Pro-Wrestling in 2012 is a mixed bag. On one hand wrestling has never been more accessible. Here in the UK, I can watch TNA Impact (aka Impact Wrestling) on Sunday nights, if I miss this installment then I get it again on Tuesday – at a reasonable hour on Challenge TV. SkyPlus means that even failing to catch Raw live at 2AM is not a problem, nor SmackDown on a Friday night when typically i’m out. This is not to mention the numerous re-runs throughout the week. Furthermore both companies, TNA and WWE, make annual trips to the UK, where instead of ‘house show’ type shows where storylines are suspended to an extent, (which is historically the typical show they would put on over here) we get full, meaningful, Impact and Raw/Smackdown shows .
The days of WWE being the black sheep of Sky TV’s sports roster are well and truly over, with fuller coverage accelerating especially as WWE has become a PG product – you will now often see the talent appear on SkySports News, both in and out of character, just for one example. Even more significantly, the 24/7 Twitter feed from a number of the talent, announcers, officials has made, at least in a sense, the people within the industry more accessible than ever before. WWE have stepped up their efforts significantly to appeal to a broader section of demographic. The use of celebrities, whilest nothing new, certainly has hit a peak over the last few years. Mainstream pop songs are used heavily as is all aspects of social media, including Twitter as previously mentioned.
To focus the main portion of this piece on WWE, (and without going into any of the indies – independent wrestling) this begs the question: Despite the availability of the product, why is viewership in the steady decline that it has been for several years? Why is the Wrestling business in the state that it’s in? Anyone familiar with Pro-Wrestling will be well aware of all the factors, ranging from the lack of anything resembling a territory system, to the over-crowded and under-qualified writing team. I will attempt to answer the question as personally as possible, as a long-time TV viewer who has all but tuned out.
The most important people are the wrestlers, and the roster is stick-thin. Guys are called up to the main roster when still too green in many cases, and what talent is available is hamstrung by a writing committee that is 1) too large and 2) too diverse in background. The show scripts bounce back and forth, being changed a dozen times, often up until show time. Storylines and angles often aren’t executed as originally intended because of arguments/disagreements and generally too many people trying to compromise and find middle ground. (Ultimately Vince McMahon makes the call, but talking about Vince and his complexities and idiosyncracies is another article all together.) The writing team includes a number of TV/soap-opera writers with no previous experience in wrestling who WWE began hiring in the mid-2000’s, and is headed up by McMahon’s daughter Stephanie who is said to be as bad off-screen as she is on-screen. Also at the top of the chain is Executive Vice President and Television Producer Kevin Dunn, who is reportedly ‘embarrassed’ to be considered as being a part of the ‘Pro-Wrestling Industry’ and is known by wrestling fans as an enemy of wrestling. I would encourage anyone not familiar to search through the numerous ‘shoot interview’ archives to hear the stories from the people more in the know. Recent history is littered with examples of WWE ‘dropping the ball’ when pushing a talent and botching hot angles, from Triple H squashing Randy Orton in 2009, through the promising but ultimately underwhelming ‘Summer of Punk’ in 2011 up to what they are currently doing with Brock Lesnar. As always with this company, politics are a factor, but the poor quality of the wrting is also at major fault.
Traditionally TV is used to build to PPV, with compelling angles and wrestling that leaves you wanting more, and ultimately purchasing that PPV. WWE’s attitude has often been to ‘offer something to the non-wrestling fan’ in the product. To paraphrase Jim Cornette – “There is something for the non-wrestling fan. It’s on the other channel”. This is the feeling I get when I tune into WWE. It’s like watching an action/adventure comedy show. The humour is overdone (and rarely funny), there is too much spotlight on celebrity, too many segments promoting the latest WWE film or other extra-curricular activities. They put more into their elaborate, glossy, HD presentation than they do into the actual product. TNA is far from perfect, but certainly in recent months have emerged as the stronger ‘Wrestling’ show. WWE’s PG rating if often blamed for the state of the product, and it does restrict what they can do to an extent, but this does not account for the core problems like a lack of starpower and poor storytelling. Of course, despite an apparant recent resurgence in popularity, John Cena has often been the poster boy for everything that is wrong with Vinnie Mac’s show, when I would argue that he is a huge star and has carried WWE for a long time.
Yes, the stuff aimed at kids does nothing for me, as I sit in the somewhat neglected 18-40 demographic. But I can forgive the company for wanting to appeal to children. What I can’t tolerate is an unsophisticated and lazy product that often fails to make sense, frustrates me, often angers me and continues to veer away from too many of the fundamentals of what makes a good wrestling show, and although I can’t claim to be any sort of wrestling historian, I have been watching for the last 20 years, from early 90’s WCW and WWF, through ECW, the Attitude Era, the death of WCW and the ‘Ruthless Agression era’ and transition from WWF to WWE.
To the young, and/or very casual fan, although lacking an array of stars like we have seen in the past, wrestling is very accessible, as mentioned at the top of the piece. To a more long-term, or more more passionate wrestling fan I am scepticle about what mainstream wrestling continues to offer.