Written by: Bryan Kluger…..
The world of pro-wrestling has been around for many years and has certainly seen its ups and downs, most noticeably being the WWE. There have been many promotions through the decades, which have made a lot of people very successful and it continues to this day. At some point down the road though, there was one company that surpassed everyone by leaps and bounds and brought the pro-wrestling arena into the mainstream. Of course I’m talking about World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), or the artist formally known as World Wrestling Federation (WWF) in its teenage angst years. For a long while, there were two major companies that featured the best of the best in the pro-wrestling world. WWE and WCW. They didn’t play well together at all on and off screen.
Of course you had your smaller promotions around the country such as the iconic World Class Championship Wrestling (WCCW) in Dallas, TX, where the Von Erich family was popular and gave Stunning Steve Austin his start, which would eventually transform him into the beer drinking son-of-a-bitch Stone Cold Steve Austin he is today. Like with almost everything in life, you want to work for the best and be the best you can at your talent. WWE and WCW was an outlet that paid the most money, had the best talent, the most fans, and were the most watched shows for their time and place. While promotions were trying to sell out rusted tin roofed buildings that hold a few hundred people, WWE and WCW were quickly selling out major arenas and stadiums all around the nation on a consistent basis. They also got into the marketing game with tons of toys, action figures, and other forms of materialistic items to make money for both the company and the talent, which is of course a good thing.
I’d like to bring the ECW into this conversation as well, even though they had a small run, but their fan base was rabid and knew exactly what to expect each week. Along the months and years, WWE and WCW had to differentiate their programming enough for people to tune and not get confused. I mean, we have ‘The Walking Dead’ and now ‘Fear the Walking Dead’ along with all of the superhero shows out now, who can keep up and who can tell them apart from one another. It was the same with WWE and WCW at the time. ECW was a different duck though, which kept it’s events in smaller locations and was strictly the Rated R brand that brought blood, guts, and glory to each match. More on that in a bit though.
WCW tried to do a lot with cross promotions with other films and celebrities, along with over-the-top story lines and big time wrestlers, who would join them and leave the WWE who had been around for a long time. A Robocop interference here and a David Arquette championship reign there and WCW went under and out, only to be purchased by Vince McMahon – the rightful ruler and emperor of WWE and the majority of pro-wrestling as we all know it. WWE became the biggest thing out there as far as pro-wrestling was concerned. They are now publicly traded, have more than 800 employees, and are globally seen, heard, and broadcasted. They’ve been a major source of entertainment for a long time now and continue to dominate cable ratings and PPV sales every month.
All that being said, many fans have become annoyed, saddened, and downright angry with the company and their content and product for a long time. Not only the fans, but subscriber base has dropped, ticket sales aren’t selling out anymore, more and more talent are walking out on the company, and people just don’t seem to be that interested anymore. There are many reasons for this, all of which can be more or less easily fixed to appease everyone. It would be a long road to say the least, but there are a few suggestions that can be applied to make WWE the best entertainment product it can be, because it’s been rather lazy for a long time now.
Shorten Program Lengths and Space Out PPVs
If something is working and making money, why fix it, right? That’s usually the motto. Add on to that, saturating the market with as much content as possible all of the time. Again, look at all of the superhero shows that are invading every network and streaming service, as well as the movie theaters. The same can be said for WWE. There’s just too much of it every week, which can get redundant and boring if you tuned in for every hour, every week, and every year. What is it like to be a WWE fan every month? Let me tell you. Monday Night RAW is a Live broadcast that lasts three hours.
Most of the time, it goes 15 minutes over its three hour run time. That’s more than three hours of wrestling and promos each week. Tuesdays are reserved for Smackdown Live, which is a two hour Live broadcast, featuring wrestling and promos, which as of only several months ago, consists of different talent. Before, it was the same talent and matches both days for the most part. So with that in mind, that is about five hours per week of WWE so far. Then on Wednesday is the hour long NXT show, which is the minor leagues for WWE, which develops talent on screen in mostly great matches. That’s six hours now.
Then there is 205 Live, which is an hour long wrestling show on the cruiser-weight division, which usually consists of the smaller wrestlers who can flip easier off the top rope than the likes of someone like Braun Strowman. We’re at seven hours now. Since Smackdown Live and RAW are separate from each other right now, they have their own PPVs, which happens now every two or three weeks, or shall I say twice a month. Now, I’ve seen PPVs reach the six hour mark alone now, but let’s put each PPV at 3.5 hours, making that seven hours total a month.
I will not calculate the after talkback shows for each venue here. Seven hours a week multiplied by four is 28 hours. Add an extra 7 for PPVs and that comes to 35 hours a month of brand-new, original content of wrestling matches. That’s a lot for any show. Imagine if ‘Breaking Bad’ had basically an episode every night for a whole year. While it might sound awesome at first, the characters, writing, and storylines would get increasingly worse and worse until you hated the show. This a huge problem with WWE right now. There’s just so much new content every week, and none of it seems new or fresh.
The fix can be fairly simple here. Shorten the time lengths of each show. Luckily, Hulu provides us with 90 minute versions of both RAW and Smackdown Live, which brings the time frame considerably down and leaves out the non-sense. Still, everything is a bit too long. My advice is to cut down RAW back down to 90 minutes, with an extra hour on the same night devoted to NXT. More people would tune into it and it would allow for more activities later in the week. The same goes with Smackdown Live. Cut it to 90 minutes without fluff and you’re golden.
The cruiser-weight division should be added into each major show too, which would leave about four hours of wrestling per week here, that allows for all of the talent to make their presence known. With PPVs, I’m suggesting one every five weeks that consists of both Smackdown Live and Raw talent. This way, we have enough time to develop good storylines and actually feel some sort of emotion for each character. You can still have 11 PPVs a year, but that will go against my next suggestion, which is….
WWE Should Not Be Year-Round
That’s right. WWE programming, including RAW, Smackdown Live, NXT, and PPVs are LIVE 52 weeks a year. There is no break. No seasons. No interruptions. These crew members and talent work on Christmas, birthdays, New Years and every other holiday that comes around, because again, there is no break. This causes fatigue in the wrestlers, which in turn causes injuries, bad mental health, and more.
Not only that, every Live event is in a different city every week, which has the crew and talent traveling by any means necessary to the next event. Crew doesn’t have to pay their way, but all wrestlers pay their own travel and lodging year-round. Like I mentioned above, not having a break not only causes fatigue in the wrestlers themselves, but also sloppy writing and storylines.
The fix is fairly easy. Just do what every other television show does. Have a break with new seasons and storylines. I’m not talking about going on break for months on end either. How about a month or six weeks to allow the wrestlers to tend to family, rest, or pursue other endeavors like movies, TV, businesses, or even politics. If this were the case and a few of the wrestlers signed on to star in Hollywood movies, it would bring more people and fans to the WWE product. Instead, most of the WWE stars are on the road, wrestling 52 weeks out of the year with zero time to do anything else, which is why WWE has their own movie-making department.
I’ve seen most of them, and to say they are any good would make you a liar. Here’s how to fix the situation. Make the season finale Wrestlemania. Have all of the crazy big matches there and it will end on a cliff hanger. Take five to six weeks off and return with a new season that picks up where all of the stories and matches left us hanging. This will give the writers some time and the talent some time to come up with amazing and long lasting storylines, instead of half-baked plans that never seem to work right now. All of the storylines can lead into each PPV and last until Wrestlemania. In fact, this is already done with NJPW and everyone seems to love it. Plus, it would give us fans a much needed break from the many hours of wrestling through the year. We would in turn come in fresh and ready for more.
More Creative Control for the WWE Wrestlers
There has been one main decision maker and driving force behind WWE since its inception and that is Vince McMahon. Vince founded the company and has been in charge since the beginning, along with his wife Linda. His kids Stephanie and Shane have been involved in the company at most capacities over the years. It’s Vince though who runs the show. It’s known that there is no decision too small for Vince to make. He’s been in charge of everything for so long now that things are very stale and just repeating itself.
Also, Vince is 72 years old right now, which may not be a factor, but it’s a factor. The product needs some fresh new creative voices that aren’t hindered by Vince at every turn. Vince is the last decision maker on virtually every character, match end, and story line. In order for something to happen with a story or character, it is to go through Vince first and then heavily written. At one point in time, the wrestlers themselves were allowed to improv and have more creative control with what they did in the ring, but that’s not the case really anymore. Vince has hired numerous writers to make everything commercial and watered down that all of the life and soul that WWE once had is mostly gone. There are only flashes here and there of the creative genius.
The fix could be fairly simple, but it would require for Vince to swallow his pride and take a creative step back and let some young talent step in for a while. In fact, Vince needs to take a big step back from the company and let a team of people run it. This can include Triple H (his son in law) and perhaps at some capacity his daughter Stephanie. I think the married couple can run things quite well without the supervision of big ole daddy Vince to call the shots. Add to that Shane McMahon too, Vince’s son.
Now Shane has had a ton of great ideas for the company in the past, but Vince ultimately decided not to go with any of his son’s ideas. This was bittersweet, because it caused Shane to go out on his own and form other non-wrestling companies around the world for several years. WWE was in dire need of talent since most were not being used or injured, so Shane came back a year or two ago to help out. If Shane were allowed to implement some of his ideas here, along with Stephanie and Triple H’s work, I think the company would go into bigger and better horizons, instead of being the same ole schtick day in and day out.
Another quick fix would be allow for the wrestlers to have more creative fun in the ring with their characters and not be tied down to a shoddy script that plays to a PG only crowd. So with a quiet step away from Vince and more creative control given back to the wrestlers, we would see a big improvement of storylines and characters perhaps almost immediately.
Let Them Bleed
Part of the wrestling business is getting hit, kicked, taken down, and busted open. Bleeding is going to happen. It’s just part of it when you put two very strong people in the ring and let them go at it in a choreographed sense. In the earlier days, to sell a match, story, or character – wrestlers would purposefully cut themselves or blade themselves in the ring to make it seem like they are bleeding out, only to “hulk up” and save the day. It didn’t happen often, unless your name is ECW, but it happened only when it needed to. It made a bigger and better story and got the crowd more invested in what was happening if they saw someone bleed. That was all stopped several years ago.
In fact, if someone bleeds or god forbid, blades themselves now, they will be fined and perhaps suspended. If someone bleeds accidentally, the match is actually stopped and personnel or a referee will have to stop the bleeding or end the match. It takes the audience out of the moment for sure, where bleeding actually enhanced a match on several occasions. In addition to this, everything has been made for PG audience, meaning little kids get the most benefit from the characters and story lines, but us older fans are left by the wayside without even a once a year PPV that is on an ECW level. There is no more cursing, bleeding, or heavy story lines that actually mattered. Nowadays, the characters and story lines are lame, boring, and plain ole lazy.
An easy fix is to allow for a PG-13 type of show that consists of some more adult situations in the characters and story lines. By having a few extra minor curse words and the allowance of blood in some spots, things would seem more realistic and less watered down. It would also let the creatives and wrestlers a chance to explore new and fresh territory, instead of having to re-incarnate the same story we’ve been seeing for the past several years now. Nobody will stop watching, because of this. You won’t lose any sponsors either. If there is a spot for some blood, you put a warning sign before the match starts. They do the same for violent TV shows on network television.
With these aspects added back into the shows, people will start to care more for the characters and the stories they tell. It really is a simple fix and adjustment here. WWE used to lead the way of pop culture and what we wanted to emulate. Now, it all about following whatever the latest trend and fad is. If WWE chose to set the bar again, they could easily do so with some of the above suggestions.
Destroy the Flimsy Heels and Faces
It’s been a long time since a heel faced their enemies on his own in the ring. Triple H is a good example of that. He was always supposed to be the bad guy, but he took on every challenge himself head on and earned him the respect of the audience, who then cheered him no matter what. That was many years ago. Now it seems like every big bad heel in WWE has to have an entourage that cheats and interferes in their behalf, which of course conjures up reactions from the crowd, but it happens with every single heel out there in the business.
It’s just downright ridiculous and annoying. Take for example the current WWE Heavyweight Champion Jinder Mahal, who in real life was born in Canada, but since he has ties to the Middle East, he’s full on bad guy just because he’s Middle-Eastern, complete with two lackeys who cheat and interfere for him in every match so he can win. It’s strange, because Jinder Mahal is a giant dude with perhaps the most muscles in the business. He doesn’t need an entourage, but alas he does. It constantly makes him look weak and scared, and when he wins the matches that count, it just doesn’t add up.
You have to be able to have a layered character and with every big bad heel in WWE, there is only surface level evil. The same can be said to the baby faces of the company. If you’re a good guy, it’s all hugs, love, and stupidity with dancing and cereal. It’s just so one sided and silly. If a heel talks smack to a face, nothing really happens. The face takes it and loses the match. It’s just so plain without any real energy or gusto that all life is sucked out of it.
Again, this is an easy fix. Remember when The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin, as well as HBK were all good guys in the company, but did not shy away from an opponent or take any shit from anyone? Yeah, it’s been a long time. Allow these faces to fight for something other than America. A face used to mean you can run up to anyone and start a fight and spray them with beer, while flipping off the crowd. Nowadays, you have to dance, have an instrument, and give free hugs to people. Let the faces be badasses once again. Let them tear down walls and be anti-heroes.
People will relate to it more and therefor invest more energy and time into the product. The same thing goes for the heels. If you’re a big bad heel, of course you’re gonna cheat to win, but let these wrestlers have some fun with it. You can see a little bit of it in Kevin Owens right now. You never know why he’s the bad guy, but he is layered and never gives a reason to his madness and that is something to follow. I just wish that all of the heels would follow suit and not have a lame storyline.
In the end, these are relatively small adjustments that could be accomplished over night and in other cases within a few months. Ticket sales are down, arenas aren’t being sold out, there are less subscribers every month for the WWE Network, and more talent is literally walking out on the company to head back to the indies to wrestle. There needs to be some serious change and these suggestions and fixes can definitely help the product. If it doesn’t change, I imagine we will keep seeing the same story over and over again, the likes only someone like Virgil will enjoy.