MIGUELITO ON WRESTLING
April 17, 2002
"Letters. I get letters. I get sacks and stacks of letters. LETTERS!" Surprisingly enough, the most common email I've been receiving lately are letters encouraging me to stop recapping classic wrestling altogether, and instead focus my efforts on analyzing the state of wrestling in the here and now. I have to admit, this caught me totally by surprise. I started recapping Golden Age of Wrestling becase I thought most people would enjoy pro wrestling's past as much as I do. And, while there are quite a few of you who DO want to relive the past, the overwhelming majority of you are much more interested in wrestling's Present.
I am still a bit torn on what to do. It took me a while to make a decision. I like the class shows, and I liked recapping those shows. On the other hand, since I can't seem to remember to set my VCR and cable box to actually record the show, I've missed quite a few recently. Which kinda made the decision for me. My decision? I've decided to declare a temporary hiatus on GAoW recaps. Someday in the not-too-distant future, I am going to get a TiVo. Once I get one and configure it correctly, I won't have to worry about missing GAoW. Until then, I'll stick to Raw and analysis of current events. Thank you for everyone who wrote in on this subject.
And now, to the matter at hand. I have mentioned in the past few articles I've written (both here at Slashwrestling.com and on my wrestling blog, http://miguelito.fierro.com/wrestling/blogger.html) that I see some major problems ahead for WWFE in regards to the "brand extension." I am assuming that WWFE has already considered these problems, and will work to address them. However, I haven't actually SEEN anything to indicate that the issues are being addressed. And so, as a public service to WWFE and pro wrestling fans everywhere, I am going to draw some attention to these problems, and offer solutions to those same problems.
The biggest problem that I see is probably attributable to over-optimism by WWFE. The McMahons assumed that, if people can only see half of their favorite wrestlers on any one show, then this would lead to MORE people watching both shows. Apparently, the idea goes something like, "People feel they don't need to watch Raw because they can see all of the good feuds on Smackdown. So, if we set it up so people can only see wrestlers X, Y, and Z on Raw, then more people will start watching Raw. And, conversely, if they can only see wrestlers A, B and C on Smackdown, then we'll have more people watching Smackdown."
(Let me point out here that I am over-simplifying a bit. The split is also supposed to cut down on over-saturation, and allow WWFE to better utitlize the MASSIVE talent roster they aquired with the purchase of what was left of WCW. But those are minor points, as is evidenced by the fact that both shows still rely heavily on the major stars, and give very little mic/match time to the rest of the roster.)
As I said, this is VERY optimistic. A more realistic point of view might go along the lines of, "Ratings will probably go up a bit, but we are also going to fracture the audience a bit. Some people will stop watching Smackdown all together since they don't care about wrestlers A, B and C, and just care about X, Y and Z." A *pessimistic* point of view would say, "You know, there are going to be people who don't get UPN, so they can only watch Raw. Now that wrestlers A, B and C aren't on Raw anymore, they are going to stop watching the product all together."
WWFE has apparently either not considered these two viewpoints, or has dismissed the viewpoints. Either way, I think that WWFE is making a HUGE mistake. Because both of these viewpoints are going to be true. People (say, Miguelito) are going to stop watching one or the other shows, simply because they won't have much reason to watch anymore if their favorite wrestlers are only one show. Others, those poor souls who love the Rock but don't have access to UPN in their area, ARE going to stop watching.
To ME, it seems more likely that WWFE is going to end up eroding their viewership. People are going to abandon one or the other show. Some people are going to abandon WWFE shows all together. And some are going to be "forced" to stop watching because of this extension. I actually don't have a solution to offer for this, but I think this is something that will eventually happen. The only question in my mind is: What show is going to suffer the most? *cough*SmackdownFinalRating3.5*cough*
The second major problem that I see are PPVs. I think this is something that WWFE *still* doesn't know the answer to. Obviously, they are going with a split PPV for Backlash. And I think it is just as obvious that this is a messy situation. The fact of the matter is, the WWF Title match is the highlight of any PPV. (Well, except for when Chris Jericho is the WWF Champion. Then a WWF title match doesn't mean much at all, apparently.) The show that is home to the participant in the WWF Title match is the show that appears to be most important to that PPV. The show that is not involved in the title match (ie Raw) is left to scrape up mid-level matches. This leads to a Not Very Good Situation.
I do have a solution to this: dedicate a PPV to each show! I don't mean double-up on PPVs. I mean alternate PPVs. Backlash should have belonged completely to Smackdown. Judgement Day could've then been a RAW PPV. Then have the four biggies (Wrestlemania, Summer Slam, Survivor Series, Royal Rumble) be staffed by wrestlers from both shows. Have the BIG two (Wrestlemania, Survivor Series) feature matches between the two shows.
This solution has at least three benefits: 1) It gives each show more time between PPVs to build up feuds and storylines. Instead of a feud coming and going in a month, it can be drawn out for two or three months before coming to a head on PPV. 2)It makes each show feel more like individual promotions. Right now, the shows feel like shows from the same company, but with only part of the cast allowed to participate. It's like watching a split-squad double header every week. That's not so good. Separate PPVs would be a great differentiator for the two brands. And 3)it would make the "BIG" PPVs even more special. Since you'd only get to see wrestlers from both shows on the same PPV once every three months, it would make those events even more memorable.
I am guessing that WWFE is not going to take my advice on this one. Which is sad; that really is a winning strategy.
The third major problem facing the brand extension are the championships. Right now, the championship situation is severely tilted in RAW's favor. RAW has two of the three most important championships in the company with the European and Intercontintal championships. And, of course, Raw has the Hardcore championship. Smackdown, on the other hand, has the Tag Team championships and the cruiserweight championship. Unfortunately, the Tag Team situation in WWFE has stagnated to the point that not many people care about the tag team titles (sad but true). And as for the cruiserweight title, most of Smackdown's biggest names cannot even compete for that title. Those who can (Jericho) won't, because it would be a step down for them.
The effect of this imbalance is going to be felt more and more as time goes by. Raw will continue to have excellent feuds leading up to title defenses by RVD and Regal (I don't expect Spike to walk out of Backlash with William's championship). This leads to structured feuds and storylines that make sense. Fans can understand why Eddie Guererro is chasing RVD, for example. Eddie wants to be Intercontinental Champion again. Sure, there's the frog splah thing, but most fans memories are so short that they didn't remember that Eddie used a frog splash. But chasing the title, THAT fans can understand.
On the other side of the coin is Smackdown. Without any singles gold for their top-tier wrestlers to go after, there isn't much for them to do. Rock, Angle and Jericho are directionless right now. Fortunately, Rock is off chasing a career in Hollywood, or there'd be one more Superstar stuck with nothing to do. Smackdown's main event storylines are going to continue to make less and less sense as time goes on, unless WWFE does something to correct this imbalance.
The answer to this is easy, of course. Move the European championship to Smackdown. Perhaps McMahon can trade someone for Regal after Regal wins the European championship. The means is not important. The results are; both shows should have an individual championship for their main-event stars to chase. WWFE could also create a new tag-team championship for Raw. Then each brand would have a singles title, a tag title, and a specialty championship. The specialty championship (Crusierweight for Smackdown, Hardcore for Raw) could also be used to differentiate the two shows. (Assuming that the cruiserweights get more than 3:00 of match time.)
The last problem that I see (at the current time, anyway) is differentiation. I've already hinted at this above, but both shows really need to find their own identity. At the current time, they are MUCH too much alike. Since both shows are using the same format right now (20-minute promo to open the show, lots of small skits throughout, culminated by a main event that ends in a schmozz), the only difference in the two shows are the people performing. Viewers are going to figure out pretty quickly that they are essentially watching the same show on Monday and Thursday nights, and are going to start turning the TV off on one of those nights. If not both.
WWFE needs to start differentiating the two shows ASAP. The initial Raw of the post-extension era was a good start. They started off the show with a match (who would've guessed that would happen on a WWFE show?), and the emphasis was much more on wrestling than on entertainment. (Well, except for the endless Vince McMahon skits.) Since the first show, however, Raw is back on the Smackdown format. And this needs to change.
WWFE had the right idea. Turn Raw into a show that highlights the actual in-ring aspects of Sports Entertainment. Reduce the amount of talk time on the show. Still let the wrestlers get promos in, but severely limit those promos. (Say, two minutes for mid-carders, 5 minutes for main eventers.) And then have the wrestlers start telling their stories IN THE RING. With the wealth of talent that Raw has right now, this should be an easy task. Austin, 'Taker, RVD, Guererro, Booker T, the Hardyz... these wrestlers are all masters at letting a story unfold in the ring itself. Take advantage of this, WWFE. Leave Smackdown as a mainly Entertainment-based sports entertainment show. Let the two shows be different, VERY different.
Those are the problems that I see at the current time. How will WWFE fix these problems? I think the more appropriate question is: does WWFE even care about these problems? Can they see these problems? Or are WWFE officials still wearing the same blinders that they word through February and March, where they basically sacrificed Wrestle-Freaking-Mania to get started on the Brand Extension. If WWFE continues to ignore these problems, though, then I think it won't be long before the Brand Extension goes the way of the WCW/ECW invasion and the XFL.