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Actor and former WWE Creative Team member Freddie Prinze, Jr. talked in-depth to GQ Magazine about behind-the-scenes maneuverings, pitches, weekly challenges, conferences with Vince McMahon, and politics that influence what makes WWE television.
“Our writers would sit down and anyone had the right to pitch anything. If it was ridiculous, it’d get shut down really, really hard. At that point you learn to start smaller and build your way up. Or you’ll just stop pitching and be out of the company in three or four months,” Prinze told GQ reporter Mick Rouse. “The agents figure out what will happen in the matches, the writers have nothing to do with the actual matches. So as we build that story up, I would write segments out in advance. Like, full-out dialogue. Not everyone would do that, but I would really try to paint a full picture because what I was pitching was weird stuff, even for wrestling.
“So we would go through that process and then we’d get to pitch it to the boss (McMahon). There aren’t many corporations where you get access to your boss on a daily basis. And not just your boss but the boss of bosses. We would pitch him our ideas and he would tell us right in the room whether to go back to the drawing board or to run it.”
Prinze continued: “Once you get to TV, it becomes a different pitch process. Now the script is more complete. We’re told how much time we have for specific matches and the time for segments. Now it’s almost like round robin where everyone is in the room and has a say – the writers, the agents, the people behind the cameras. Everyone gets their words in there and Vince considers what everyone is saying and he gives the final ‘Yay’ or ‘Nay.’ Once he says yes, then the writers need to hustle to link up with the wrestlers.
“I would always email at least a rough draft to the wrestlers early and say, ‘You know, a lot of this stuff is probably going to change, but it’s live TV.’ If it’s a backstage segment, I’d be directing and producing it. If it’s in the ring, you go in this secret room called Gorilla (position) where Vince sits with all the monitors, watching them like a hawk. You sit right next to him and you’re talking the camera trucks through what is going to happen. If you’re lucky enough to have had time, you’ve already rehearsed it, but usually you’re telling them, ‘Okay, we’re gonna interrupt him here and now Kevin Owens is gonna come out and he’ll say his piece.’
“You’re basically making sure everything is going off without a hitch as best you can and the wrestlers either sink or swim. It actually has very little to do with me at that point, it’s their job to get over. Then afterwards your wrestler comes up to you and looks at you like a puppy dog, even though they are 6 foot 10 and outweigh you by 200 pounds, and say, ‘Did I do a good job?’ And it makes you feel very strange and weird. But that’s basically from script to show right there.”
Prinze, Jr. also dove into Vince McMahon’s world of how his personal tastes shift from week-to-week, including breaking his own rules for Creative.
“Vince is like a kid who just opened his toy box. I don’t mean that in a crappy way, but these are his toys and this is his toy box and he takes great care over them. He has certain ones that are more special than others at certain times, and you can see that on TV, but that’s his right. It’s his toy box,” Prinze said.
“So when the wrestlers swim, he’ll give you the nod and a ‘That was good.’ A couple times you’ll even get a ‘Goddamn!’ and that’s when you know it was real good. Or he’ll let you know, ‘That didn’t work. I did not like a word of that, that is not what I told him to say. What the hell is going on?’ I was in a position where I could take a lot of bullets, so I would always take bullets for my guys and say, ‘I told him to do that. I wrote it. I’m sorry, it won’t happen again.’ And he’d be like, ‘You’re damn right you won’t!’ You take that, and it sucks, and then you go off and you work for the next week.”
Prinze added about McMahon breaking his own Creative rules: “That family is tight and nothing can divide it, but Shane (McMahon) left the company to be his own man and he certainly is his own man. He doesn’t agree with all of the company’s philosophies. I don’t think anyone does, actually. Even Vince breaks his own rules. But I’m not even sure if this story of Shane returning would be getting told right now had Seth Rollins not gotten hurt. And that’s always the challenge when we were writing the show, because you work backwards.”
Prinze also offered an example on the internal politicking that can affect a storyline, such as an idea Prinze had to build to an epic showdown between Kharma (Awesome Kong) and Beth Phoenix.
“At the time, we had Michelle McCool as champion who I was going to have her do the job to Kia (Stevens/Kharma) that would begin this string of matches that would eventually lead to Kia versus Beth at WrestleMania. We had Gail Kim at the time, who had a great run with Kia in TNA, so I wanted Gail to be this false hero who could almost beat Kia when no one else could only to be sacrificed in the end. Then I was going to have Natalya step up, but eventually the beating would get too bad and she would go down, too,” Prinze recalled.
“Enter Beth Phoenix off injury, which would lead us into WrestleMania where Beth would get the win. That was my pitch and Michelle did not want that. She was getting ready to stop wrestling and wanted to go out on a story of her own invention. So she spoke with the boss and based on relationships in the company (married to The Undertaker), the story was gone. I was disappointed, but you don’t have time to get depressed. You just move on to the next story.”
But, it was not the struggle of WWE’s Creative process that ultimately led to Prinze leaving WWE. He says it was something that “Stone Cold” Steve Austin said on the previous version of “WWE Tough Enough.”
“There was a girl on the show who said she was doing this all for her kids. And Steve laughed at her. He said, ‘Let me tell you something. You know how many times I won Father of the Year being a professional wrestler?’ And he took this great Shakespearean beat and he held up the number zero and just mouthed it. ‘Zer-oh.’ Those words messed me up. I wanted to be Father of the Year. I genuinely want that award. So I quit. I gave them my two weeks notice the very next day. It was really hard, but I wanted to be a dad,” Prinze said.
Prinze also talked about the challenge of adjusting storylines when wrestlers get injured, the character archetypes that WWE works with, his booking plans for WrestleMania if he were still on the Creative team, and his view that Shane McMahon and The Undertaker will end up working together to oust Vince McMahon from power in the central WM32 storyline.