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Hi! Let's check the news.

    Well, there's not that much. WWE released their fourth quarter earnings report, which I'm sure will be analyzed to death in this week's newsletters as it always is. Total revenues was up about $4 million from this time last year. They did real good on PPV. That's really all that was interesting to me. Any drops from business being down probably won't show up until the next quarter, I hear. But their projections for 2003 seemed to indicate that they're expecting to make even more money, so I dunno. Maybe they're lying.

    Bret Hart had a stroke last week, which is pretty awful news. Everyone was saying stuff like "it'll be a long and difficult road to recovery" and I was like "pfft whatever, you can't keep down the Hitman". But then it was apparently a great stride that Bret was able to wiggle one of his toes, and it hit me that this is pretty serious. I sure hope he gets better.

    Um, that's all I got.
    I finally saw King of the Ring. I liked it better than most people seemed to, but with all the negative reviews I read before the show anything that happened would have probably been better than what I was expecting. RVD/Jericho I liked a good deal, but I dunno if it's quite the match of the year candidate Chris Jericho thought it was. I hope he's not reading this! Actually, I hope he is, that'd be pretty cool. We'll just agree to disagree on this one, buddy.

    I thought Brock/Test was a lot better than I'd read it was. Test seemed to have some fire in him or something. What else was on the show? I dunno. Is it just me or is Jamie Noble not at all a high flying type cruiserweight guy? I thought he was for some reason. Or has he just not busted out anything yet? Maybe he's waiting for Rey. I don't recall anything else that special. I really thought Triple H would win the title, although I knew he didn't before I saw the show. But I'm still befuddled.

    I thought last week's Smackdown was a terrific show. Smackdown has such an advantage in star power and talent that it's almost sad, in my opinion, and that's even considering that Rock and HHH weren't on the show. This week's Raw wasn't bad, they just gotta keep taking it slow and build up issues and characters for the people to get into. I didn't think Taker/Jeff was a great match or anything, but I liked the storytelling and whatnot. They had me thinking Jeff might win the title, then I was cheering for him to do it. Then he lost. What a veritable roller coaster of emotions! I especially enjoyed the post match business.

    What worries me is that we'll have Smackdown going good and Raw trying to rebuild and suddenly Russo will be all up in it to stop the momentum. That's not even saying that Russo will suddenly ruin good shows with 30 second matches and angles about incest, but if you've got the writers doing their thing and you put anyone new into the mix then things could be disrupted. The 30 second matches and incest angles is just the shitty icing on the shitty cake.

    When the Russo news first broke this wouldn't have bothered me, and I would have said "who cares, it's not like the current writers are doing anything good". But the shows since then, Smackdown especially, have given me a tiny glimmer of hope that maybe they can do something. Maybe the Russo signing got them to sit down and focus, who knows. But until they prove on their own that it's not gonna get any better, I don't wanna see Russo come in and botch it up. You know?
    No Observer stuff this week, unfortunately. Maybe next time!

  • Vince Russo! He was Vince's writing partner when the WWF went from distant second to kicking Nitro's ass. He spoke out against the "yes men" around Vince. He was instrumental in the storylines that made giant stars out of Steve Austin, Rock, Mick Foley, heel Vince, HHH, DX. He is IRON MAN.

    He's also the guy who left by giving Vince no chance to try retaining his services and jumped to WCW, where he made the most miserable of failures look good by comparison. Some people say Russo was handcuffed by Time Warner's standards and practices, the lack of any infrastructure like the WWF had, etc. Others say Russo can't do anything without Vince McMahon's editing and input.

    Rehiring Russo would indicate that Vince is in dire search of a solution to the lack of interest in the product. It could have been partly a PR move, giving WWE a chance to announce to investors that the writer that helped take them to the promised land was back on board, but that'd be unlike Vince to do since one of Russo's biggest gripes when he left was that he never got credit. By the by, when they started Smackdown, Russo asked for a raise from $350,000 a year to $1 million.

    Rehiring Russo was seen as a vote of no confidence in the current writers. Brian Gewirtz was put in charge of writing Raw a few weeks ago, and Paul Heyman was put in charge of Smackdown. Stephanie oversees the writing of both shows. Vince, as always, sets the course for the writers as far as top storylines and he makes whatever changes he wants to the final scripts. Russo would seemingly have been like Stephanie, overseeing the creative on both shows, where he'd be somewhere above Gewirtz and Heyman but below McMahons. Is there a difference between overseeing the "writing" and the "creative"? Like does "writing" refer more to the technical stuff and "creative" to the actual content? I don't know.

    But it doesn't matter cause oh ho SWERVE Russo is now just a "consultant". Late last week he met with the creative team and members of management and revealed his ideas for how to turn things around. He apparently wouldn't describe his ideas in detail before he was hired, lest they be stolen by some monster with no soul. Sources say his ideas were so poorly received that within hours he was made a "hands-off" consultant. Sources said HHH especially thought Russo's ideas sucked. Stephanie was said to be instrumental in convincing her dad to give the current writers more time before they get injected with the lethal poison of Russo.

    Sources say that Russo's "big idea" was to do an "invasion" type angle with Goldberg, Bischoff, Bret, and Foley. Russo's original idea also included HBK. The angle would be presented in "shoot fashion", as if this group was taking over one of the shows. If Austin and WWE mend fences, or if the Austin situation has been part of some big work which some people still suspect, Austin could also be part of it.

    There are mixed stories about Russo's reaction to the demotion. Some say he basically quit. Others say he'll wait around as a shadow booker of sorts, waiting in the wings for a call if and when the plug is pulled on the current writers.

    Russo's hiring was not a decision made solely in reaction to the Austin situation. Informed sources tell the Torch that Russo sent feelers to Vince through Jimmy Monsees, a friend of Russo's at WWE HQ. Jimmy told Shane of Russo's interest in speaking with Vince, and Shane arranged a conversation. The Vinces had been in talks for several weeks.

    Russo has been living with his wife and kidz in Atlanta since going to WCW. He opened up a CD Warehouse franchise that turned a profit after only one year, but it's a tenth of what he was making while in wrestling. A combo of financial motivations, a desire to prove that his first WWF run wasn't a fluke, and business being down may be why he's interested in returning to wrestling. Russo also dislikes Atlanta and his kids are miserable and want to move back to Long Island.

    During his time off, Russo wrote a book called "Welcome to Bizzaroland: Screw Pine Valley, this ‘Rope Opera' is for Men!" The 210 page manuscript details his path from radio show host, to WWF Magazine writer, to being asked by Bill Watts to attend a booking meeting, to his rise in the WWF and his jump to WCW.

    Sources familiar with the book say there's nothing in it that would cause Vince to hire Russo to "shut him up" or to stop the book from being published or anything. It's not a puff-piece on WWE, but there's no bombshells about illegal or immoral conduct that Vince would fear being released. Russo defends Vince about the circumstances surrounding Owen's death and the Montreal stuff. The book is also kind to the top guys of Russo's day like Austin, Rock, HHH, Foley. Sources say if Vince had read the book it would have probably done more to open the door for Russo's return than to close it.

    AOL/TW gave Russo their blessing to work for WWE, even though the Hogan lawsuit is still outstanding and Hogan works for WWE too. Russo's return wasn't greeted with enthusiasm politically. Many wrestlers who have worked with him before are sour on him, although many also like him. JR was one of Russo's main adversaries and now Austin is gone, so rumors started quickly about JR's status.

    As of now it's not quite clear where Russo stands. The writing team is the same as it was a few weeks ago. Russo was not at the PPV or at Raw. His future remains undetermined.

  • JR wrote in the Ross Report of the "Austin left and now Russo's back" speculation regarding him, saying it made him laugh out loud. *LOL* *g*. Sources say Russo was harsh on Ross in his book, but not nearly as harsh as he was on Bruce Prichard.

  • There are rumblings that JR is scaling back some of his duties as head of talent guy. Sources say that Johnny Ace has been making it known that he expects to gain more power soon, possibly any responsibilities that JR gives up. At press time there were unconfirmed rumors that Dennis Brent was resigning as head of WWE's development system. Brent is a big Friend of Ross.

  • Despite some thinking he was part of the process of getting Vince to scale back Russo's role, HHH told after KOTR that he didn't know the details of it and that he looked forward to hearing Russo's ideas. He also commented on Austin, his elbow surgery, and his match with Undertaker.

  • Scott Steiner is telling friends that he's scheduled to debut with WWE in August or September. They apparently delayed his debut so that he could fulfill his commitment to the WWA overseas tour, but the tour of Germany and Ireland has been canceled. Lex Luger was among those who were scheduled to be part of the shows. No word on whether Steiner's "supposed debut" will be moved up.

  • Several wrestlers spotted Hurricane, or Greg Helms if you're an insider like the Torch, moping around about dropping the cruiserweight title.

  • Raven has not been fired. The plan is for him to wrestle exclusively on Heat, and there should be other guys who become exclusive Heat/Velocity dudes also.

  • The PPV crowd popped big for the Rey Jr promo that aired.

  • More than one wrestler thought Vince's opening promo on Raw was a shoot. Some were offended, thinking Vince was blaming the effort of the wrestlers instead of the booking.

  • There was some eye-rolling among wrestlers when Rock gave his speech on Raw, with the feeling being that Rock is in no position to tell wrestlers to like it or leave since he's off being a big star. "It's easy to cash a $10 million paycheck from movies and then be all high and mighty about being a loyal member of the team," said one wrestler. "He wasn't the right person to be giving that speech, not now," said another.

  • Wrestlers still say that Matt Hardy is a much more well-rounded wrestler than Jeff. They say Matt is much more creative and can call his matches, while Jeff relies on the same highspots.

  • The overwhelming majority of wrestlers felt Russo's return was a panic move by Vince. The wrestlers in favor of his return were said to be mainly younger guys who were given their first pushes by Russo in WCW.

  • The locker room reaction towards Austin is shifting towards siding with management. Some of Austin's closest friends in the company are said to be upset that he's not returning phone calls.

  • Kevin Kelly is no longer in charge of booking indy wrestlers to work dark matches at TV tapings. His position was basically eliminated since WWE rarely ever books guys not under contract to them anymore. Kevin is now producing Confidential. Russo, by the way, made it clear in his book that he hates Kevin Kelly.

  • The casting call for Tough Enough 3 is July 10-12 in Los Angeles. A number of candidates have already been interviewed, using a different evaluation process than the first two seasons.

  • Some wrestlers are growing more concerned about the "mental stability" of Sean Stasiak. They say he is "depressed and paranoid" about every aspect of his life, and spends a lot of time backstage complaining about his push. But despite his quirks most guys have tried talking with Stasiak rather than alienating him.

  • The Jarretts are expecting their first early PPV figures later this week, but early anecdotal indicators suggest the first show was a success. They did strong buyrates in Southern markets, where the celebrities meant something to people, and poorly in Northern markets. The early numbers indicated a buyrate well above 50,000, but below their hope of 150,000 buys for the first show. The early returns pretty much confirm that TNA will be around for at least several months, despite gay ignorant skeptics who had the nerve to predict they wouldn't last a few weeks.

  • TNA is making plans for a weekly TV show. To help boost attendance in Nashville, where the PPVs will be held starting this week, there will be a weekly local show. Jarrett made an agreement with Bert Prentice's USA Wrestling where the timeslot formerly held by USA will now be a mix of USA and TNA wrestlers. Prentice will also scale back his weekly events at the Nashville Fairgrounds, instead running there about 6 times a year.

    The new TNA show can be seen on the internet on America One's website Sundays at 1 am. The first show had Borash doing a recap of the first PPV. Future shows will include original matches taped each Wednesday before the PPV. Because they'll be going live every week, they'll now be able to tape a TV show instead of the next week's PPV. Because of this it's more likely now that the Jarretts will listen to any decent offers to air a weekly show on a national level.

  • Multiple sources say Buff Bagwell was passed out backstage before his appearance in the battle royal. Some wrestlers jokingly took odds on whether Buff would be able to perform.

  • Rick Steiner complained to other wrestlers about being eliminated from the battle royal earlier than he would have liked. Before the PPV Jeff Jarrett walked the wrestlers in the battle royal through the match, and Steiner sat in the stands throughout and had to be called to the ring when it was time for his instructions. But in public Jerry has said nothing but nice things about Steiner and Buff.

  • Ed Ferrara did a similar walk-through session for the women in the lingerie battle royal.

  • Francine has heat with a number of wrestlers and valets for her behavior at the PPV. Some of the women were offended that Francine was telling them how to wrestle and what to wear, which she also had heat for in ECW but Heyman and Dreamer would let her get away with it. Francine was also candid in reminding the girls that three of them were to eliminate her, not just one or two. Sources say some of Electra's comments to Francine were how she really feels and that the two of them aren't old pals.

  • Some wrestlers called Francine, AJ Styles, Joel Gertner, and Daffney the "Pucker Crew" because they spent most of the night "kissing ass to anyone they thought might have an ounce of power".

  • Tony Schiavone and Scott Hudson were at the show. There is talk of using Tony on-air, but some think it'll make TNA look too much like WCW... "as if it doesn't already", slips in Wade, that rascal.

  • People say Joel Gertner spent most of the day trying to pick up on women, bragging about his weight loss, and fishing for compliments about his promo. The Jarretts have made it clear that they aren't high on Joel's future in TNA.

  • Wrestlers say that Goldilocks, the backstage interviewer girl, is already turning into a primadonna.

  • Sources say Scott Hall was sober for the show and after it, too. Friends of Hall's say he was "sober and motivated".

  • The wrestlers got checks for the first show after the PPV.

  • The voiceover work for the taped PPV was done last Friday. Everyone in the promotion agreed that the roles of Don West and Ed Ferrara need to be adjusted.

  • The July PPV guide sent to cable customers has no prominent mention of the TNA series. In Demand has not lived up to it's promise of heavily promoting the events, apparently waiting instead to see what kind of buyrates they could do on their own. Strong early buyrates are expected to lead to a surge of support from In Demand once they realize that there's profit to be made.
    Happy 4th of July!
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