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There is a problem at the top in WWE. Vince McMahon, at the age of 73, remains convinced that he knows what his audience wants better than they do. The fact that RAW has lost more than six million viewers over the last 18 years should be enough to convince him that he might not be the arbitor of taste that he thinks he is, but he just looks at the billions of dollars that he’s made over that time and convinces himself that it’s all because he’s smart, and not lucky. It’s easy to make money when you own a monopoly.
WWE has people who can produce compelling, high-quality professional wrestling TV shows. The weekly hour of NXT, which is WWE’s “third brand,” is the most-watched show on WWE Network. 205 Live, which was unwatchably bad while McMahon was running the show, has been thriving under the creative direction of HHH (who also handles NXT), and is more entertaining that RAW or Smackdown now.
HHH (real name, Paul Levesque, seen right) is married to McMahon’s daughter, Stephanie, and still wrestles on occasion, even though he’s pushing 50. He was the top heel of the Attitude era, knows and respects the business, and most importantly, knows when something looks idiotic on TV. It’s past the time to hand him the reigns of RAW and Smackdown and let Vince concentrate on his revival of the XFL.
It’s not that McMahon is elderly or demented that makes it time for him to step aside. He’s simply a spent creative force who’s surrounded himself with far too many writers who try to stay on his good side rather than pitch sound ideas. If your job is to make the one billionaire who signs your checks happy, instead of making the most viewers happy, you’re not going to produce quality work. That gets even worse if that billionaire is somebody who reportedly spends a good chunk of his day laughing at his own farts.
There is no reason why, with the talent they have assembled, WWE cannot produce the best wrestling shows in the world week-in-week-out.
Writing a weekly wrestling show is not unlike writing a daily soap opera (another fading art form). I watched Guiding Light on CBS for close to thirty years. I saw the ups and downs as the producers changed writing teams and the show hit new highs and creative low points. Many times the actors had a better grasp of their characters than the latest team of writers did. Sometimes they’d get so upset at the quality of the writing that they’d quit, rather than do material that didn’t ring true.
Right now WWE is at a creative low point. The writers don’t understand the characters that they’re writing. They’re cranking out five hours of television on a weekly basis with no off season and no reruns. 52 weeks a year they have to produce these TV shows. Many of the wrestlers are unhappy, and now with AEW, they have someplace to go where they have a chance to make just as much money doing what they love and still be on national television each week.
For me, as a fan who just started watching a bit more than twenty years ago, it’s an interesting time. I still watch RAW and Smackdown each week. However, I find that the big attraction for me is that, at some point during the shows, I will be lulled into a deep, relaxing sleep. I’ll usually dose off during the first hour, and wake up refreshed about sixty minutes later. Then I’ll go online to read a recap and discover that I slept through something really, really dumb.
When I first started watching wrestling it was primarily so I’d know who the wrestlers were because I was writing a monthly action figure column for Toy Trader Magazine. I tuned in to Nitro one week and found it to be really bad, but the next week I watched RAW, and got hooked. The first episode I watched was when Mankind won the WWF Championship. I got so hooked that I started reading the “dirt sheets,” which at the time were mainly two weekly newsletters, one published by Dave Meltzer and one by Wade Keller. I also went to the occasional live event, but found that I prefer watching WWE on TV, and watching local shows like IWA East Coast or ASW in person.
I have to say, watching WWE crash and burn is fascinating. I’m reading the websites for the dirt sheets again for the first time in more than ten years. What’s happening backstage at WWE these days is so much more compelling than what they put on TV. Due to new television deals that start this fall, WWE is going to make more money over the next five years than they ever have before, but if they don’t make a major change they won’t be able to keep their gigantic TV deals in place when it comes time to renew those deals. While it’s cool to read about the behind-the-scenes mess, I’d rather have cool shows to watch that keep me awake.
It may take the success of AEW to make WWE change their creative process.Sort of like the rivalry with WCW propelled MCMahon to new heights back in the 1990s
AEW is basically the Khan family’s money bankrolling a group of former-WWE stars who teamed up with hot independent wrestlers. Last year, Cody Runnels (left), formerly known as “Cody Rhodes” in WWE, and the son of the legendary Dusty Rhodes, and brother of Goldust, teamed up with The Young Bucks, a tag team that was huge in Japan, and highly-sought-after by WWE, and produced an independent show in Chicago called “All In.”
They sold out a 12,000-seat arena in record time and snagged a PPV deal. The success of that show proved that there were fans who were hungry for an alternative to WWE.
Tony Khan (right) is a longtime wrestling fan from a very weatlhy family, and teamed up with this crew to form the nucleus of All Elite Wrestling. Former WWE Superstar Chris Jericho was brought on board to lend the company instant credibility, and they hired longtime WWE announcer, Jim Ross, as a creative consultant and lead voice for their broadcasts.
Jim Ross was criminally underused in WWE in recent years, having been bumped off the main broadcasts and given a “Legends” contract. He’s not the only very experienced backstage hire that AEW has scored at the expense of WWE. From agents like Billy Gunn and Dean Malenko to referee Earl Hebner, AEW is stacking the deck with people who know exactly what it takes to produced weekly wrestling shows on television.
Add to that AEW’s stated goal of making their show more sports-like, where wins and losses matter, and not wasting time on stupid backstage skits, and AEW stands a good chance of recapturing some of the millions of viewers that McMahon has driven off over the last eighteen years of his “We beat WCW!” victory lap.
Best of all, with there being no chance of WWE being driven completely out of business any time soon, they’ll be forced to react and improve their shows to retain a significant portion of their market share. They have had a virtual monopoly on Professional Wrestling for nearly two decades now, and finally having serious competition might finally force them to do their best, instead of just running on automatic.
It could turn out to be a “win-win” for fans of professional wrestling.