Kayfabe Under Oath: Expert Witness Eric Bischoff
He's been called a "liar" and a "two bit con man," so what's he like under penalty of perjury?
|David Bixenspan||Jul 2, 2019||10|
Eric Bischoff bloviating in TNA in 2010 (Photo: daysofthundr46 under Creative Commons licence)
People in the wrestling business love “working,” but what happens when they can’t “work” the person in front of them without committing a felony? That’s what we’ll examine in each installment of Kayfabe Under Oath.
Eric Bischoff has been called a lot of things. Wrestling Observer Newsletter editor Dave Meltzer has, in particular, been unreserved in calling him a “con man,” someone belonging to a group of “liars and cons,” a “liar” more directly, and a “two bit con man,” among other things. And as of Thursday, WWE has named him to—legitimately!—run SmackDown while Paul Heyman runs Raw. To celebrate the occasion, let’s look at one of the times that he was forced to tell the truth: When he was deposed under oath as a $375/hour expert defense witness in 2009 as part of an otherwise mundane lawsuit that WrestleReunion filed against LiveNation over a deal that fell apart. For better or worse, it’s pure, unfiltered, unadulterated, and theoretically untainted Eric Bischoff, with the mix of snide remarks and surprising insight that entails.
(And yes, I would have used the courtroom artist’s rendition of Bischoff testifying during the Gold Club trial in 2001 as this post’s featured image if it was higher resolution.)
Right off the bat, when asked what his last significant involvement was in the wrestling industry, Bischoff makes a point of…bragging about his book sales?
Q. Okay. When is the last time that you had any significant involvement in the professional wrestling industry?
Q. And what was that?
A. While at WWE, writing and releasing the New York [Times] bestseller book "Controversy Creates Cash."
He also attested to the truth of the book:
Q. That was the book that I showed you earlier today. Let me ask you: You are the author of this book?
Q. And it is more or less an autobiography?
Q. There is a co-author, or a "with Jeremy Roberts" on the cover. Is that a co-author?
Q. Okay. And this is going to sound like an odd question. Have you read this book cover to cover?
Q. Is every word of it true?
A. To the best of my knowledge.
Q. Good enough. In particular, the things that you wrote about your personal experiences or your personal observations, is there any question in your mind that those things are true?
Q. So they are true?
Q. Okay. Then I don't have to question about the entire book.
A. You can if you'd like.
Q. Well, maybe I'll ask some questions about it, but that's very helpful. Prior to the issuance of this book -- by the way, this was a New York Times bestseller?
A. It was on the list. It was number 14.
At the time, stemming in large part from chapter where Bischoff vilifying wrestlers and office staff who “leaked” to the “dirtsheets,” the Observer ended up including a four-part review/analysis/face check of Controversy Creates Cash. In it, Meltzer took issue with Bischoff’s presentation of the facts on:
The “dirtsheet” issue (Because Bischoff fed information to Meltzer).
Why WCW settled so many lawsuits (Bischoff insisted WCW lawyers were too willing to fold, including with Missy Hyatt’s sexual harassment lawsuit…even though he later confirmed a key allegation, that a Hyatt nipple slip photo was blown up and posted in the WCW office.)
WCW’s peak revenue (Saying $350 million even though he routinely spouted off about taking WCW from a $24 million/year company to a $225 million/year company before the book was written.)
His 1996 negotiations with Bret Hart (Writing that they weren’t serious, even though he said just six months later in a Prodigy chat that “I laid a deal on the table.”
Anyway, you get the idea. Hopefully this doesn’t go on too long.
A lot of the deposition has Bischoff speaking generally about revenue streams for wrestling ventures. At one point he invokes—in a section that it seems was supposed to marked confidential—then-recent discussions that he and Hulk Hogan had with investors in Las Vegas for some kind of new wrestling project, but it’s not very specific. When it gets specific, it reads almost exactly as dismissive as you would expect Eric Bischoff giving a deposition about specific people in pro wrestling to sound. Even when talking about people he likes! Take this discussion of Larry Zbyszko, for instance, who he described as a “social friend”:
Q. Okay. How would you describe his place in the history of professional wrestling?
Q. Okay. Was he big in the AWA?
A. AWA wasn't big.
Q. All right.
A. Kind of talking about big-fish-little-pond big?
Q. Okay. Yeah.
A. He was a big fish in a little pond.
Q. Okay. All right.
A. But the pond was draining on a daily basis.
Q. At one time that pond had Jesse Ventura?
A. Before the pond had started to drain, before the Vince McMahon attempt to steal talent and assembling talent from individual promoters, there was a time when Jesse Ventura was a part of the AWA, when AWA was very successful. That time did not necessarily include much of Larry Zbyszko's tenure there.
Q. Now, in all fairness, just so that the record is clear, when you say "steal talent," you don't mean actually steal in a criminal situation, you mean that he basically did what a good businessman would do and went out and got whoever he could to make his program better?
A. He did exactly what I did.
Q. Okay. All right. And we're going to come But was Mr. Zbyszko, during the days that you were interviewing him and when he was at the AWA, was he a popular wrestler or not popular?
A. Relatively speaking, back then, given the pond that he was playing in, he was one of the more well-known characters.
He could be more diplomatic if he needed to be, thought:
Q. Was Marty Jannetty involved with the AWA?
Q. And is he somebody that you see?
Q. Is he somebody you have a professional relationship with?
A. Have had in the past, don't have right now.
Q. What is his -- what is his standing in the history of professional wrestling?
A. It depends on who you ask.
A. He was popular in the early '80s, mid-'80s in the AWA. Had a brief run in the -- brief successful run, subsequent to his AWA experience, with the WWE, and has been relatively off the radar screen in any meaningful way since probably, I don't know, the mid-'90s.
The first time that Bischoff actually seems especially engaged and willing to go into real detail comes when he’s asked about Diamond Dallas Page, his buddy and former neighbor. Close to halfway through the transcript, via his uncharacteristic warmth and admiration for Page, Bischoff is like a different person when asked how he decided to make DDP the world champion:
Q. Okay. What would go into your thought process in making somebody like Diamond Dallas Page a champion of WCW?
A. That's a good question. And I can give a specific example. As Page was a friend of mine, I would often share with him my observations of what, in my opinion as a professional in the business, was working for him and was not working for him, because sometimes talent is a little too close to the forest to see their own trees.
One of the things that I noticed with Diamond Dallas Page is, because he is such a relentless self-promoter who relies upon gimmicks, accessories, and superfluous, flamboyant attire to try to get himself over or get popular with the crowd, to make a point with him, I stripped him of all of his gimmicks and turned him into more of a blue-collar type of character as opposed to a Jesse Ventura or Superstar Billy Graham type of character. I encouraged him to go into the stands and interact with the fans before his matches to create the kind of response that I knew would extend beyond the television shows and create sort of a Pavlovian response by the wrestling audience.
As a challenge to him and his response to that challenge to me, he embraced that character change, and for the first time experienced the type of popularity within the wrestling industry that would have warranted him to be in main-event-caliber matches, and indeed wrestle for the heavyweight title.
Now you can write a book.
One of the more interesting bits of background information in the deposition comes when Bischoff explains the often confusing structure of WCW from the time he got the Executive Producer job in 1993 and through his various promotions. “At the time [Bill Watts] left, the company was really broken down into two primary offices, or areas of responsibility,” he testified. “ One was wrestling operations, which generally oversaw acquisition, management of talent agreements, creative, and to a limited degree, television production. The other office was more administration. […] Executive administration that dealt primarily with the business units within the division, licensing, merchandising, Pay Per View, television syndication, and general operations. Bill Watts, at that time, was vice president of television operations -- excuse me, wrestling operations. So his primary interests or areas of responsibility were talent-related.” Executive Vice President Bob Dhue was technically in charge of the administrative side.)
“Because of the problems associated with Bill Watts and the bleak financial results of the company prior to that time, it was determined that -- by senior executives within Turner Broadcasting, that WCW would need to be restructured as an entity,” he continued. “And as a result of that restructuring of WCW, the concept of an executive producer who would oversee television and have a loud voice within the wrestling operations and creative was first conceived. And my role then, as an executive producer, was to have 100 percent control over the television product, per se, and the production thereof, and a loud voice, if not equal, probably equal voice [to the head of wrestling operations], in the beginning, of creative matters and talent issues.” After Watts, that Ole Anderson and then, per Bischoff’s recollection, Dusty Rhodes, though he qualified that last one, which I’m not sure I’ve heard before, with an “I believe.”
“During that point when I was executive producer, we both had dotted-line responsibility to Bob Dhue,” he said of the hierarchy, “[s]o he was the tie breaker.” And when Bischoff got promoted to being a vice president in 1994? “I got more responsibility,” he testified. “I no longer had to answer to anybody in wrestling operations. And I oversaw all of the wrestling operations of the business, as well as the talent budget, talent acquisition, and oversaw the creative.” By late 1994, he was fully in charge of the company as its president.
Some of the content covered in the deposition will sound familiar if you’ve listened to Bischoff being interviewed, even when he wasn’t under penalty of perjury. He’s spoken at length about how he dramatically pared down WCW’s house show scheduled as soon as he could because the shows lost too much money. But I don’t recall hearing him say in interviews that he believed that his proposal to do so got him one of his promotions “I think my argument, because it was based on accounting and math and projections and actuals, as opposed to wrestling-related theory, convinced senior executives on the executive board and executive committee at Turner to advance me to vice president,” he explained. “They existed as necessary to produce our television product, which I think you may know was produced in front of a live crowd. But I had limited the live events, to the best of my knowledge -- there may have been exceptions -- but I limited the live events primarily to television tapings and/or Pay Per View events.”
Interesting, no? Don’t worry, though. Prickly Bischoff comes back about halfway through the transcript:
Q. Okay. There came a point where you beat WWF 83 weeks in a row; correct?
Q. 88. I'm sorry.
A. If you read the Internet and you rely on 14-year-olds living in the basement, or in some cases 44-year-olds living in their parents' basement, you might read 83.
Q. Okay. Well, we'll deal with you, and your testimony is 88 weeks that WWF was beaten.
Another very Bischoff moment: When discussing the focus groups that helped shape his vision for Monday Nitro, while some of it is familiar ground, he does sprinkle in some extra details wrapped in a uniquely Bischoff package. “Typical responses at that time were: ‘Story lines were too childlike and animated.’” he explained, adding that this inspired his move to change up the creative so that the characters were no longer “95 percent animated, childlike, and southern.” There was some research that he took issue with being mentioned, though: Nielsen’s minute-by-minute ratings:
Minute to minute, anybody who is outside of the television business who begins to think that they can understand the dynamics of a minute-by-minute report from Nielsen is delusional. Nielsen can't even explain to you under oath what a minute-to-minute ratings analysis of any one program could possibly mean in the aggregate or the whole. So much depends on the weather, the time of year, news that's floating around. Minute by minute, it's wholly -- I won't say wholly -- not very beneficial. It's not good information. However, quarter hour by quarter hour ratings and the trends that are established over significant periods of time can provide a basis to extrapolate, project, and anticipate success.
This was all background information, of course. The deposition wasn’t really about all of the things we’ve discussed so far, much less Bischoff’s career in general. We’re not even up to him fighting for the side that paid him, at least not yet. But that’s probably better served in its own post.