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Hi guys, simple topic, if booking 101 was taught as a class, what eras or bookers would you use as great examples for people to study and learn from? Would really appreciate any input on this! Thanks in advance if you can help. 

Edited by Cheapheat
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Step 1: Make a believable beef between 2 or more wrestlers. 

Step 2: Decide on an end date, and decide how the feud will be finished.

Step 3: Book everything in-between

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Has to be Bill Watt's Mid South. Everything had logic and was thought out to great detail. I used to get tapes of the UWF stuff and have started watching from 82 onwards on the Network and if Watts is on commentary then he really takes you through the storytelling in each big angle 

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Is there anywhere on the net that details or compiles the best Mid South feuds? I'd love to read about them and learn more but have no idea where to look.

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I would argue Vince Russo, by studying his career you see the whole spectrum of mega success and mega failure, learning how to run with good ideas and turn them into profitable angles and also learn when to recognize a you're flogging a dead horse

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20 minutes ago, theringmaster said:

I would argue Vince Russo, by studying his career you see the whole spectrum of mega success and mega failure, learning how to run with good ideas and turn them into profitable angles and also learn when to recognize a you're flogging a dead horse

Is it not commonly held that Russo only “succeeded” in WWE though because he had Vince McMahon batting back a lot of his guff, whereas in WCW he was just left to run with whatever came out of his head?

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Personally I have a soft spot for the booking of the entire of ECW from the day Raven debuted until the day Dreamer finally beat him and sent him packing.
 

It’s the way the whole company has a spiders web of connecting feuds - Tommy and Raven never stray too far from fighting each other but manage to have deeply personal rivalries with Shane Douglas and The Sandman respectively. The tag titles cross over with Raven & Stevie having their matches with the Pitbulls who end up playing an integral role in the story between Dreamer and The Franchise, for instance, and during the same time you have the rise of RVD and Sabu as a unit while the latter has the superbly executed feud with Taz. Best of all the culmination of the story starts new stories, with the appearance of Jerry Lawler to attack Dreamer with help from Sabu & Van Dam, segued nicely into the Taz/Sabu rematch followed by the impromptu Douglas/Taz match for the TV title, Douglas having beaten Chris Chetti - Taz’ cousin - earlier. Seamless.

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21 minutes ago, Your Fight Site said:

Is it not commonly held that Russo only “succeeded” in WWE though because he had Vince McMahon batting back a lot of his guff, whereas in WCW he was just left to run with whatever came out of his head?

There might be an element of truth to that, but I suspect it's become almost too much of an institutionalised, go-to view for talking head segments and wrestling historians because very few of them want to admit that an irritating outsider who didn't get the shit knocked out of himself six nights a week in between wrecking card and losing wives was the number one creative force in dragging WWE out of the gutter. 

I'm not a Russo die hard by any means - and where others take too much credit from him he takes too much for himself - but his fingerprints are all over so much of the stuff from 96-99 that wrote the blueprint for how they'd do a lot of TV to this very day. I don't buy this theory that he was the monkey writing Shakespeare - only edited by Vince. What he had, the crowds coming to the buildings for those few short years very much wanted. 

The sheer magnitude to which WWE's booking and presentation changed from 96-99 deserves to be studied by anyone wanting a 101, and I've seen far more examples from those years of stuff Russo pushed than Vince. Even down to just getting in the office's ear to let the guys be themselves. Something that has been retconned as a DX invention in Network docs nowadays, since Russo's barely acknowledged as being an 'official' part of their resurgence. 

Edited by Gay as FOOK
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Agreed, the whole "Vince filtered the bad ideas" narrative can be disproved by any number of Beaver Cleavage shaped arguments. The fact was, Russo wasn't booking the stuff that mattered. Russo hard carte blanche over all sorts of stuff but the big characters, the big angles and the biggest storyline wasn't him.

Russo isn't a good booker and isn't worth studying. He was the right guy and the right time when Vince needed a push to modernise. He does deserve credit for that. He had his finger on the pulse and created an environment of the time. He wasn't booking though. I'm not sure quite what he was doing but it wasn't booking. And the reason I think he's a worthless study is because he's proven himself that outside of that right place and right time, he's no good and also his influence as a "writer" has seen the company devolve year on year into a 206th rate TV show rather than a wrestling promotion.

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Posted (edited)

This piece I wrote in 2002 might be useful/of interest:

***

For all the changes that professional wrestling has gone through, the essence of the business has not undergone a major change since the turn of the century. This was when the reasoning behind working matches changed from making money through betting scams to making money by building up interest in future matches. The art of telling ongoing stories through carefully chosen finishes to matches, or ‘booking’, has been practiced in a variety of ways over the years and around the world.

            The first real booker was Toots Mondt, part of the famed ‘Gold Dust Trio’ of promoters with Ed ‘Strangler’ Lewis and Billy Sandow, who created the idea of a touring promotion of wrestlers working a circuit of dates. The 1937 expose ‘Fall Guys’, written by Marcus Griffin (but according to some theories, heavily influenced by Mondt) discussed some of the now-commonplace finishes Mondt came up with to bring fans back for rematches.

            “There’s the time limit match in which both men wrestle through to the time limit without deciding the victor. Sometimes the match is a two out of three falls contest. Perhaps each man will secure a fall with no deciding third fall. Then, again the contestants will wrestle the time out without a fall.

            “In another finish, the men bump their heads together, fall to the mat, are unable to continue and are counted out by the referee and the bout called a draw. The variation of this finish is for one wrestler to recover consciousness in sufficient time to struggle to his feet and be declared the winner. Another variation is for both contestants to knock themselves out by falling through the ropes and onto the floor outside the ring. Still another form is both men through the ropes with one managing to stagger weakly back into the ring before the referee completes his count.

            “In another finish, the aggressor is about to rush in to pin his adversary,  but in his eagerness misses his opponent, falling through the ring ropes to the floor outside the ring where, apparently unconscious, he is counted out by the referee.

            “No prosaic ending of a bout was permitted if [Mondt and company] had their way, and for many years their word was undisputed. The Sandow, Lewis and Mondt wrestling matches had to end with a flash like the old-time vaudeville acts. The Gold Dust Trio believed in pleasing the crowds.”

            Longtime Houston promoter Paul Boesch, in his autobiography Hey Boy, Whered’yda Get Them Ears described Mondt as “a man with real wrestling brains… he had an almost infallible sense of feel for the public’s likes and dislikes. [To find the perfect booker] you find a man whose judgement you can trust; who knows wrestlers and has a feel for what fans really want to see. This is an intangible quality that is as difficult to define as it is to find. What the fan says he wants to see is not always what he will pay to see. If the matchmaker has the rare ability to understand fan language and reaction, and translate it into the right matches, then the promoter will reap both money and glory. And the wrestlers will feel they are the stars the publicity men say they are.”

            For Boesch himself, the principles of booking and promoting were simple. “The solution to end struggling, if you are a promoter, is to recognise talent and to secure that talent to wrestle in your ring. If you do that, and the sport prospers, you are a genius. Fans do not come to arenas to see promoters, even if they think they are geniuses. They come to see wrestlers. They come to see action.

            “How do you secure talent? There is a formula. First, you recognise it. Then you apply that recognition to whether the fans to whom you will show the talent will recognise it. A promoter does not make matches to please himself. He makes them to attract fans and please those fans. The matches he makes are not always those the fan would make if he was suddenly given the job of matchmaker.

            He went on to defend the growing use of gimmick matches during his spell as a promoter from 1966 to 1987. “Wrestling has always been a sport of loose restrictions, a sport that grew up in carnivals and music halls and theatres and state fairs. With this background, it has never graciously accepted the boundaries set on it by people who have no understanding of what the fans want. And the fans are still the barometer or, to use the cliché of the day, they are the bottom line. If they don’t like the idea, or the [gimmick], or the match, they stay at home and any promoter with an ounce of sense would never try it again.”

            Successful territory promoters in this era were quick to recognise the particular tastes of their fans, and adapted their booking styles appropriately, such that different philosophies prospered across the country. For example, the WWWF (now the WWE) ran major venues only once every three to four weeks, so a wrestler would have fewer major matches during a feud. A ‘three strikes and you’re out’ policy applied to the main events; one of the trio of managers Lou Albano, Fred Blassie and the Grand Wizard would pit their latest monster heel against babyface champion Bruno Sammartino, Pedro Morales or Bob Backlund. The first match would usually see the challenger score a disputed victory, perhaps by countout, disqualification or a stoppage for blood, none of which led to a title change. Depending on the financial success of the first match, the champ would either score a decisive rematch victory, or extend the programme through a screwy finish leading to a third match ending in a conclusive win, perhaps in an appropriate gimmick match.

            In a 1982 interview with the Los Angeles Times, North California promoter Roy Shire explained his territory’s policy for building to stipulation matches.
            “The really hard part, the toughest part is figuring the finish. The problem is figuring what can I do that the fans will buy that will get another rematch. Say your heel is the champion, wrestling a babyface. Last fall. Your champion goes into his finishing hold and slams the baby face into the ring post. He blades himself, gets some heat up. Takes the 20-count then comes back to beat the heel, your champion. Thing is, in my territory, the ref is allowed to stop a fight on cuts. He had stopped the fight. Everybody thinks the baby face has won but here comes the ref to announce he stopped the bout because the baby face was cut too badly to continue. Almost have a riot.
            "The thing to do in this case is to bring them back for the rematch, bill it: 'No stopping for blood.’ [Or] fight on the floor to a draw, run out the time limit, then come back without a time limit.”

            In the same article, Wrestling Observer editor Dave Meltzer explained why these tactics worked in the San Francisco territory. “All of the matches on the card always made sense. If a guy won a match, he'd be moved up on the card; if a guy lost, he wouldn't. Every match was important, because the guy on the preliminary match, if he won two straight preliminary matches, he'd be moving up to a main event, and then if he won that, he might get a title shot. No one came in and was in the main event the first time.
            "Every match on the card was important, the title matches were always long, and they always had good endings. He was really sharp at endings, and the rematch always made sense. Promoters now... I'll give you an example... cage matches: of all the gimmick matches, the number-one draw is the cage match. Sometimes they'll just throw in a cage match, to draw. If Shire had a cage match, it was because the two guys were fighting in the stands the week before, and that's why he had the cage match, to keep 'em in the ring. If he had a match where there was no stopping for blood, it was because the guys were bleeding all over the place the card before. His gimmicks always made sense."

            Another account of Shire’s promotional days has an office underling pointing out that the annual battle royale at the Cow Palace in January was always the biggest date of the year. But when it was suggested that Shire hold a second battle royale each year, he dismissed the idea, arguing that to do so would kill the unique status of the gimmick.

            Repetition was not such a problem in Florida, where the weekly circuit could see main events repeated for weeks on end, with referee bumps prolonging the rivalry. (The famed ‘Dusty finish’, where a KOed referee wakes up and reverses a decisions, was learnt by Rhodes when he worked for Florida booker Eddie Graham.) Yet, because fans in the territory had never encountered another style, it didn’t harm business; nobody questioned something that seemed so familiar.

            To show the difference in territories, a ref bump was virtually unknown in St Louis, where Sam Muchnick promoted his shows on the back of his credibility with leading figures in legitimate sports. There would be perhaps one match a year with a disputed finish, and it would be corrected in a rematch straight away. Wins and losses were the most important thing, and the basic philosophy was to treat wrestling entirely as any other sporting contest, only with the advantage of working finishes to build future business.

            And yet just a couple of hundred miles away, the Memphis style of week to week booking was entirely different. Randy Hales, who booked the territory in the mid-90s, said there were four aspects to successful booking in Memphis: heat (“if baby faces are over, and you do the heat right, you can put heat on the heels every week and never hurt your babyface”), soap-opera style cliffhangers, wild action brawls and personal issues between feuding wrestlers.

            “Our entire focus was our weekly towns. On TV we would build something for Louisville, Memphis and Nashville. We would be in these towns ever week so finishes were critical. The secret of it is writing the finish to further the storyline and if you do that, the finish is critical.”

Edited by JNLister
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2 minutes ago, tiger_rick said:

Agreed, the whole "Vince filtered the bad ideas" narrative can be disproved by any number of Beaver Cleavage shaped arguments. The fact was, Russo wasn't booking the stuff that mattered. Russo hard carte blanche over all sorts of stuff but the big characters, the big angles and the biggest storyline wasn't him.

Russo isn't a good booker and isn't worth studying. He was the right guy and the right time when Vince needed a push to modernise. He does deserve credit for that. He had his finger on the pulse and created an environment of the time. He wasn't booking though. I'm not sure quite what he was doing but it wasn't booking. And the reason I think he's a worthless study is because he's proven himself that outside of that right place and right time, he's no good and also his influence as a "writer" has seen the company devolve year on year into a 206th rate TV show rather than a wrestling promotion.

I've always considered him a glorified writer for the WWF, in the same way they now have a team full of writers that we all like to complain about. And just like todays writers, some of his ideas would have got the green light, some ill have been tweaked to be more of McMahon's taste and some will have been binned. so I say you're completely right when you say he was not the booker during his time in WWF, and when he did get the chance to do the role of a booker in WCW, he shit the bed big time and it exposed him for what he is...

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Posted (edited)

Another way to look at Booking 101 is to look at what bookers were trying to achieve at different times. They all share the aim of making money, and the booking is the thing that ultimately gets you the money, but that middle bit has changed over time.

If you're aiming to sell tickets to your live shows, your booking is going to be different than if your aim is to 'win' the TV ratings on a Monday night. That's different again from trying to get as many PPV buys as possible, and that is distinct from, say, creating enough like-and-subscribe moments for your YouTube page that you make a ton off ad revenue or maintain the numbers on your streaming service.

How different does booking have to be for each of those scenarios? 

Edited by HarmonicGenerator
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Fantastic stuff @JNLister - my shout was going to be '70s WWWF for much of the same reasons; they still followed the "three match series" pattern that I think really should underpin any main event feud, and that largely came from Mondt.

If we're talking Booking 101, then it's not about ECW or Mid-South or anywhere else that had intricate storytelling, it's about the absolute basics.

To me, that comes down to:

  • Establish your characters, and your heel/face dynamic
  • Introduce an issue between two characters - ideally, defined by those characters. You know the All-American babyface isn't going to like the heel anti-American foreigner, for example, so let's start there.
  • Put them in a match. The match should establish that the babyface is better, one way or another - maybe he's stronger, faster, smarter, a better technician, or just has more heart, but in a fair fight, he's going over.
  • In which case, if the heel goes over, it's not a fair fight. Whatever happens, the babyface has an excuse - "he'd have won if only the referee had caught the heel cheating", "he'd have won if that manager hadn't got involved", "he'd have won if he'd managed to hit his finish".
  • Build the rematch around that "What If?". The audience knows it, but so does the opponent. If it's a short feud, the rematch is simple - take away the factor that prevented the babyface from winning, and prove the audience right in their suspicions that the babyface was the rightful winner all along. If you're extending the feud, have the opponent cheat his way to a victory one way or another - ideally by taking away what the audience came to see. If the audience want to see the babyface hit his big finish, have the heel rob them of that moment. If they want to see the manager get his comeuppance, have the babyface just about to punch the manager in the mouth when the heel gives him a low blow to steal win. That way you continue the story from the first match, the babyface is still the rightful winner if only it was fair, and you get heat on the heels for taking away what the audience wanted from the babyface.
  • Third and final match, you throw in a stipulation that takes away the heel's advantage. If he keeps escaping, it's a Lumberjack match. If his buddies keep getting involved, it's a Cage Match, or his Manager is incapacitated - handcuffed, in a cage, barred from ringside, or whatever. Or it's No DQ, it's No Time Limit, it's Falls Count Anywhere - whatever best signals to the audience that what they wanted to see from the first two matches, they're definitely going to get this time.
  • Ordinarily, that's where the babyface goes over clean. But if you really want to drag this one on, if there's real money in delaying the pay-off, you can come up with ways for the heel to still cheat his way around the stipulation, so that next time you have to pile on another set of stipulations until he really has no way out any more.

 

After that, everything else is window dressing. Though I'll add that one thing that ECW did well, that Memphis did brilliantly in Lawler's heyday too, was segueing one feud into another. An ECW example that always comes to mind is how, when Dreamer finally gets his cathartic victory over Raven, he's given no time to celebrate because he is immediately attacked by Jerry Lawler. One of the most awkward things to book is the start of a feud after the old one has ended - where do these two go next? - and if you can string one feud into another, you're laughing.

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Along with great stuff by @JNListerand @BomberPatabove, I'd suggest looking less at eras and booker, and more at specific feuds and how they were booked.

How did a classic Hulk Hogan storyline compare with a classic Ric Flair storyline? How did a classic Jerry Lawler storyline compare with a classic Steve Austin storyline? How did the first Cruiserweight Classic compare to the Bret Hart King of the Ring?

How is the cowardly heel booked differently from the monster heel, and how is the underdog babyface booked compared to the all-conquering babyface? Why is it different if a face submits than a heel?

Why is a hair vs hair match different to a mask vs mask match? Why does Hell in a Cell have an aura that a Cage Match doesn't? Why would you book a Falls Count Anywhere rather than a Street Fight or a Death Match?

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