WWE News: Shawn Michaels interviewed on using facial expressions to conserve his body, changes in TV presentation
April 10, 2009, 12:36AM
Chatting with J.R. and HBK
As part of my WrestleMania preparation last week, I had a 50-minute conversation with Jim Ross, the WWE’s top play by play announcer, and a shorter chat with Shawn Michaels, the veteran performer from San Antonio, about the changing aspects of pro wrestling on television.
The story didn’t make the newspaper because of space constraints, but both men had some interesting thoughts on the art and science of wrestling on TV.
For example, Michaels noted that advances in TV technology allow performers to craft their moves not only with sufficient flair to appeal to fans in the upper deck but with slight nuances that appeal to fans watching on TV.
“You have to continue to hone your craft,” Michaels said. “I have found so much joy in the last year of seeing if I can tell a story and convey emotion and reaction without saying a word, as opposed to the days when I started having to use my entire body to get a point of view across."
“When I started, you didn’t focus so much on production, certainly not, gosh, down to the finest little detail of how you shifted your eyes or how you turned to somebody. A lot of the shots were far away from a still camera. There weren’t as many close-ups and intimacy.”
At the 2008 Wrestlemania, by contrast, the evening’s emotional high point came during Michaels’ match against veteran ring star Ric Flair, who in the evening’s storyline would be forced to retire if he lost the match.
As Michaels prepared to put Flair down for the final three-count, the camera caught him mouthing the words, “I’m sorry, I love you,” before delivering the final blow.
“We can bring it all down to the subtleties of the shifting of an eye, because we know the camera will catch it,” Michaels said. “That has been a great thing to learn, and it makes it interesting for a guy who has been in it as long as I have.”
I spent much of my conversation with Ross, 57, reminiscing about his days working with the late Paul Boesch, who promoted wrestling in Houston from the mid-1960s into the ’80s and hosted weekly shows on what is now KIAH (Channel 39).
“The people of Houston treated Houston wrestling like a franchise, like they would the Oilers or Rockets or Astros—different genre, different venue, different characters,” he said. “(Boesch) knew his audience better than most promoters ever dream of doing.”
Ross, 57, worked alongside Boesch in the promoter’s final years of presenting weekly events at the Sam Houston Coliseum. They sat in folding chairs at a card table, sharing a single microphone with no headsets and a single monitor connected to a couple of cameras.
“It was not real dressed out,” Ross said. “There were not a lot of whistles and bells.”
Even though modern pro wrestling is a scripted entertainment product, Ross likes to think he shares some characteristics with his sportscaster brethren.
“I had dinner the other night with Brad Nessler from ESPN, and we were talking about how our jobs were similar in that we are now storytellers,” Ross said. “If you listen to a basketball game, those guys are telling a story. They’re not talking about how player A passes the ball to player B. They are telling you a story so you can emotionally invest in the product."
“Instead of being the old school play-by-play guy, I have become more of a contemporary storyteller.”
Ross learned about the importance of descriptive storytelling in an unusual fashion.
In his early days in the business, he worked alongside Leroy McGuirk, a former world junior heavyweight wrestling champion who had lost his eyesight in a car crash but continued to promote wrestling in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and East Texas.
“I had to start off by being a storyteller,” Ross said. “I would say that Danny Hodge has a headlock on Skandor Akbar, and Leroy would pick up on that and describe on what a headlock does and how the head controls the body and that type of thing.”
He later worked with promoter Bill Watts, whose talent for storytelling frequently produced pro wrestling’s most dastardly, convoluted heel turns and plot twists.
“When the dust settled, I always had to make sure that people knew who is the good guy and who is the bad guy and what the links between them are,” Ross said. “Then, if I do my job with enough natural emotion, then you hope the viewer will be emotionally invested in the product. And the end result of that was that he would buy a ticket to a live event.”