Going Broadway: The WWE is running out of excuses Submitted by Going Broadway on 05/07/2019 at 09:18 PM
By J.D. Bachman
I am writing this as I comfortably watch an illegal stream of Smackdown Live, hooked up from my second laptop to my television. Clearly, my lack of a cable subscription in favor of streaming services like Hulu, Netflix, and Prime isn't impeding my ability to watch the product.
There have been many excuses thrown around as to "what is wrong" with the WWE product, and why ratings continue to take a dive. As I will demonstrate, just about every "excuse" offered up by defensive and analytical fans can be debunked with relative ease.
Excuse #1: The Writing is Bad
This is mostly untrue. While storylines are written for a 'PG Era' and tend to fall somewhere on the spectrum between "simplistic" and "trashy", we have seen flashes of well-written storylines in this past year. From Kingston/Bryan and the rise of Becky Two-Belts, well-written feuds and character development are out there -- however this is few and far between. While the environment for good writing exists and comes in short flashes (as we have seen with Bray Wyatt's Firefly Funhouse and Sami Zayn's latest promo work) it tends to get lost in segments that simply do not have good writing or cause, which are featured over segments that do.
We can't blame writers too much if the right ones aren't given a chance to shine in the right areas.
...that, or they need less writers with little care for professional wrestling out of a soap opera background, and more writers with college degrees in writing that have a passion for the industry. (Yes, I am available for hire)
Excuse #2: It's "PG" -- Insert Attitude Era reference here <---
Again, untrue. Taking a piece from NXT from 2018-19, the feud and story told between Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa was a wrestling-based work of art. It wasn't racy, sexist, or even terribly violent. However, it provided endless heated and passionate moments, heel turns, character development, and fantastic in-ring work. This is a feud that could have existed and succeeded in any era, be it the 80's, 90's, or in the "Ruthless Aggression" era.
Simply going "extreme" worked for Eastern Championship Wrestling in 1995, and it bled into the industry in the 90's where media in general was pushing the envelope of social extremes -- but this is no longer the 90's. We live in the #metoo era, and a healthy mix of blood and misogyny isn't so healthy anymore. You don't need "attitude" to tell a good story.
Besides, the Attitude Era succeeded because every wrestler, from Val Venis and Steve Blackman to The Rock and Steve Austin, had something to do. It had less to do with racy content and more to do with the fact that every segment meant something. We don't really have that in today's current product.
Excuse #3: The Roster is too Big
While not as big as today, the WWE in 2003 still featured nearly 100 wrestlers split between two brands (remember, NXT did not exist yet). We heard the same exact concern over 15 years ago -- "there's too many wrestlers" -- yet early-2000 era WWE provided some fantastic moments and feuds, especially when you look at the Smackdown brand in the mid-2000's with Angle, Benoit, Edge, Guerrero, Lesnar, etc.
There didn't exist a problem in booking talents to their strengths in this time period with few exceptions, so we have to throw this excuse out the window as well.
Excuse #4: The Fans are the Problem
Not that you ever want to put blame on your own consumers for simply wanting something different, but this generation of fans simply know what they want. They have options; between New Japan, Ring of Honor, Impact Wrestling, and soon All Elite Wrestling. Unlike ten years ago, many of these options are now at fans' fingertips with the advent of streaming services.
As a fan, it's very easy to hone in on what you want out of a wrestling product, and if WWE programming isn't doing it for some fans, that's not the fans' fault. You can't bring stars like Ricochet on Raw and put tag titles on The Revival as a band-aid solution to please your disgruntled base.
It's not that simple.
However, as a side note: Understanding that the majority of your fans aren't 12, and lie between the 30-50 demographic wouldn't be a bad realization to have. When the product comes off in a sometimes childish and dumbed-down presentation, it can be hard to take it too seriously.
Know your audience.
Excuse #5: Fewer people have cable television.
This one is true, as mentioned in the opening to this article. However, this ultimately leads into the answer as to why people are truly tuning out. As mentioned, I CAN watch -- and I am watching. However, do I want to pay extra money a month to make sure I have access to the product on USA Network?
Not a chance.
This is beyond the fact that I tend to be busy on Tuesday nights as is, and usually will miss it, but I assure you, if the product was "must-see" television, I would find a way to experience the full show one way or another. Otherwise, if I really wish, I could watch Raw or Smackdown the next night on Hulu, and if I don't care enough to do that, I can catch up on YouTube clips from WWE's own page, and if I don't care to do that, I know that likely nothing drastic has happened where I would have feared missing out in the first place.
Which brings this full circle into the REAL reason why ratings have dipped, and AEW is poised to take away potentially thousands of fans.
There's only one real reason. Just one.
Reason #1: Consistency is Lacking
When you look at the product as a whole, the entire beast is simply inconsistent. We have an environment where wrestler pushes are halted without reason, show direction is changed on a dime, re-writes are becoming more frequent, the writing itself can't seem to figure out if it wants to be palatable or plain awful, and the company in kayfabe terms can't even stick to a simple "no rematch" rule.
Hell, McMahon can't seem to figure out who he even wants on either roster with the most recent "wild card rule", making the brand split fairly pointless.
WWE programming is no longer "must-see" television, because the average and somewhat educated fan knows to expect the inconsistent and banal.
Nothing truly unique or eye-catching is happening between Raw and Smackdown, and you can try to place blame on writers who may not even have a wrestling background or fandom to begin with, or a roster so full of great performers that many talents go wasted -- but all in all, the inconsistent and often illogical product are making many fans care less.
A good example is this week's Smackdown. Overall, the show has been fairly entertaining. Nothing groundbreaking, but good. However, I know that next week, there's a 50/50 chance that it won't be so good, and the direction will change again, and illogical and inconsistent booking will take over any enjoyment of the product.
At the end of the night, if every decision must run through Vince McMahon, then the inconsistency and fall of the product can be solely placed on Vince McMahon's shoulders.
In the now famous "pipe bomb" promo on the June 27, 2011 edition of Raw, CM Punk was allowed an "open mic". While the legitimacy of how much of his promo was a work or a shoot, one of his quotes seems to ring true, especially if WWE can't simply find a consistent and modern direction:
“I’d like to think that maybe this company will better after Vince McMahon is dead. But the fact is, it’s going to be taken over by his idiotic daughter and his doofus son-in-law and the rest of his stupid family."
I won't wish death on anyone, including Mr. McMahon, but perhaps truer words may have never been spoken in this current WWE climate.