Inside WWE’s Decision to Remove Eric Bischoff as Head of ‘SmackDown’

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Wrestling personality Eric Bischoff

WWE’s decision to release Eric Bischoff took place on Monday night, multiple sources have told Sports Illustrated.

Bischoff, who had been serving as the Executive Director of SmackDown since July, was informed by Human Resources on Tuesday morning following a creative meeting at WWE headquarters in Stamford, Conn., that his services were no longer needed.

Unlike Paul Heyman overseeing Raw, Bischoff was never given creative authority on SmackDown. He was originally intended to oversee creative, but multiple sources confirmed that his directive was largely to observe. Bischoff’s four-month run working for Vince McMahon will be marked by his failure to assimilate into the corporate structure of the company, though his dismissal is not a complete loss for WWE.

The SmackDown debut on Fox two weeks ago was a major success, garnering 3.869 million viewers, but viewership plummeted to 2.899 million last Friday. Bischoff’s firing is Vince McMahon’s reaction to the ratings and a message to his stockholders that he is entirely committed to the future success of SmackDown on Fox.

Bischoff was living in an apartment in Stamford while working for WWE, but he is expected to relocate back to his home in Wyoming.

Effective immediately, Bruce Prichard has replaced Bischoff as the Executive Director of SmackDown. But also effective immediately is Bischoff’s re-entry into free agency.

Bischoff was an at-will employee for WWE, which is different from a contracted performer. He is not required to adhere to the 90-day no-compete clause common for released WWE on-screen talent.

Bischoff is best known for his time as president of World Championship Wrestling, overseeing an 83-week period where Nitro outdrew WWE’s Monday Night Raw in the television ratings. Bischoff oversaw the creation of the New World Order, which forever altered the wrestling business, as well as the unforgettable Hulk Hogan heel turn. Along with Conrad Thompson, he hosts “83 Weeks” on the Westwood One Podcast Network, and he recently gave a TEDx Talk drawing parallels between politics and pro wrestling. Bischoff is also one of the producers for the upcoming Hulk Hogan biopic, which stars Chris Hemsworth as Hogan.

Considering Bischoff was not writing the show, the framework of SmackDown is expected to remain similarly structured. Prichard was already overseeing the show for the past two weeks on Fox and Ed Koskey remains the lead writer.

The Bischoff firing is a forceful reminder from McMahon that he wants a sharper on-screen product from his writers and producers. But a larger, more systemic issue is whether McMahon has lost his touch overseeing such a vast, evolving product. Placing Prichard in the role of Executive Director benefits the overall product, and it helps that his business relationship with McMahon extends decades. Prichard’s relationship with McMahon also allows him to provide a different point of view, especially with McMahon’s propensity to rewrite shows precariously close to bell time, and even add an opposing opinion.

Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.