A WR Exclusive FATP Special: Same old, same old
You’re probably thinking “it’s not Tuesday, why is there a new FATP today?” and you’d be right. It isn’t Tuesday yet, but I just felt like writing something today. There’ll still be a TNA-themed FATP on Tuesday, but for today, this is gonna be about WWE. Before I start, thanks to those who support and promote my column. It’s appreciated, whether you retweet the link or send feedback on Twitter or you post a comment below. OK, now that’s out the road, I wanted to talk about yet another knee-jerk reaction from the WWE.
It comes after last Monday’s Raw, which had its lowest non-holiday rating in 15 years. When you think about how bad some of the Raw’s were earlier in the year, that’s saying something. I was a bit surprised when I saw the rating because I actually didn’t think the show was that bad. Sure, it wasn’t perfect, but I didn’t see a reason to panic. Mind you, that’s probably why I’m not a WWE employee. Whenever there’s a bad rating, all of a sudden, we get an appearance from a major superstar to boost the following week’s show. And guess what? Tomorrow night on Raw, we get two major returns in the form of the currently injured John Cena and the “Chairman of the Board”, Vince McMahon. Yawn. Same old, same old from WWE. Instead of panicking about the rating, why not try to see what other outside factors affected it? You know, there’s a chance that it was nothing to do with the men and women who performed last week. Shock! Horror! It might, just might, be because there’s other things on offer.
Society is different nowadays. I very much doubt that people religiously sit down and watch Raw live every Monday as much as they used to. In the States, Monday Night Football is back after the spring/summer break. Over here in the UK, staying up til 4.15am every Tuesday morning to watch 3 hours of wrestling is tough going. A lot of people record it overnight and watch it when they have the time. It’s probably the same in America. People will choose to sit and watch football ahead of Raw because 3 hours is a long time to commit to watching wrestling.
You’ve also got to factor in that a lot of people might be burned out because of the amount of TV that WWE produces. Sit and think about it. WWE produce Raw, Main Event, Superstars, NXT, Smackdown and Saturday Morning Slam. We get a few extra shows in the UK, mainly highlight shows, like WWE Experience, WWE Bottom Line and WWE Afterburn. I’m not sure about other countries though. That’s at the very least NINE wrestling shows in a week. Granted, not everyone will watch each show, but there’s such a thing as over-exposure.
We all know now that WWE is the only major wrestling company with any mainstream attention. Sorry if that’s disrespectful towards TNA, but it’s true. In time, I think they’ll get there, but right now, their exposure isn’t in the same league as WWE. With all of those TV shows I mentioned earlier (Raw, Main Event, Superstars, NXT, Smackdown, Saturday Morning Slam, WWE Experience, WWE Bottom Line and WWE Afterburn), WWE produces nearly 12 hours of fresh TV content (that I know of) each week across the US and UK. Those programmes don’t include the other YouTube content WWE produces or the 3.5 hours of PPV every 4-6 weeks. It’s almost a full-time job watching WWE right now and a lot of people might just be over-exposed to the product. I know that sometimes, I feel burned out by the sheer volume of wrestling that there is available.
The ratings in the Attitude Era were probably higher because there were 2 major wrestling companies trying to out-do each other. The variety of stars (and the difference between the shows) drew people in. Loyal wrestling fans would sit and choose their favourite show, take two hours out of their life and relax watching DX, The Rock, Stone Cold or the nWo, DDP and Sting. Two hours wasn’t a lot of time. Then, it gradually increased to 4/5 hours with the introductions of Thunder and Smackdown. Even at that time, 4/5 hours a week was a lot, but now it seems like nothing!
I understand that WWE is a business and they’re in it to make money. If a TV network approaches Vince McMahon and offer him X-amount of dollars to make a 30min/1hr TV show, he’ll do it. After all, he’s got shareholders to answer to and has to do what he thinks is best for the company. I get that, but Vince has to understand that sometimes, less is more. 12 hours of TV a week burns out the wrestlers and fans alike. You know why more people watched wrestling 10-15 years ago? Because they didn’t have to set out almost a third of their working week to watch a TV show. If I’m being honest, I’d rather watch 5 hours of quality programming than stretching 12 hours out of what they’ve got available to them. Seems fair, right?
Society is just one thing, but there’s other factors as well, such as WWE’s inability to create new stars. Sure, someone will get a push for 3-6 months, but if there’s no immediate success, the wrestler’s push stops and someone else gets their shot. That’s ridiculous. Did Stone Cold Steve Austin become an overnight success? No, he didn’t. He busted his ass for years to get his shot, before he took it at the 1996 King of the Ring. The Rock wasn’t an overnight success either. People booed the shit out of him after he debuted in the same year and it took Rock almost a year before he became a star. The same thing can be said about HHH. The blue-blood character never worked out for him and he had to bide his time before he aligned with HBK and they formed DX.
It is almost impossible to create a superstar overnight and get immediate success. Patience is the key. How many superstars over the last few years have had stop-start pushes? MVP, Shelton Benjamin, Matt Hardy, Mr Kennedy, Kofi Kingston, Drew McIntyre and Jack Swagger are a few names off the top of my head, but there’s bound to be more. Fans have to be given time and, most importantly, a reason to believe in a wrestler/performer. We have to be able to understand why we should cheer/boo them. Too many times, a wrestler is forced upon the crowd and we’re almost made to cheer them.
A perfect example of that is the way that WWE (sometimes) promote John Cena. Some of the crowd like him, some don’t. I won’t get into the ins and outs of it because to be honest, I’ve done it too many times before. I like his work ethic. I respect him as a man, but as a wrestling character, I can’t relate to him. Does that mean he’s shit? No. It just means I’m not drawn to his character. Plenty of other fans are drawn to him and that’s fine. What I have a problem with is the way that WWE will sometimes use the work he does with charities, like Make-a-Wish, to get him over. That’s bullshit and cheap. People are going to like and dislike John Cena, regardless of what he does in and out of the ring. We shouldn’t be guilt-tripped into liking him because of all the outstanding work he does out of the ring.
There’s a few wrestlers on the current roster that WWE can build into superstars. They’re starting to do it with Sheamus over on Smackdown right now. Others like Dolph Ziggler, Cody Rhodes, Wade Barrett, Zack Ryder and The Miz have the potential to be amazing stars to build the show around IF WWE give the fans a reason to believe in them. Vince McMahon has always said that he’ll do what’s best for the fans. If that’s the case, why did he bury someone that got over with the crowd, despite not having the “WWE machine” behind him? Yeah, I’m talking about Zack Ryder: a charismatic, hard-working kid who busted his ass to get noticed.
WWE didn’t push Zack Ryder: Zack Ryder pushed Zack Ryder. Then, when WWE decided that Ryder had grabbed their attention, he had an amazing match with Dolph Ziggler at TLC in December and won the United States Championship. Less than a month later, WWE screwed Ryder and his fans by making him look like a bitch. Ryder became a pawn in the Cena/Kane feud and was continually beaten down by Kane for 2-3 months. Then, on the biggest stage of them all, WWE booked Eve Torres to humiliate Ryder in front of a worldwide TV audience and since then, he’s barely been used. That’s a great lesson for any aspiring superstar isn’t it? If you get yourself over, we’ll still fuck with you because we (WWE) know what’s best. Newsflash!! Sometimes, WWE don’t know what’s best. Most of the time, they do, but sometimes, the fans know what they want and we deserve more credit.
The final thing that bugs me about Vince coming back (more than Cena, because he’s there most weeks anyway) is that whenever he makes an appearance on Raw, it’s a short-term fix. Sure the rating for tomorrow’s Raw will probably be better than last weeks, but that’s just masking the problems WWE have. For once in my life, I’m not blaming creative. Can you imagine what it must be like trying to produce between 9 and 12 hours of fresh TV a week? I can’t. Neither could Vince Russo and Ed Ferrara. They left in 1999 because (among other reasons) they felt it was too much to produce 4 hours between Raw and Smackdown! Imagine what they’d have done if they were asked to produce 2-3 times as much as that? They’d probably have had a breakdown. I know I would!
There’s going to come a time when WWE can’t rely on these older stars to come back and pop a rating. They’re either going to have disagreements with their legends and (not to sound too morbid) eventually, some of these legends aren’t going to be here anymore. What is he (Vince) going to do then? He’ll probably find some kind of technology to beam a holographic image at the top of the stage instead of admitting that his roster has ONE superstar: John Cena. CM Punk isn’t a superstar: yet. Punk is well on his way to being “seen at Cena’s level” and in the next year, he’ll be there.
I think it’s time that someone in WWE sat down and acknowledged some of the reasons why last week’s Raw rating was so low. It’s down to outside factors, like the amount of TV they produce every week. It’s down to their complete inability to have any patience while they’re trying to create new stars and their reliance on old wrestlers/performers to pop a rating. One thing I know for sure is that you can’t pin the blame on the talent who perform every week: men and women who sacrifice themselves every day to entertain us, whether they’re on TV or not. It’s about time that Vince McMahon and his senior executives realised that, and took some of the blame on their shoulders.
There are a few ways that WWE can solve these issues. First of all, stop controlling the superstars as much. They all know what the WWE landscape and product is all about these days. It’s a family-friendly product with focus on entertainment. There’s no reliance on swearing, sex and violence. The performers and wrestlers know that. They’re not idiots. Let them be themselves on TV. The best wrestling characters are always extensions of the men and women who play them. Have some trust and belief in them to be able to get over using their talent and ability. If WWE didn’t think they had ability or talent, they wouldn’t have been signed in the first place.
The second is to stop trying to make the wrestlers the same. Why should we believe in superstars that look, walk, talk and work the same way? You know why Austin is the greatest superstar of all-time? Because he was different. Same with the Rock, HBK, HHH and CM Punk. They all got over because they stand out more than the generic superstars that WWE seem hell-bent on creating these days. Most modern-day superstars remind me of the generic “Create-a-Wrestler” that you get on any WWE video game. The first image you see is what I think WWE believe a superstar should look like. In any form of life, successful people have something that makes them unique. It’s the same with wrestlers. Let them stand out and show their personality. That’s part of creating a superstar.
The third, final and critical thing that WWE needs to do is show patience with the wrestlers they’re pushing right now. Instead of (almost inevitably) blaming CM Punk for the shitty rating last week, let him run with it. Let Punk show that he can be the draw, the attraction, the main-event and the reason why people will come back and tune in. I’m not talking for just one or two weeks. I’m talking long-term. That’s the only way you’ll see if he’s good enough. I personally think Punk is the most talented performer on the current roster and he can be “that guy”. Sooner or later, the time is going to come when WWE can’t rely on the poster boy of the company (whoever that is). Sorry to keep banging on about it, but the reason why the Attitude Era was such a success, and why WWE ultimately won the Monday Night Wars, is because they had a nucleus of believable, established, main-event superstars who could each carry the ball when they were needed to. Austin, Rock, Foley, Undertaker, HHH and Kurt Angle all interchanged towards the top of the card and were supported by the likes of Jericho, Kane, X-Pac, Eddie Guerrero, Edge and Christian, The Hardys, APA and The Dudleys lower on the card to make sure that everyone helped to create the best show possible.
Right now, the truth of the matter is that WWE are reliant on one man to do the work of about 5/6 men and no matter what they want us to believe, no one man can do that. Especially in today’s society when there are FAR less people who watch mainstream professional wrestling.
That turned into something longer than I thought it would, but for what it’s worth, that’s my opinion. Before I leave, I want you to know something. Yes, you reading this. In the past, I’ve been accused of being a moany prick and someone that’s never happy, regardless of what WWE does. Sometimes, that’s a fair assessment. This column wasn’t about that. It was meant to address the problems that WWE have instead of them providing short-term fixes to long-term problems.
One of the reasons I started writing was because I loved reading what John Canton has to say. I’ve got a huge amount of respect for John because he tells it like it is. He often says that he’s a fan of wrestling and he always will be. He likens WWE to your favourite sports team in that you’ll always support them, but that doesn’t mean that you have to be happy with everything they do. That’s the way I see things with WWE. For everything that they’re doing right at the moment, there are still some issues that need to be addressed. Until WWE starts planning long-term, instead of relying on quick fixes, we’re going to get the same old, same old knee-jerk reaction to a poor rating, where a huge name is brought back to mask the problems for a week or two. It’s all smoke and mirrors. Eventually, that’s not going to work and when it doesn’t, WWE will be up shit creek without a paddle. They have a chance to sort things out long-term, if they show patience and belief in the ability and talent of every person on their roster. It’s a shame that sometimes, it doesn’t seem like they do.
That’s enough from me today, I’ve got a TNA column to write for Tuesday, so I’ll see you back here for that. If you’ve got anything to say about what I’ve written today, feel free to leave a comment or feedback below or find me on Twitter @george_sltd. Again, thanks for sticking with me. I appreciate it.