If I’ve learned anything in the last two years since re-joining and writing about the biggest male soap opera since CHIPS, it’s that the WWE can be an exercise of frustration.
On the one hand, they had a brilliant last few months of 2013 and a great first quarter with the Daniel Bryan/Authority saga. The “powers that be” (if I can go Russo for a second) also introduced The WWE Network which, save for issues with the slider that controls the video, has absolutely no downside. In fact, along with the last three “WWE Specials” (they’re apparently not called “pay-per-views” anymore), The WWE Network is not only one of the company’s greatest successes, it’s also something that, if tweaked to perfection, could save the WWE and propel television into a new era.
The downside, however, is the meat of the company: the actual broadcast television product.
I’ve turned on RAW each Monday and it’s the same story: Cena talks about how he loves the Universe for hating him, Bray Wyatt cuts an incoherent promo about unicorns talking to ladybugs, midgets wrestle regular Superstars (just in case Rusev being a giant stereotype wasn’t offensive enough) and the Usos lose for the seventh time in two weeks even though they’re champions…and I write my review for my own site with a giant sigh. In proof-reading, I am amazed at two things: 1) I’m one angry guy (which cracks my friends up — they all think I’m sweeter than sugar) and 2) RAW has become an absolute mess.
Even after I’ve written my review and published it, I always end up with that same nagging feeling. It’s a lot like my cat at 6 AM on Saturday, biting at my fingers and arms until I’m awake like an alarm that can’t be set to “snooze”.
Mainly, it’s that little voice saying, “You’re nuts and you’re the only one who thinks this. When you go to other blogs to check out what others are writing, you’re gonna see how insane you really are.” At times, the voice is right: according to other blogs, everyone’s happy but me. Apparently, the majority doesn’t think Stardust is a bad idea. Adam Rose is genius. Rusev isn’t just another monster heel with no charisma.
And I’ve actually found myself coming to the defense of wrestlers like Sheamus, who go out there night after night and work matches that are longer than all three of their matches combined.
The forums all repeat the same thing: This isn’t The Attitude Era. It’s the PG Era. This isn’t high-quality TV…it’s not Breaking Bad or House of Cards…it’s pro-wrestling. It is what it is.
And that’s true. Wrestling is a guy’s soap opera. It’s theatricality and drama mixed with goofy crap and silliness. The problem is that the crap-to-quality ratio has become so far unbalanced, it makes All My Children look like Hamlet.
That said, how does one judge the quality of pro-wrestling? After all, being subjected to Hornswaggle losing his hair to a fake midget bull with a tear-away “tail” pales into comparison to David Arquette winning the WCW Heavyweight Title or Vince McMahon ordering Trish Stratus to strip down to nothing while barking like a dog or, you know…Glacier.
Simply put, judging the quality of any wrestling show is like judging which one of your irresponsible roommate’s parties was worse: the one where your car was stolen and ended up in a nearby lake or the one where somebody used your large flat screen TV to “surf” down your apartment stairs.
I’ll just say it and get it over with: the WWE has gotten bad. They hit the top of the bell curve with Daniel Bryan and The Authority (even though it was a retread of Austin and The Corporation) but his injury after that managed to throw a wrench into the works, leaving the Creative staff to improvise.
The results have been less than stellar.
Whether you think the direction the WWE is headed is a smart one or you’re like me and you think it kinda sucks, the old phrase, “There’s always room for improvement” rings true.
So how does the WWE go about doing it? Here’s some suggestions:
- WWE programming is all over the place. I get saturation, but you have RAW on USA, Smackdown on SyFy, Main Event was on ION, and Superstars was on WGN before moving to the WWE website up until recently. On top of that, Total Divas is on E! Wisely, the WWE bumped Main Event and Superstars to the WWE Network along with NXT. Total Divas needs to be next AND paired with Legends House. That way, you’d draw a female audience to the Network and, trust me, guys will watch it because women.
- Furthermore, it’s time to fix RAW by biting the bullet and cutting the third hour. The show’s pace has suffered badly since adding that hour and it’s usually a whole second hour filled with squash matches nobody cares about. Devote RAW to your A+ Players and Smackdown to the mid-card…and, by the way…
- It’s time for some new announcers. King should be kept around but Cole and JBL do two shows and they can get irritating real quick. Put Alex Riley in there and remove Cole or JBL. Or put JBL and Booker in at Smackdown…and, speaking of…
- Smackdown…either put more effort in or cut it to an hour. Smackdown used to be a major show that advanced storylines left and right…now it’s an overlong version of WWE Main Event. You can put Adam Rose and Rusev and Bo Dallas and Stardust in there, too…oh, and that’s another thing.
- Cancel WWE Superstars. Seriously. Main Event and Superstars are, virtually, the same show with different show graphics. Main Event is the better show of the two. Superstars is just extraneous and doesn’t advance anything. Seriously, when was the last time you heard the words, “Let’s show you what went down this past Wednesday on Superstars”?
- It’s been, what, a few months since Rusev debuted? Adam Rose and Bo Dallas, too? None of these guys are catching on. Rusev has NO charisma at all. He’s Bulgarian, not Russian and the only appealing thing about him is that he has a hot assistant who is also not Russian and laying on a fake Russian accent so thick, I feel if I ever met her, I’d ask her if she caught Moose and Squirrel. Anyhow, the WWE needs to find him a feud. Yes, he had a short stint with Big E at Payback which ended in a needlessly short squash. I hear he’s supposed to face Big E again at Money in the Bank. This would be a good time for Rusev to prove that he can go longer than 37 seconds and show us more than two moves. Each time they trot him out on one of the big shows, it feels like I’m watching cookie dough that won’t cook. The same goes for Dallas and Rose and…
- Stardust…I can’t even pretend to know what Creative was thinking when they re-invented Cody. For weeks, I thought they’d pair Goldust with Adam Rose…and, instead, we get a watered down copy of Goldust. It’s time to kill this quick. Find some way out. It’s just not working at all.
- Paige needs more dominance and power. She’s being out-shined by Divas with more intensity in a single hair. They’re about 70 percent there with Paige and, even though she’s a bit of a copy of AJ Lee, she’s one of the newbies I like. I’d hate to see her squashed and put in the background like the rest of the Divas…
- The Divas…it’s time to re-work this entire division. A friend of mine said it best: “they’re models who do photo shoots and soft-core porn…and sometimes, they wrestle when they feel like it.” With AJ Lee gone and Tamina out, it really exposed just how weak the Divas are in terms of depth. The WWE has scrambled to fix the Diva thing by deciding that Paige’s best opponent should be Naomi of the Funkydactyls. Yesterday, it was Alicia Fox. Tomorrow, it’ll probably be Rosa Mendes and then Eva Marie. Watching the first episode of Total Diva was enlightening. There’s Natalya who is a workhorse…and they don’t feel like pushing her for a Wrestlemania spot. Instead, they have her train a bunch of girls who really can’t wrestle to save their lives. Oh, and according to one of the ladies in talent relations, one of them MUST be blonde because guys like blondes. Meanwhile, the Bella Twins are pushed, non-stop, in the most magic fashion (couldn’t be that they date two of the top guys in the company) and pretty much got whatever they wanted. This is a pretty big chunk of your audience. Put girls in there who can wrestle and not act like a nutbag (Alicia Fox) or a complete imbecile (Emma) or somebody who just wants to stand there (Eva Marie).
- Make the WWE Network available outside the United States. This is huge. On my own blog, the analytic data I get shows me a HUGE concentration of WWE fans in Germany, the UK, and Russia. Russia and Germany are actually tied for the most views. Along with adding more original programming (the re-runs of Total Divas is a great start), this is one of the reasons the network numbers aren’t higher.
To his credit, Paul Levesque (AKA Triple H) has tried to do some daring stuff. Some of it has worked but a lot of it is half-baked, hurry-up material that is failing to get over with audiences. It’s been pointed out that the crowd does appreciate Adam Rose because they sing his song when he’s in the ring.
They also sung Fandango’s music and did the Fandango Point, too, and that gimmick is as dead as Zack Ryder’s career.
That isn’t to say that all of this won’t come together into something good, but when Levesque is doing things like completely breaking up The Shield for no good reason, other than to be shocking, the product suffers a great deal. There’s nothing worse than rushing angles because you’re scrambling. Even the marks know when they’re being played with.
I don’t think the WWE will go the way of WCW because they’re just too big. TNA and ROH aren’t even close to being on par.
But something has got to give. The WWE Network (which has lost the company money, causing big budget cuts and the firing of 13 of its stars) is stalling with a subscriber count of just over 650 thousand. Their new goal is to hit 1 million by the end of the year but they may not hit that if the numbers are correct. There are reports that the numbers may have actually declined and that’s what lead to the company’s drastic measures.
It’s gonna be an interesting rest of the year for this company. I fear if that 1 million number isn’t hit, the WWE will make even more changes — some of them, completely unnecessary.