TNA executive Eric Bischoff comments on returning to television as a character, Gut Check, going live with Impact Wrestling, TNA and Hulk Hogan digital slot machines
Ministry of Slam Radio with Eric Bischoff
Hosts: Chris Duke and Jamie Kennedy
Audio interview available at Ministryofslam.com.
MOS: You've been away from TNA television for a number of months now. What has been going on in the world of Eric Bischoff?
EB: I'm still very much involved behind the scenes creatively, as the Executive Producer at TNA. I've also been extremely busy with my own production company, Bischoff-Hervey Entertainment – which has around 7 or 8 different TV shows at various stages of production with different networks right now. We've also just launched a digital casino gaming site, which is up and running in the UK through Paddy Power, and a digital slot machine centered around Hulk Hogan.
MOS: Speaking of the UK, TNA have just announced they will be taping a number of TV shows whilst here in January. What are your thoughts on the relationship the company has with the fans here in the UK?
EB: I'm very excited about it! I love the enthusiasm that the UK fans bring to the television screen, I think their passion and excitement makes the product even better. On a personal note, the time I spent over in the UK last year was very enjoyable and I look forward to coming back and hanging out with the fans.
MOS: Obviously to most wrestling fans, you're known for your time with both WCW and WWE, but also latterly TNA. Many throughout the years have focused on the negatives surrounding WCW, but do you ever look back with a sense of pride at what was achieved in such a short period of time?
EB: The truth is, I don't really think much about the past – good or bad! I don't dwell on it. Of course, I know it was a very successful period of time and I'm sure if I allow myself to think about it then I can relive some very special moments. To be honest with you, it's in my nature to live for today and think about what I can do which will make tomorrow better, much more than thinking about the past. That time is over and done, so there's nothing I can do about it, good or bad!
MOS: Is it fair to say that you're focusing very much on TNA and the here and now?
EB: Well, TNA is one focus for me, but then the television production company I run with my partner, Jason Hervey is very successful. We're probably one of the most successful television production companies in Hollywood, certainly at producing reality television, and have recently produced a sitcom for Nickelodeon – which marks our entrance into the scripted TV business.
Adding to the Hulk Hogan gaming machine, we're also launching another with David Hasselhoff at the end of October. The TNA digital slot machine will hopefully be launched around the time we tour in January too! There are several different celebrities and brands that we're negotiating with currently, so all these things are a big part of my focus. The TV production company is a very lucrative business, with both Jason and myself recently acquiring an equity interest in the company. We're excited about everything we have going on.
MOS: TNA will be launching the British Bootcamp show on Challenge TV here in UK, featuring some of the top talent on the British wrestling scene. Rockstar Spud, Marty Scurll and The Blossom Twins will all be competing for a shot at a TNA contract. Were there any other names or companies which stood out when scouting the UK for talent?
EB: Quite honestly, I'm not involved in the British Bootcamp project, and as such haven't been over in the UK looking for talent. There are other people doing that, but it's not my role so I can't possibly comment on who TNA are looking at in terms of talent.
I did meet the group who are competing on the show at Bound For Glory, as well as watching them perform in the ring a few nights ago. They're a very talented group of young people who all have a great deal of potential, so it's sure to be an exciting show.
Despite not being involved at all with the project, what I know of the format and talent leads me to believe that it's a really positive, great idea. I've been a big proponent of TNA expanding into reality television since the day I got here, and I think that the opportunity for the British Bootcamp concept is great – especially given the strength of the TNA brand in the UK. I think it's a phenomenal idea and I'm sure it's going to be a successful one.
MOS: A similar concept on TNA TV currently is the Gut Check portion of the show, wherein men and women compete to impress the judges and earn a TNA contract. What are your thoughts on the segments and how successful they have been?
EB: I'm very excited about it, and it was actually something Jason Hervey and myself created and brought into TNA as a means to bring a reality element to Impact Wrestling. We've discovered some great talent throughout, I think the deliberation process and judging is entertaining as hell also. It constantly throws up surprises, with even us being surprised at some of the things which have been out of our control. It's live television, so anything can happen!
Overall, the segment is a very good one, but we're still developing and fine tuning the concept. Maybe it's not as good as it can be quite yet, but we're getting there and I love the reality element and it can only be a good thing for our show.
MOS: Joey Ryan is someone who has flourished due to the Gut Check program, recently making his way onto Pay-Per-View at Bound For Glory. Is that evidence of its success?
EB: Definitely. This is a way to creatively introduce new talent and angles outside of our regular format. Wrestling has been done for so long, by so many people, in so many different ways, that it's hard to come up with anything that feels new. The Gut Check format definitely gives us that new, fresh feeling. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't want to build an entire show around that format, but it's certainly a great segment to have once a month. It feels fresh.
MOS: TNA have went through some big changes in management, choosing to go in a different creative direction over the past number of months. The product is definitely hot, but do you feel TNA are getting closer to being as big as they can be?
EB: The term 'hot property' means different things to different people, but I do feel over the past year that our show has taken on more focus. There's more discipline in our storytelling and character development, which is one of the things fundamentally flawed about our product previously. Storylines were all over the map and there wasn't that follow through or commitment to detail. When suggesting ideas to the people I work with, the audience will only invest in a character or story as much as we do! For instance, if we ask the audience to invest in a long-term storyline and then decide to cut things off right in the middle, maybe because we're not as excited about it as we used to be, and shift gears – that's very disappointing for the fans to change gears just like that.
If there's no explanation, no real follow up then it doesn't make sense. It's then hard to get the audience to invest in you again, because you spent a long time conditioning them that we may or may not follow through on the storylines you care about. As the Executive Producer, as well as somebody who feels strongly about storytelling and structure, we have to invest. Sometimes we may not get the results we had hoped for or expected, but that just means we have to dig in a little harder and commit to the stories and characters which drive our show. When you do that, it begins to pay off, and I think that's one of the things that people are starting to see more of in TNA.
MOS: When you joined TNA in late 2009, the company were very much centered around the Impact Zone and pre-taped shows. Do you think the fact Impact Wrestling now broadcasts live has an effect, not only on the talent, but the fans in attendance and at home?
EB: Being live makes all the difference in the world. An audience at a live show, particularly one that's been conditioned to now know the excitement of a live experience, come to the event with an extra buzz. Whether it's in the UK or over here in the Impact Zone – which is still very challenging to manage, due to the nature of a soundstage and tourist attraction – the crowd comes to the show with a different expectation when it's live. It's a higher expectation, they're more engaged and have a higher level of energy. That engagement and increased sense of energy really translates and connects with the performers. They feel that intensity from the audience.
These men and women are athletes, artists and performers, and as such react much differently to a highly energetic crowd than they do to a passive one. That's one of the reasons why we love coming to the UK, because the audience brings a whole new level of energy and actually become a character within the show themselves, due to the feeling they bring to the overall experience.
MOS: With that in mind, how long do you think it will be before we see a live TNA Pay-Per-View here in the UK?
EB: I can't really comment properly on that, because I'm not involved in that side of the business. It's safe to say that Dixie Carter and the rest of the senior management at TNA would love for that to happen. I don't think there's a bigger supporter of the UK fanbase and the UK television market than Dixie Carter. That said, it's a financial and business-related decision. As soon as someone can figure out how to make sense of it financially, my guess is that we'll be over there on a regular basis.
MOS: WWE are a company you have both went up against and worked for, and another company who find it difficult to handle the logistics of running Pay-Per-View in the UK, partly due to the time difference. When you crash landed on Monday Night Raw in 2002, hugging Vince McMahon, it was almost like the entire wrestling world came to a standstill. It was kept quiet, as you've said in the past, but who knew that you were making an appearance?
EB: Other than Vince and I, not many people. I can't speak for anybody on the WWE creative side, because I wasn't involved in any of those discussions prior to getting there. I was talking directly with Vince, but not with the rest of his staff, so I'm not absolutely certain who was involved in bringing me in on their side.
Bruce Prichard knew, as well as Kevin Dunn (WWE Executive Producer) and Stephanie McMahon. It's also likely that Triple H would also have been notified also, but I'd say less than ten people were clued in as to what was happening. On my side of the equation, my wife and family knew but that was pretty much it – I didn't feel the need to share it with everybody else.
MOS: Speaking of Bruce Prichard, you currently work alongside him in TNA. How have you enjoyed that working relationship?
EB: I really enjoy working with Bruce. He's actually one of the few people with more experience in the wrestling business than me, having been in the industry for more than 30 years. I've been in for around 25 years now, and we've both experienced the territory system! Bruce has seen the business from so many angles, from producing to performing, and has seen some of the best and worst ideas in the WWE. He has a wide variety of experience in professional wrestling.
Bruce is also somebody, much likely myself, who values some of his failures much more than he does his successes. You can learn from the failure, and it doesn't mean much to me in that classic sense. You learn a lot and take away a lot of valuable experience, whether an idea is a huge commercial success of not. That's why I enjoy working with Bruce so much, because when we have a difference of opinion I still know that his reasoning is based on very solid fundamentals and experience. I really respect that, so I can't think of anybody else I'd rather be working with than Bruce.
MOS: You've had a very long and varied career in the wrestling industry yourself. Starting out in the AWA, working as part of the sales department, you were suddenly thrust into being an on-screen talent by Verne Gagne. What is it that attracted you to take up the offer of appearing on camera, and what did you like about it that made you wish to continue in that role?
EB: Survival! (laughs) Appearing on camera came about through sheer coincidence and timing really. The writing was very much on the wall in the AWA, I knew early on that the company was financially stressed. It was just a matter of time before the inevitable occurred, but I feel fortunate to have been able to learn the syndication, production and backstage nature of the business, as well as being thrown out in the front of the camera.
Right about the time that I left, I was actually approached by WCW because they had seen my work on ESPN and they were familiar with my on-camera work. It's not especially that I aspired to be on camera in WCW, it's simply that that's the job they offered to me when the AWA was closing its doors. Had they offered me a job behind the scenes, it's likely that I would've taken that too, but they offered me the position of announcer instead.
MOS: Your autobiography, Controversy Creates Cash, was a New York Times best-seller. Having done a lot more since it was released, is it likely that we'll ever see a follow up book?
EB: I don't think so, because I don't feel the need and really don't have the passion to sit down and write another book. Quite honestly, I don't think anything I'm doing is especially book-worthy! It's flattering that someone else might think so, but it would have to be commercially viable. There's not enough interest in what has happened after the conclusion of Controversy Creates Cash that it would warrant another book.
MOS: Having been off TNA TV for quite a while now, do you think it's likely we'll see you back on-screen anytime soon?
EB: I doubt it, and I don't really look forward to it. Don't get me wrong, I've thoroughly enjoyed everything that I've had the opportunity to do in AWA, WCW, WWE and TNA – I've had a blast on camera. I love to perform, and I think I'm half-assed good at it, but I've also been there and done that. Unless there's a new character or something like that, there's really no desire on my part to go back and do things I've already done a hundred times.
You can follow and keep up to date with everything in the world of Eric Bischoff on Twitter - @Ebischoff - Also be sure to visit www.bhe.tv and www.ImpactWrestling.com for more on Bischoff-Hervey Entertainment and TNA. Please also use the hashtags #MOS and #StepUp!
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