On camera, Vince McMahon is WWE's ultimate authority figure, much like he is behind the scenes.
The worlds of reality and the world WWE presents every week often bleed into each other, and McMahon's shifting role is a prime example of that.
Both on-screen and off, McMahon is still the captain of the ship. He is still the company's driving force, still twisting the handles and pulling the strings.
He has, however, bestowed some of his power to others.
When asked on ESPN’s E:60 about giving up control of the company, McMahon said it was never going to happen because in his own words, he was "probably never going to die." Still, he seems to be slowly relinquishing absolute power, even while remaining one of WWE's biggest names and central characters.
When McMahon and Steve Austin's feud was in full swing, Mr. McMahon was the company's top heel.
He had the power to arrest, evict and embarrass Austin. The Rock turned to the dark side to align himself with McMahon. McMahon made sure Mankind reached the finals of the WWE title tournament at Survivor Series 1998.
Today, Stephanie McMahon and Triple H have increased their on-screen power, turning WWE's autocracy into a oligarchy.
It was Stephanie who took charge and fired Vickie Guerrero. She has spearheaded this "corporate makeover" for Daniel Bryan on Monday's Raw. Triple H has been in both Guerrero and Brad Maddox's ears, looking to influence them, to shape the shows those folks are in control of.
The share of power is not equal yet, though.
McMahon appointed Maddox to be the General Manager of Raw and Guerrero to the same position on SmackDown. Like in real life, he still has final say. It's his company, and that is clear from his dominance on WWE shows, even if his son-in-law and daughter are beginning to more forcefully steer the ship in the direction they choose.
McMahon has also continually proven his positive impact on ratings once he steps in front of the camera.
In early October last year, McMahon’s appearance on WWE Raw, per WrestleZone.com, added over half a million viewers. More recently, his presence on TV has led to the July 8 episode of WWE becoming, per PWTorch, "the highest-rated Raw since the end of April."
The more often McMahon showing up on his TV shows increases viewership, the more likely he is to return to that strategy. Putting McMahon on camera, having him fire someone or wield his on-screen power, has been WWE's go-to play.
This infighting and power struggle between the McMahons could, perhaps, lead to Stephanie or Triple H overtaking McMahon as the top authority figure. That could be what's at stake when his feud hits its climax.
McMahon has been as much in charge backstage as he is on TV, but that appears to be shifting as well.
The anger and volatility that fans have seen of McMahon on screen is apparently true to life.
While running the world's biggest sports entertainment company, he has apparently created a very tense workplace. There is little forgiveness of mistakes and little patience for failure.
To continue the previous captain of the ship analogy, McMahon is the kind of captain who berates his crew, is difficult to please but ultimately gets the ship to its destination. Triple H appears to be his second in command, awaiting an opportunity to take over.
McMahon's pursuit of a better product has made it hard to work for him.
Continuing to run the proceedings with a short fuse and in environment that leads to writers seeking jobs elsewhere is bad for stability. The lack of continuity one often sees on TV has to be at least partially blamed on the high turnover backstage.
We've seen too many tweets like this one recently:
How much of their decision to leave came from the frustration of working with someone who changes his mind as often as McMahon does?
A man so experienced and accomplished in the business must be hard to please. When one's vision doesn't match his, headbutting is sure to ensue.
Former WWE writer Matt McCarthy, in an interview with Jeff Rubin, said of McMahon, "dealing with him is very difficult." He has yelled at a stage manager after a segment and blasted "everyone involved in the show" after a Raw in September, per Wrestling Observer via CagesideSeats.com.
In May of last year, McMahon became frustrated with backstage communication and, per Wrestling Observer via WrestleZone.com, reported that he wanted "more specific scripting on WWE programming with him approving nearly everything."
At the same time, it seems that McMahon is letting Triple H's power swell.
Triple H has helped created the new WWE Performance Center, signed a number of talents from independent promotions and put his stamp on the product with things like longer title reigns. It was Triple H who coaxed Bruno Sammartino to join the Hall of Fame.
Maybe McMahon hadn't found someone he respected and trusted as much as he seems to with Triple H. Increasing Triple H's duties could be a sign that McMahon is setting him up as his successor.
Should Triple H take over on camera, that may be a sign of what’s happening behind the scenes as well. McMahon said he'd "probably never going to die" with a smile on his face, as if he half believed it.
Even a man with as much relentless energy as McMahon has must slow down at some point. When he does, it could be his son-in-law who takes his place.
The clear leader in the industry and the king of the wrestling world may have found a prince to pass his crown to when he so chooses.
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