Inside WWEs SmackDown and Raw Creative Team Shakeup (Exclusive)
Main-roster shows all get new head writers in scurry ahead of SmackDown move to Fox
Tony Maglio | September 5, 2019 @ 11:19 AM Last Updated: September 5, 2019 @ 11:54 AM
WWE is undergoing a major behind-the-scenes shakeup, with Raw head writer Ed Koskey replacing Ryan Ward as SmackDown lead writer under executive director Eric Bischoff, an individual with knowledge of the plans told TheWrap.
Jonathan Baeckstrom, the former lead writer of 205 Live, is backfilling Koskeys lofty Raw role under executive director Paul Heyman. The changes have been in the works for weeks and follow what the insider called a botched summer storyline involving a doppelgnger for bad buy Erick Rowan.
Ward will be taking a short-term leave of absence, the insider said, declining to specify the reason for his leave. Should he return to WWE from that leave, Ward will likely join the home team or the companys non-traveling group of writers. That would be considered a major step down for Ward, who reassumed his position as SmackDown head writer earlier this year.
Recently, Ward had shared the lead writer role with Steve Guerrieri, whom the WWE insider said was fired several months ago. (Guerrieri did not respond back to requests for comment.) Before that, D-Generation X wrestler-turned- backstage heavyweight Road Dogg Brian James stepped down from the gig at what is sometimes referred to as WWEs B show. Those changes both predate Bischoff, a former WCW president who stepped in to oversee SmackDown in June.
Raw, WWEs flagship show, has had more consistency. Koskey has served as the longest-running lead writer of Raw and has 20 years of experience with the company.
A month ago, Baeckstrom was moved way up the ladder at Raw, the insider said. Chad Barbash is the new lead writer of the cruiserweights show 205 Live. There are approximately 25 writers across WWE. That staff is now being split among the two brands, Raw and SmackDown.
A rep for WWE issued this response to our questions for this story: We dont comment on employee matters.
The WWE insider said the shuffle of executives is due to a perceived lack of direction at SmackDown, which is four weeks ahead of its big move from USA Network to Foxs broadcast channel. The billion-dollar deal puts a lot of pressure on the SmackDown creative team.
A rep for Fox Sports did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the new SmackDown changes.
The SmackDown moves also come amid growing questions about Bischoffs leadership of the show. The insider cited Bischoffs decision to hire Stevie Long, a former Sons of Anarchy writer who was found asleep in the writers room by longtime producer Michael P.S. Hayes on his first day on the road with WWE. (Long is still with WWE.)
Bischoff declined to comment; Longs manager was unable to provide a comment from his client by the time of publication.
Bischoff and his SmackDown creative team have also come under scrutiny for this summers Erick Rowan doppelgnger storyline, in which an unknown attacker drop heavy backstage scaffolding on top of Roman Reigns, injuring the companys No. 1 star.
According to the WWE insider, the storyline was botched so bad that explaining to anyone what it was supposed to be wouldnt make any sense at all.
The following week, Reigns car was hit by another car in the arena parking lot.
The whodunit played out over several weeks, with prime suspects and bad guys Erick Rowan and Daniel Bryan claiming to have found the person responsible.
At the end of the next SmackDown episode, they pulled the hood off of an unknown man who looked just like Rowan, revealing who Bryan called the culprit to Reigns.
A week later, an unconvinced Reigns shared found grainy video footage of a man who looked just like Rowan in pants and a pulled-over hoodie walking away from the assault. That apparently proved that Rowan himself was the attacker to Reigns and Bryan, at least.
The lookalike, who certainly could have been the man in Reigns video, has not been mentioned since, and there are numerous wrestling blog posts and Reddit threads trying to figure out what happened in real life.
Rowan viciously attacked both Bryan and Reigns at the end of Tuesdays SmackDown Live.
Rowan and Reigns are set to face off at WWEs next pay-per- view event, Sept. 15s Clash of Champions. There is still one SmackDown episode before it, so if there will be any real and really, retroactive storyline payoff to the lookalike angle, it would have to be on Tuesday.
In late June, WWE handed the Raw TV reins to ECW founder Heyman, while WCW alum Bischoff got SmackDown Live.
SmackDown will move from USA to Foxs broadcast network on Friday, Oct. 4, when it will celebrate 20 years of the blue brand. Back in May 2018, TheWrap broke the news of Foxs SmackDown acquisition and its shift from Tuesdays to Fridays. We were also first to report that the show would remain live.
USA Network will keep WWEs flagship series Monday Night Raw. It also gets the pro-wrestling promotions minor- league NXT show from WWE Network. That one is set to compete head-to-head with TNTs upcoming AEW series, which will launch on Wednesday, Oct. 2.