinks we need to go back to the past at the core of what wrestling was with guys like Gorgeous George, Bruno Sammartino, and Chief Jay Strongbow. He says there are too many layers and opinions to the point you cannot get there.
Final Thoughts: I thought Russo did an excellent job here. What he laid out for the angle would have been much, much better than what the WWE gave us for the InVasion. The whole interview was superb, IMO. Oliver asks great questions and these two have wonderful chemistry together.
The beginning of the shoot offers perspective as to how Russo sees professional wrestling. We find out here how and why he books and writes the things he does. Russo constantly mentioned the word “logic” throughout the interview and I felt his re-booking of the InVasion was just that.
I highly recommend this interview. I was pleasantly surprised and really believed Russo’s vision of the InVasion would have been highly successful.