Pro wrestling is scripted in two senses. The first is, obviously, that match outcomes are predetermined, and that's the one that detractors, missing the point entirely, fall back on to taunt viewers. (Though WWE did have a problem with leaked outcomes last year.) The second is almost more important: All the planning and production that goes into the massive television broadcasts. It's an art in and of itself, and a look at the TV script provides a wonderful peek at the WWE spectacle.
At the bottom of this page you'll find a (nearly) complete broadcast script for the April 14 episode of WWE Monday Night Raw. It apparently made the rounds not long after the show, but I hadn't seen it until featured by The Week, and I find it so interesting I'm willing to run the gauntlet of "Old news!" taunts to bring it to those of you who missed it the first time around.
Let's pull out some interesting bits. Here's what a match segment looks like. Announcers and production crew members are cued with the commercial that immediately precedes the return to air (in this case, a Toys R Us spot) and the segment begins with one tag team already in the ring. The action itself is laid out in the script literally as simply as possible—"Match," and "RybAxel over," indicating them as the winners.
The outcomes are predetermined, but the actual flow of the match is largely left up to the wrestlers' discretion. The specific spots to hit will be worked out between them ahead of time, and the connective tissue between the big moves is mostly a matter of in-ring improvisation. All the wrestlers have to do is make sure their match fits in to the allotted time—in this case, five minutes for the whole segment.
(Announcers are likely in on the matches' final sequences, so they can be prepared to call it properly. But for obvious reasons, these sequences aren't written down.)
Here are the pages for dueling promos between Bray Wyatt and John Cena:
And here's how that segment played out on the air:
You'll notice right away, from the moment Wyatt adds a few lines before hitting his scripted words, that there are differences. This is a function of two things.
First, this script was a draft (the third, to be precise). Like any show, Raw goes through a number of rewrites before hitting on the final product. We don't know how many drafts this one eventually went through, but considering how close this one is to what eventually aired, it couldn't have been many.
Second, the scripted speeches are never meant to be read word-for-word. Think of them as talking points. They provide the notes that need to be hit, but wrestlers—especially those as skilled on the mic as Wyatt and Cena—are expected and encouraged to ad-lib, adding their own characters' spins to the promos.
Here's my favorite part of the script: the checklists. The first provides the major WWE storylines at the moment, all with an eye on the next PPV. This checklist makes sure that writers and announcers push those storylines along on this episode of Raw, and reinforce them by mentioning recent history. The right side of the page consists of more immediate things that have to be done on the broadcast—product placement, social media plugs, and the like.
Note the items under "Creative Elements/Technique." Before WWE hits the air, it wants to make sure each show has at least one "Holy $h!t Moment."
Here's the checklist for those producing segments that take place backstage—usually an interview or a run-in. These are filmed before the show airs ("Make sure talent looks sweaty if they just competed"), and a ton of attention is paid to composition, motivation, and delivery, as well as to not ringing any old-timey pro wrestling bells by using words like "feud." There's a reason they call it sports entertainment.
Here's the script. It's a great illustration of how much work goes into every single Monday night.
Illustration by Sam Woolley.