There are a lot of areas in my life where, even though I’m a part of something, I don’t find myself completely fitting in. And one of those areas is being a professional wrestling fan. I frequently find myself disagreeing with a lot of the popular opinions spouted within the infamous “Internet Wrestling Community.” I even had to voluntarily leave a wrestling fan Facebook group because it was nothing but talk about how horrible John Cena and WWE are today and how much better the so-called “Attitude Era” of wrestling was. I just don’t find myself going along with those views.
Keep that in mind as I will look to post an article on wrestling prior to the WWE Pay-Per-View event each month, much like how I will post a recap of the event afterward in my persona of The Wrestling Mark. Many of these articles will likely be done in a devil’s advocate tone, where I will try to state a point of view that will often be quite different than what is usually stated on the Internet.
As the Royal Rumble, the so-called start to the “Road to WrestleMania,” approaches, the wrestling fan base seems to be as on edge as ever. Storylines they don’t like and and matches that seem repetitive are leading them to do everything short of predicting the end times for their brand of sport, saying how WWE is on the verge of collapse like WCW was in 2000 and the only way it can be saved is for Vince McMahon to step completely away from running the operation, which he shows no indication of doing any time soon.
Now, I’m not out-and-out absolving Vince of all responsibility here, just saying that he’s not the only one that the finger can be pointed at. Because there are people that Vince himself has to answer to, and that would be the higher-ups at the TV Networks like USA.
It’s easy to blame all of WWE’s problems on an owner/promoter who is approaching 70 years old and seems to be stuck in the past. And there may very well be some truth to that. But if there’s one group of people that are even more stuck in the ways of falling back to the status quo and overused tropes, it’s television network executives, which is why it’s totally believable to think that the USA network is meddling in Vince’s affairs just as much as he’s accused of meddling in Triple H’s. In fact, Vince dealing with meddling executives has always been an issue WWE has had, from Kay Koplovitz constantly whining about the content of the Attitude Era to Spike TV muting out all references to USA on Raw’s last night on their network. And as long as WWE is dependent on their time slots to air its flagship program, the network has the ultimate Sword of Damocles hanging over Vince’s company.
The more I think of it, the simplest thing WWE could do that could turn things around is cut Raw back down to two hours. That would mean an average of four hours a month – more than 50 a year – of content they don’t have to produce. Less matches and spots the wrestlers have to work – and the writers have to create – would mean being able to save their best stuff for the PPVs, along with reducing wear and tear.
Sadly, this is not likely to happen any time soon. Because from what I have read/heard, making Raw a three-hour show was more the directive of the USA Network rather than WWE’s. It makes sense the network would desire this more, given how much greater Raw’s ratings usually are for pretty much the network’s original programming and the fact that networks all over are putting more of a premium on live programming . The fact that wrestling is usually their highest-rated program is is the dirty little truth the network brass wishes wasn’t true, because they still view the product as too “lowest common denominator” for even them.
That’s why they want to try and make it more “legit” by forcing the other factor that many wrestling fans aren’t very keen on: Guest stars. Yeah, you didn’t like it when Kathy Lee and Kelly Ripa had a tea party in the ring? Point the blame at the network for that one. WWE has always had celebrity appearances since Vinnie Mac took over, but they usually were involved with the wrestling shorelines, and when it was people like Mister T or even Mike Tyson, it worked. I’m willing to bet it’s not Vince’s desire to have people like Al Sharpton taking up his show’s air time to shill something not related to wrestling.
Thus, the attitude the TV networks have toward wrestling really haven’t changed much in years. They will continue to use the ratings the programming generates to boost their ad rates while griping/mocking the production behind the scenes. And of course, it would only take one Jaime Kellner-like personality to dump the TV time altogether on the claim that wrestling is too low-class for the network altogether.
This is why my gut feeling is that even if Vince did relent to retiring and letting Triple H run everything, it wouldn’t guarantee much better of a product. Because for all the praise the IWC can give to Triple H’s pet project NXT and how much better the wrestling and storylines are, the sad truth is that something like NXT is not what the USA Network wants. Jim Cornette has said he’s not sure Triple H would be successful completely running WWE because he hasn’t proven he can constantly deal with network execs or stockholders. And those aren’t going away should Vince do so.
These are among the reasons why I think the WWE is so dug into selling the WWE Network. I would imagine their ultimate goal is to be able to distribute Raw and SmackDown themselves completely without the meddling middleman of a TV network. Can that ever happen? I can’t say for certain it ever will, but I also can’t be sure it’s impossible. We will just have to wait and see.
In the meantime, we can always hope that the Royal Rumble can be the start of a turnaround. If Daniel Bryan wins the Rumble, goes on to win back the championship at WrestleMania and this time can stay healthy long enough to carry the brand, maybe the fans will finally be appeased.
Of course, that may still lead to the IWC eventually turning on Bryan and saying he was overused and it’s killing the product.
Because it does seem like no matter how WWE is doing, the Smarks just want to complain.