Source: Poughkeepsie Journal
ECW writer Heyman lauds Poughkeepsie
By Phil Strum
As a 14-year-old boy, Paul Heyman used to visit arenas like the Mid-Hudson Civic Center and Madison Square Garden, hoping to get backstage with a roll of film. He wanted to snap pictures and spend time with famous professional wrestling managers like Captain Lou Albano, Freddie Blassie and the Grand Wizard.
He plans to return to the Mid-Hudson Civic Center on Aug. 28 for a non-televised live event as head writer for Extreme Championship Wrestling, now a subsidiary of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE).
He’s come full circle, with plenty of tales to tell about all the years in between.
Not long ago, Heyman headed ECW, which was a popular alternative to the World Wrestling Federation. ECW, in a constant uphill struggle, made it to pay-per-view and eventually, national cable, but went bankrupt in 2001.
WWE purchased the assets of ECW and relaunched it in June under their corporate umbrella.
A native of Scarsdale, Heyman is once again head writer for the recently-revived ECW, which airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on the Sci-Fi Channel. He’s excited about returning to Poughkeepsie.
“The biggest star in ECW was always the audience and the crowd in Poughkeepsie never let us down,” Heyman said in a recent phone interview from Stamford, Conn.
“What appealed to me about Poughkeepsie was they always had a great history of delivering a great TV audience in WWE,” Heyman added, noting that WWE used to have monthly television tapings at the Civic Center. “We would have done more there, had we stayed in business. You had people coming from Albany, White Plains and across the river, over the Mid-Hudson Bridge. It was a rabid crowd and a great audience.”
ECW a different animal
Somewhat of a throwback to the past, as well as a nod to wrestling’s future, ECW was known for its bloody brawls, but also masterpieces of scientific wrestling. It was known for traditional wrestling angles, but also would push the envelope with racy storylines that the then-tamer WWE would never touch.
ECW was brought back in June after two successful reunion shows produced by WWE each called “One Night Stand,” which drew strong pay-per-view numbers. Fans were buying ECW compilation DVDs, as well as books and other nostalgia items en masse.
Heyman initially disliked the idea of ECW coming back because he thought the reunion show was enough. But ECW continuing to turn a profit changed people’s minds.
“I thought it was great closure,” Heyman said. “It was a night everyone waited five years for. But people wouldn’t stop buying the DVDs, the books, the t-shirts.”
Initially, the ECW product was going to be launched as a four-segment Internet show. But as word spread that ECW returned, WWE eventually got it a 12-week trial run on Sci-Fi â€” a deal which is expected to be renewed soon because of great ratings.
“It became this huge domino effect,” Heyman said.
One big difference now is that Heyman doesn’t have final say over ECW. Vince McMahon, chairman of WWE, has that power.
“It’s far different,” Heyman said. “Before I was the sole proprietor. I was doing the creative and I was taking creative input from everybody, whether it was the top star or the janitor.
Here, it’s a huge corporation and as lead writer, the buck stops with Vince McMahon. I organize all the pitches and the concepts, but it’s much different. It’s much more a large entertainment conglomerate than eccentric and personality-driven.”
Heyman, who first introduced himself to McMahon backstage at a Madison Square Garden card when he was 14, got financial help from McMahon when ECW fell on hard times. When ECW went out of business, McMahon hired Heyman as one of the creative minds at WWE.
It’s been an adjustment for Heyman to work for anyone, let alone anyone like Vince McMahon. Heyman laughed and struggled to come up with a description of his boss.
“It’s an interesting clash of two eccentric personalities with two totally different takes on the business, but who respect each other’s visions,” Heyman said.
Heyman joked that McMahon was probably more supportive of him before he was on the payroll.
“Familiarity breeds contempt,” Heyman said. “I think Vince got too familiar with me.”
Popular stars involved
WWE has brought back many of the familiar faces to ECW fans, such as Rob Van Dam, Sabu and the Sandman, as well as “superstars” familiar to WWE fans like Kurt Angle and the Big Show, who have jumped, in storyline, to the upstart brand. Heyman admits that the biggest challenge of presenting ECW in 2006 is letting people know that it can’t be the same ECW as before.
“You really need to help people understand that this can’t be a nostalgia show,” Heyman said. “It’s great to go to Yankee Stadium for Old Timers’ Day. It does great business one day a year. But nobody wants to see Stan Musial step up to the plate. They want to see A-Rod. Well, maybe not how he’s hitting today. But they want to see the A-Rods, the Mike Piazzas, the Johnny Damons. Once a year, it’s wonderful. But presenting these guys as though it were still 1999 is not going to happen.”
Heyman believes one wrestler in particular, CM Punk, has the potential to be something special.
“You have to look into the eyes of a guy like CM Punk,” Heyman said. “Five years down the road, this is the guy that stands in Rob Van Dam’s and Sabu’s and Kurt Angle’s shoes. The groundwork from today has to be laid for tomorrow.”
Learned from the best
Heyman was profoundly affected by the “Three Wise Men of the East,” as he referred to them â€” Albano, Blassie and Ernie Roth, known as the Grand Wizard of wrestling.
“Those three taught me the psychology of the industry,” Heyman said. “How to elicit the response of the crowd. I had a blast with them. A lot of people were very supportive. I was an aggressive young guy, trying to understand the business.”
For Heyman, the relaunch of ECW is very satisfying.
“It’s like no other experience there is,” Heyman said in a phone interview. “It’s very reaffirming. It’s a great testament to the body of work we put together.”
Not all ECW fans have been wholly supportive of WWE’s version of ECW, but Heyman encourages people to speak out about what they want.
“This is what everyone has been clamoring for,” Heyman said. “If you just sit on the sidelines, it’s going to go on without you. ECW can go on without Tommy Dreamer or The Sandman or RVD or Paul Heyman. You’ve got to be in it to win it. If you’re not involved, you’re not going to be able to get the product structured the way you like it. If you want something different, be vocal about it.”
Heyman, who was previously a on-screen manager, has a television role in ECW as an authority figure, but really lives for the creative side of the wrestling industry.
“I’m always surprised, on a weekly basis, that I am still performing,” Heyman said. “I live vicariously through the other performers. I get this giant thrill working with people, adding depth and layers to the characters we create. But I always find myself in these situations where I subject myself to public ridicule.”
Heyman was unsure if he was going to appear at the Poughkeepsie show as of press time, but expressed interest in doing so.
“Mondays are always a hard day, but I plan on going to the show,” Heyman said. “If I have my druthers and I usually do, I will be there.”