PopCult Rudy Panucci on Pop Culture

The RFC Flashback: Episode 188

This week we go back to late July, 2013, for an edition of Radio Free Charleston that was intended to promote that year’s ShockaCon, which happened two months later. Radio Free Charleston 188, “NU-TRA Shirt,” welcomed back two old friends to the show, but also showcased them in two venues which hadn’t been on our show before. We also had the first of a new batch of Frank Panucci’s compilations of public domain footage. The main thrust of this episode was to raise awareness of ShockaCon, which was coming up in less than two months for its second-go round.

Among the bands who performed at ShockaCon that year were our musical guests, The Nanker Phelge and HarraH. We recorded The Nanker Phelge at the still-being-built performance space at Dunbar Lanes. We got a cool punk vibe capturing the band in a venue that was far from renovated, and it’s a real shame that Dunbar Lanes didn’t get a fair chance to continue, since the completed venue was such a great place to catch live music. We recorded HARRAH at the ECMC “Kick Cancer For Kids” benefit show at the Eagles Club on Charleston’s West Side.

You can find the full production notes for this episode HERE.

The NYC Tour Diary: The Long-lost Part Six

The PopCulteer
June 7, 2019

Hey, remember how I was doing a tour diary of my trip to New York City early last month? Remember how I kept promising the photo essay of random stuff that would make up part six?

Well, I’ve finally gotten around to sorting through and editing the photos and writing the captions and stuff, so that’s what you’re getting for this week’s PopCulteer, exactly one month and two days after I got back from this trip. It’s been a bit hectic, and I apologize for the delay.

We had a lot of fun during our brief stay, despite the debacle that was our ill-fated attempt at booking a room at The Element Hotel, on West 38th Street, the worst hotel on the planet. Today’s photo essay will present some images from Rockefeller Center, a few from Times Square (like the shot at right), some iconic buildings, plus a few other cool things we saw. Instead of linking captions to the photos, we just put them in blocks of text below. Our blogging interface won’t let us have nice things.

You will be seeing more images from New York in altered, painted, or drawn form, in Monday Morning Art for the next few weeks. If you are so inclined, you can read my previous NYC tour diary entries at the following links:  Our horrible expeirence with the Element hotel can be found HERE; My review of King Lear can be found HERE; A photo essay about the new FAO Schwarz can be found HERE; Photos from our trip on the TopView bus can be found HERE; And my review of All My Sons can be found HERE.

But these, this is just photos…

 

Among many other things, Times Square is just one huge, surreal photo op.

 

There’s just something majestic about Coca Cola ads that are hundreds of feet tall.

 

In front of the Port Authority Bus Terminal we found a life-size statue of Ralph Kramden.  A matching statue of Alice Kramden is located on the moon.

Continue reading…

A Weekend Filled With Stuff To Do

We are semi-officially into the summer rush season, where every weekend will have multitudes of cool things in which Kanawha Countians may choose to indulge. This week you have everything from live music, to food on wheels, choppers galore, dance, theatre auditions, cake, women’s clothing and wrestling–not all at once, though.  It all starts Thursday night and runs through Saturday. Just check out the graphics…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 2019 Tony Awards Ceremony will be broadcast live on CBS This Sunday, June 9, at 8 PM. A few weeks ago Mel Larch presented a couple of shows devoted to the Tony Awards. You can listen at the website, or on this embedded radio player…

At 3 PM Mel Larch presents a replay of an hour of great musical theater on Curtain Call. It’s our third annual Tony Awards preview, with songs from each of the nominated musicals, presented just one day after they were announced.

In this show you will hear multiple songs from each of the nominees for Best Musical: Hadestown, The Myth, The Musical; Beetlejuice The Musical, The Musical, The Musical; Tootsie; Ain’t Too Proud To Beg: The Life and Times of The Temptations; and The Prom. We also have one song each from the revivals of Kiss Me Kate and Oklahoma.

Wednesday afternoon on The AIR, you can hear samples of the nominees for this year’s Tony Awards for Best Musical and Best Revival of a Musical.

After the new hour of Curtain Call, stick around for two additional episodes from the Curtain Call archives: an hours of music from past Tony Winners, and in the third hour of our weekly Curtain Call block you can hear an encore of the show that featured nominees for 2017.  Curtain Call can be heard Wednesday at 3 PM, with replays Thursday at 7 AM and Saturday at 6 PM. An all-night marathon of Curtain Call episodes can be heard Wednesday nights, beginning at Midnight.

This all follows a new episode of Beatles Blast, at 2 PM. At 2 PM on Beatles Blast, yours truly hosts the second of a ten-part look at rare and unreleased music by The Beatles. For most of the summer, Beatles Blast will follow this format and bring you The Lost Beatles Project. This will be a treat for the die-hard fans as we mine the best of the recently-released archive projects by the band, and mix in rare releases and wild remixes from their band and solo years. We won’t be posting playlists for these shows because the whole point is that each of these programs will be a revelatory surprise.

Beatles Blast can be heard every Wednesday at 2 PM, with replays Thursday at 9 PM, Friday at 11 AM, Sunday at 5 PM and Tuesdays at 9 AM, exclusively on The AIR.

Encore Classics On The AIR

If that headline looks to you like yet another euphemism for reruns, you are correct. It’s also an old name for a brand of TV dinners.  Your PopCulteer’s dilated eye exam from last Friday, which wears off for most people in a couple of hours, took me out of commission for most of three days.

That’ll happen when you have Myasthenia Gravis and a paralyzing agent is administered directly to one of your affected areas. I was back at work yesterday, but had so much stuff to dig my way out from under that I did not have time to record new radio shows for today. Add to that planned repeats of Curtain Call tomorrow, and a scheduled repeat week for the Haversham shows, and it looks like the only new programs we’ll have for you on The AIR this week are Beatles Blast on Wednesday and RFC International on Friday.

You can still tune in at the website, or on this embedded radio player…

As for our reruns, I can assure you that we will only use the finest, USDA Grade-A repeats of our musical programs this week. Hey, if I’m going to rerun shows, I can rerun the jokes I make about them.

Tuesday, you can hear the four most recent episodes of Radio Free Charleston at 10 AM and at 10 PM we’ll replay episode 107. These shows are loaded with new music from Fletcher’s Grove, Beggars Clan, Kevin Scarbrough, The Heavy Editors and more.  The Swing Shift will replay two great recent episodes from a couple of months ago at 3 PM.

On Wednesday at 3 PM Curtain Call will present an encore of recent shows devoted to The Tony Awards. The lead off show features an hour showcase of this year’s nominees for best musical  That follows a new Beatles Blast, which is part two of The Lost Beatles Project and is a new show that runs at 2 PM.

Your PopCulteer should be back in regular work mode next week, and we plan to bring you new editions of all of our shows.

 

Monday Morning Art: A Short Tall Building

 

We’re still in New York City, in terms of our weekly dose of art, and this week I bring you a digital painting that was sort o slopped out on Saturday, when I was still recovering from having my eyes dilated, and couldn’t look at my computer screen for more than a couple of minutes at a time. While I was standing in Rockefeller Plaza, I looked over past the NBC studios across West 49th Street, and saw an impressive tall building, that was dwarfed framed between two even taller buildings  I took a quick photo for reference, and decided to do my digital painting on a new layer over top of it.  That’s what you have here. I think it looks pretty cool. You can click the image to see it bigger.

Meanwhile, Monday on The AIR, this week we bring you four episodes of Six Degrees of Separation, an interview program that was recorded at The Empty Glass, hosted by Tim Starkey and Jason Robinson. The guests on these four shows, which spotlight local musicians are Aaron Fisher, Lee Harrah, Chris Ojeda and John Inghram.  That starts at 7 AM. At 3 PM we bring you eight hours of Sydney’s Big Electric Cat, filling The AIR with crunchy New Wave goodness. Then at 11 PM we kick it over to Prognosis, with eight hours of great progressive rock.

You can listen to The AIR at the website, or on this embedded radio player…

Sunday Evening Video: Fernwood 2 Night

A couple of weeks ago ABC paid tribute to 96-year-old Norman Lear by producing karaoke versions of two of the television shows he created, All In The Family and The Jeffersons. Lear was responsible for many innovative TV shows, but one of his more obscure works was a talk/variety show parody that was created in 1977 so that his syndicated daily soap opera parody, Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman could take the summer off. A spin-off/summer replacement program is odd enough, but for it to be a different format too makes Fernwood 2 Night a true television oddball.

Fernwood 2 Night was a fake talk show hosted by fictional characters from a soap opera parody, and that might seem like a bizarre premise for a TV show. Hosted by Martin Mull as “Barth Gimble,” the twin brother of the character “Garth Gimble,” who had been killed off earlier on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, his sidekick was Jerry Hubbard, played by Fred Willard, another regular character from the Mary Hartman show.  Set in the fictional hometown of Mary Hartman, Fernwood, the show featured guests who were played by regulars on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, as well as other recurring characters created for Fernwood 2 Night, usually played by improv comedians, many of whom went on to greater fame afterward.

Although the show was created by Norman Lear, it was developed and produced by Alan Thicke, years before he had a real talk show, and listed Harry Shearer (Spinal Tap, The Simpsons) and Pat Proft (Police Squad, Police Academy) among its creative consultants. Fernwood 2 Night only ran for 65 episodes. The following year, when it was time for a summer replacement for Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, a storyline was created that saw the show moved to Southern California (they claimed to be broadcasting from “Alta Coma, the unfinished furniture capital of the world!”) and became America 2 Night. This move allowed them to have more celebrities on the show as themselves, instead of playing characters from Fernwood.

Decades before The Larry Sanders Show and The Colbert Report, Fernwood 2 Night showed that a fake talk show could be very entertaining. Today it’s an odd curio of 1970s comedic timing, filled with recognizable faces (the episode above has Dabney Coleman, playing his character from Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman), with large amounts of improv comedy sprinkled throughout. With only 65 episodes (and 65 more, for America 2 Night), Fernwood 2 Night does not get shown regularly, nor is it currently available on any streaming service. It’s not even available as a legal DVD release. Maybe that can change in the future. For now all we have is low-quality video dubs of one complete episode, and a few clips on YouTube.

The RFC Flashback: Episode 187

This week we go back to July, 2013, for the seventh anniversary show of Radio Free Charleston. We didn’t do a huge celebration of this landmark, but we came up with a very special episode nonetheless. Usually we feature local artists on our show, but for this episode we took a bit of a departure. We went to visit Dave Roberts’ house on Montrose Avenue in South Charleston, where we witnessed a house concert by two internationally renowned musicians.

Our cameras were invited in that night for an amazing house concert featuring two virtuoso musicians:  From Nashville, bassist Sean O’Bryan Smith and from Cleveland, guitar wizard, Neil Zaza. They were joined by drummer Garrett Janos to form an amazing progressive power trio, The Monsters Under The Bed. “Formed” is the key word. Prior to the performance seen in this episode of RFC, Sean and Neil had not only never played together…they’d never met in person until the afternoon of this house concert, when they showed up at Dave’s house.

Dave has been on our show numerous times as a member of The Nanker Phelge, Trielement and other bands. For this show, Dave and his lovely wife, Lisa, opened the doors to their house and turned their living room into a concert venue.

Sean is an acclaimed solo artist, but is also an in-demand session musician, having played or toured with Keith Urban, Darius Rucker, Lady Antebellum, Rascal Flatts, Kenny Rogers, Billy Ray Cyrus and Malcom Jamal-Warner, to name just a few. Neil is also an acclaimed solo artist who pioneered the “melodic instrumental rock” genre with his breakthrough hit, “I’m Alright.”. His “One Silent Night” concerts have become an annual holiday tradition in Cleveland, and he has recorded with Dweezil Zappa, Eric Carmen, Michael Stanley and Stewart Copeland.

It was a real treat meeting the guys and it’s an honor to have them on Radio Free Charleston for our seventh video anniversary. To be honest, we didn’t really have anything planned for the anniversary show that year before this epic house concert fell into our laps. Check out the full production notes HERE.

The Eyes Have It, And Other Stuff

The PopCulteer
May 31, 2019

After our long post about professional wrestling, which went live in the wee hours of this morning, your PopCulteer is pretty much exhausted. Add to that the fact that he has to write this ahead of time because Friday is the day of his annual dilated eye exam, and you’ll just have to pardon me if today’s column is just a tad skimpy.

The Teal Ribbon

June is Myasthenia Gravis Awareness Month, and that means I trot out the teal ribbon and talk about my illness again. It starts tomorrow, folks.

Three years ago I was diagnosed with MG, and you can read all about it by going to the search window at the right of this text, and entering “Myasthenia Gravis.” In short, it’s an auto-immune disorder that makes my muscles unresponsive to the nerves signals which are meant to trigger them.

I am still doing very well managing my disease, and am very lucky to have an extremely mild case. Sometimes my fingers get weak, and sometimes my eyes get weak (and I get double vision). I had adjusted to having paralyzed hands and crossed eyes, so the real challenge has been adjusting to the meds to give me back the use of my fingers and lessen the double vision.

In fact, it was eighteen months of one of those medicines (Prednisone) that caused me to experience rapidly-growing cataracts, which is one big reason I have my eye exam today. Two years ago I had cataract surgery and toric implants, so my vision is better than it ever has been in my life.

It’s just that my eyes don’t point in the same direction all the time.

I have other fun things happen. Some of the meds aggravate my dyslexia, which is my excuse for all the typos you might find here in PopCult. They also make me require sleep, so it’s much harder to get out and shoot video of local bands, or even attend late-night shows. I miss that, but having good health makes it a decent trade-off.

Aside from that, I’m doing great. Please make yourself aware of Myasthenia Gravis, and if you know somebody who does have MG, please treat them with kindness and respect.

Update on My Autopsy

I wrote about the local movie, My Autopsy, a couple of weeks ago. With just over ten days left, their Kickstarter campaign to help finish production on the film is still in need of contributions.  Check out my original article HERE, and follow the widget below to find out more…

Today on The AIR

Check out what’s on The AIR, as Friday  sees new episodes of Radio Free Charleston International and Sydney’s Big Electric Cat. You can listen at the website, or on this embedded radio player…

Friday mornings now kick off with a 7 AM replay of the week’s new episode of Prognosis, followed by Word Association with Lee & Rudy at 9 AM and The BS Crazy Show at 9:30. This one-hour combo of Word Association and The BS Crazy Show will repeat at 9 PM, for those of you who don’t want to listen to these NSFW programs at work.

At 10 AM The AIR will broadcast The Best of The Real with Mark Wolfe. At 11 AM we’ll bring you a replay of this week’s Beatles Blast, followed by an hour of The AIR Music Mix.

Then at 1 PM we will debut the week’s new edition of Radio Free Charleston International. This week it’s a mixtape presentation of what your PopCulteer has been listening to for the last few weeks. You think I’m kidding? Check out this playlist…

RFC International 066

Jon Anderson “Ramalama”
Adrian Belew “Take Five Deep Breaths”
Harry Nilsson “Coconut”
Chess At Breakfast “The Senate Needs A Nightcap”
Dizzy Mystics “Jaunter”
David Byrne “Lazy”
Norah Jones “It Was You”
Eveline’s Dust “Rain Over Gentle Travellers”
Ringo Starr “Without Understanding”
Manfred Mann’s Earth Band “Blinded By The Light”
Camel “Lady Fantasy”
John Wetton “Be Careful What You Wish For”
The Wrong Object “Mr. Green Genes/King Kong”
Claypool Lennon Delirium “Blood and Rockets”
Greenslade “Sundance”
The Beat “Dangerous”
Gryphon “Haddock’s Eyes”
Fantasy “Widow”

Radio Free Charleston International is the show where I play whatever I want, and you can hear RFC International Friday at 1 PM, with replays Friday at  10 PM, Saturday afternoon, Sundat at 1 AM and 2 PM and Tuesday at 11 PM, exclusively on The AIR.

At 3 PM Sydney’s Big Electric Cat presents a special salute to Duran Duran, with two solid hours of early music by the band, dating back to their New Wave Music roots. It’s two full hours of some of the biggest hits of the MTV era. Just check the playlist:

Big Electric Cat 045

Duran Duran Special

“The Relfex”
“Is There Something I Should Know”
“Rio”
“Planet Earth”
“Lonely In Your Nightmare”
“Notorious”
“New Moon On Monday”
“A View To A Kill”
“Careless Memories”
“My Own Way”
“Cracks In The Pavement”
“Friends Of Mine”
“The Edge Of America”
“Tiger Tiger”
“Hungry Like The Wolf”
“Night Boat”
“Union Of The Snake”
“New Religion”
“Last Chance On The Stairway”
“Vertigo (Do The Demolition)”
“Hold Back The Rain”
“Of Crime And Passion”
“Anyone Out There”
“Skin Trade”
“Shadows On Your Side”
“Girls On Film”
“Save A Prayer”

Sydney’s Big Electric Cat is produced at Haversham Recording Institute in London, and can be heard every Friday at 3 PM, with replays Saturday afternoon, Tuesday at 7 AM, Wednesday at 8 PM and Thursday at Noon, exclusively on The AIR. Every Monday at 3 PM, we bring you four classic episodes of Sydney’s Big Electric Cat, just so you can be all New Wave-y when you get home from work.

That is it for this week’s PopCulteer. Please check PopCult for all our regular features this weekend, as your humble correspondent spends a day or three in a dark room waiting for his irises to start working again.

 

Last weekend there was a seismic shift on the professional wrestling landscape. Double or Nothing was the debut pay per view from All Elite Wrestling, a new company formed by a group of maverick wrestlers and financed by the billionaire Khan family, who also own the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars and London’s Fulham Football Club.

For the first time since WWE purchased WCW, back in 2001, Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Entertainment has real competition. This can only be good for fans of professional wrestling.

McMahon has a reputation as a mad genius, who took a dying, regionalized industry and turned it into a huge pop culture phenomenon, making billions of dollars in the process. Starting the in 1980s McMahon systematically bought out all the smaller regional wrestling federations and took his company, which had been based in the Northeast, national. Along the way he created Wrestlemania and a large roster of colorful wrestlers who became household names, something which hadn’t happened since the early days of television in the 1950s and early 1960s.

His success drew the attention of another mad genius, Ted Turner, who decided to buy one of McMahon’s last surviving competitors, Jim Crockett Promotions, and rename it “World Championship Wrestling,” after his long-running wrestling program on his Superstation, WTBS. McMahon launched Monday Night RAW in January, 1993 on the USA Network, bringing wrestling back to prime time for the first time in a long time, and within a couple of years, Turner, who had been hiring away McMahon’s top stars with insanely lucrative contracts, decided to go head-to-head with RAW by programming WCW Nitro in the same timeslot on TNT.

Books have been written about the ensuing “Monday Night Wars,” and more will be written in the future, but the gist is this: Nitro eventually surpassed RAW in the ratings, beating them for 83 consecutive weeks, before the tide turned and RAW became the dominant show behind new stars like Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, HHH, The Undertaker and the whole “Attitude Era.” It’s looked on as the golden age of RAW by many fans, and was reportedly the most successful period of the company in terms of ticket sales and merchandise. Truth be told, the battle between what was then the WWF and WCW got more people interested in wrestling than ever before.

At the end of the battle, WCW was undone by inept management, with its demise hastened by the merger of Ted Turner’s Turner Communications with Time Warner. As Turner’s power diminished in the new, larger corporation, the pride factor that drove Turner to take on McMahon became a non-issue. When Time Warner merged with AOL, bean counters started counting all the beans, and discovered that WCW was hemmoraging money due to those insanely lucrative contracts I mentioned earlier. Wrestlers were being paid tens of millions of dollars to sit at home, while Nitro was sinking in the ratings because none of their storylines made any sense, and the company was now being run by people who didn’t understand the basics of professional wrestling.

Vince McMahon (right) won the Monday Night War, not because he was a mad genius, but because the other mad genius got tired, sold his business, and quit. WCW had unwittingly done McMahon the biggest favor in the world by hiring away his aging talents, and making the rest of their acquired roster look horrible with lousy booking. McMahon was forced to build up new stars and lucked into a run of really compelling storylines that attracted more fans than ever.

On May 10, 1999, RAW achieved it’s highest-rating ever, as it drew close to ten milion viewers over the course of the show.

In 2001, Time Warner decided to cut their losses (which were over a hundred million dollars a year by that point) and cancelled the WCW programming on the Turner networks, and also sold WCW and it’s tape library, some wrestlers contracts and intellectual property to Vince McMahon.

Almost immediately, the quality of WWE (then WWF, I’ll get to that later) programming began to decline. Many of the talents in the ring and behind the scenes who contributed to WCW’s downfall were brought in to work at WWE. Storylines stagnated, stopped making sense, and in far to many cases were simply dropped with no resolution. Vince McMahon was busy taking a victory lap, and the WWE shows fell into a formula, one that was providing diminishing returns.

It is to McMahon’s credit that, during an eighteen-year period when ratings for his flagship show have posted year-to-year declines every single year, he managed to take his company public, make billions of dollars, and expand it even further with its own streaming service. The man and his family are wealthier than ever. This is the “genius” part of the “mad genius” on display.

For the “mad” part of that, we have plenty of evidence too. For instance, a completely unnecessary legal battle with the World Wildlife Fund ended badly as McMahon was forced to rebrand the “World Wrestling Federation” as “World Wrestling Entertainment,” when he refused to share the initials and lost a court battle over them. Further evidence of McMahon’s madness can be seen every week on RAW and Smackdown! Live, as the shows no longer make any sense.

WWE currently has the largest and most talented roster of wrestlers ever assembled in history, and they can’t get people to keep watching their flagships shows because the storylines are stupid and nonsensical. A recent example is the lead-up to their Money In The Bank Pay Per View. This event happens every year. Six to eight talented wrestlers compete in a brutal ladder match for a chance to capture a briefcase that holds a contract which can be cashed in at any time in the following year for a shot at the main championship title.

Like I said, this show happens every year. They know this and have plenty of time to develop stories for the wrestlers involved. However this year they didn’t even bother to hold any qualifying matches, which are a popular feature of the shows leading up to the match. They just named random wrestlers. Then in the weeks after naming them, they had two wrestlers face challenges for their spot. There was no logic to this. Making matters worse, at the actual match, one competitor was incapacitated beforehand, while the other seven wrestlers worked their asses off, and just as Ali, a young crowd favorite, was about to get the briefcase, Brock Lesnar, a crossover WWE/UFC star of some magnitude, runs in, knocks Ali off the ladder, and seizes the Money In The Bank contract.

He did that even though he wasn’t in the match. Also, fans have been sick of Lesnar for two or three years, at least, and wish he would go away.

You can only do that Lucy Van Pelt booking thing so many times before people just lose interest and quit watching. And that’s what has been happening. WWE is losing audience to videogames, Netflix, news programming, and ironically to their own WWE Network, a streaming service that gives viewers access to thousands of hours of classic wrestling programs, including the episodes of RAW and Nitro that, combined, originally drew five times as many viewers as RAW does now. I know people who, every Monday night, sit down with the WWE Network and watch the episode of RAW that aired twenty years earlier, instead of watching the new, live show.

It’s not just fans who are frustrated with WWE’s booking. The talent is getting fed up, and with AEW now in place, complete with a weekly TV show on TNT beginning this fall, WWE is not in a good place. When faced with competition from WCW, McMahon lost his top wrestlers like Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Scott Hall, Kevin Nash and Lex Luger. This time he’s not losing wrestlers who have already peaked. He losing guys who could sell out arenas for years to come.

Dean Ambrose (who is now using the name “Jon Moxley,” which was the name he used when he wrestled locally for IWA East Coast), turned down a contract extension worth millions so that he could go elsewhere. His character had been so badly written for the past several years that he’d already decided not to renew his contract last July. As Deam Ambrose, Moxley was one of the top stars in WWE. A member of The Shield Faction, along with Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins (seen right), he was a top merchandise-seller for the company and was so popular with fans that they didn’t respond when WWE tried to turn him into a bad guy. He was extremely unhappy, to the point of feeling sick and depressed when it was time to go to do the television shows.

He’s detailed all this in an interview with former WWE Superstar and current AEW top dog, Chris Jericho on Jericho’s podcast (which you can listen to below this paragraph). Moxley gives several examples of how he had to fight to not do or say stupid things on the air, and how he usually lost those battles. It became so bad that he had to walk away, despite the fact that his wife, Renee Young, is one of the lead announcers on RAW.

Moxley’s story is typical of the frustration many WWE Superstars are facing, as they have to fight harder backstage to get to do good material, and usually wind up tapping out to Vince and getting stuck with drivel. Now when their contracts are up they can walk out the door, and then you get this…

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.