Billy Bob Kane
REALLY VERY SIMPLE
I guess it would be folly for me to write an article about how to fix the WWF, how to bump up ratings, because everybody with a computer, an e-mail account and a bus pass had belched up a theory on that. However one thing I think that no one on the net has really done, is sit back and write an essay on just when the WWF started in this direction, when it started to go bad, why this variable made everything go bad, and how to fix that. You might scoff at the use of the word 'essay', but to be honest, I think in reality the best articles are essays. All my articles, my opinion columns or whatever you want to call them, make a statement and some point and the body of the articles seek to prove that point. In 'Jim Ross Hates Blacks' I made a huge and controversial statement, but I backed it up and did my best to prove it correct. So really, these wrestling pieces are essays as much as anything else. My thesis here, is really quite simple. There was a key historical event in WWF history that triggered the fiduciary lull the WWF seems to be in or at least more than randomly headed for. Before I get to the event, I will go back to a tidy, happy time in wrestling history. The calm before the proverbial storm, as it were.
The year was 1998. It was solid. Far more solid than 1997 had been. Business was good. The hottest babyface in the business was Stone Cold Steve Austin, and he was by spring already the WWF Champion. Austin V.S. McMahon, the hottest feud poppin' in the Wrestling Universe, was in its prime. All was well with the world, if the truth be shouted out. Ratings were only going up, and the upward trend continued into 1999. And so, the WWF, being the none-too-intelligent company that it can potentially be at times decides to make a gaff. It started with the Heat experiment in 1998. An additional hour of first-run WWF programming, taped with RAW on Monday nights for a live show, and Tuesday nights for the following weeks programming, and aired on Sunday nights. It was cool at the time. It got you pumped for the following Raw. It was refreshing and it got some faces on TV that may not have always gotten seen in the two hours of Raw. One might say, and many did say, that the Heat experiment worked. People watched the show. It got hot ratings right into 1999. Rock and Mankind, the empty arena match was a huge hit. Cool. McMahon takes a page out of DDP's book and administers a 'self high five'.
Anyone who's ever had a drink knows what it is like to get a buzz on. The WWF got its buzz on with the Heat deal. Unlike a smart drinker, however, the WWF didn't know when to say when. They decided that if three beers got a nice buzz goin', twice as many would be just as good. And six beers, well, Canadian beers anyway, doesn't get you a buzz, but rather gets you waking up naked in an alleyway with a sore asshole and a pile of used condoms next to you. In other words, it doesn't end up being worth it.
Twice as many beers. Twice as many extra hours of first-run wrestling programming. Yes, you know what I mean. I'm talking about Smackdown. Just because an end-of-the-weekend extra prime time hour did well did not necessarily mean two full extra hours in the middle of the week would do well. Not necessarily, of course, but it did do well, turned out. Heat was changed in terms of format to adapt to the extra hours. Smackdown was a hit. Raw was a hit. WCW was not so much a hit anymore. Vince McMahon masturbated gleefully at his victory, forgetting that a Thursday show, opposite Thunder, proved him a hypocrite, since he had bitched a few years earlier about Nitro being placed opposite Raw. He even went so far as to label that move an 'attempt to run the WWF out of business' and who could forget, part of Ted Turner's 'vendetta' against the WWF and his 'obsession' to 'destroy' it. Ookay Vinnie. It was business, not personal. Haven't you seen the Godfather yet? And just what was your move to oppose Thunder, when you knew it had no chance? At least WCW had the balls to take on the WWF on Mondays when the WWF was neck-and-neck with them. Man, Vince can be a hypocrite.
Anyway, the point is four hours of free TV is a high demand. We're not talking about 1985, ladies and germs. This isn't going to be Iron Mike Sharpe being fed to Austin and Freddy Joe Floyd being fed to Angle to get fans pumped for Austin/Angle. This is Angle and Austin opposing each other in tag-matches to build for a PPV. It's not easy to keep that fresh for long. Extra TV makes everything get stale faster, much like leaving the refrigerator door open. They doubled their product output ladies and germs! Think about that! Honestly, if Microsoft just decided, because they're on a "hot streak", to double what they produce, someone would call them on it for what it is. Fucking retarded. The WWF does it, and we lap it up. But that had to get old eventually, it had to start to suck soon. There is no way around that, there is no way to keep that fresh forever. It rushes everything.
Angles used to play out over the course of a year. Guys would feud for six months at a time, and the jobbers and lack of high-intensity compelling TV made it possible to do this. I'm not saying we should return to this, we can't, it's totally impossible. But why do you think the first golden age of the WWF lasted from 1985-1991? That's six years. This second golden age is dying already, and it only started up in 1998. Three years and we're losing steam? That isn't very reassuring. If you learn you can really run, sure, don't walk. The way of the eighties would be walking. But don't run and run and run and not pace yourself, because then, you fall flat on your ass and don't even finish the race.
It was too much. I dare you to show me any television show that can do this. Be it sport or entertainment. Do you think Friends or Frasier would be able to market four hours of first-run television a week, all-year round, without reruns? Hell no, it wouldn't. That would get old. People would find it repetitive, stale, and they would start to not be entertained. One could even argue, that unless completely and undeniably enthralled by it, most people wouldn't even have the time to watch all that. Two hours was perfect, it made you want more and more, and three hours was still solid. Four hours is too much. The pace of WWF programming for the last year has been telling us we have to watch it. We owe it to the WWF superstars who break their bodies for us. There's another reason things are drooping now. The WWF used to be cool because we knew we weren't supposed to be watching it, we knew it was corrupting some kid somewhere out there. Now RAW and SMACKDOWN! are about as daring as Felicity and as cutting edge as the Rosie O'Donnell show.
But the WWF doesn't think of its fans as intelligent. They don't think of their fans as important, or in need of mental stimulation to enjoy something. The WWF assumed that regardless of how stale it got, it was going to be good enough for the fans. No other show's producers would ever, ever make so arrogant an assumption. If you need evidence of this, look at how the WWF treats house shows. As if they never existed, that's how. They market the Rock's first match back with Shane McMahon, even when the Rock clearly wrestled the night before at a house show. They think this doesn't matter, they think this is irrelevant because wrestling but it's not. The WWF lies to our faces, and must assume, judging by the boldness and blatant nature of these lies, that we are too stupid to care about it.
Nothing could market this many hours of television. You can say football, but even football has teams, any sport has teams in specific, high population density markets, and each individual market has one game a week that generally draws great numbers. Football has less televised games than both baseball and hockey, and gasp, shock of shocks, it's more popular than either in the United States.
Nothing, no matter how venerable, can survive with that kind of over-exposure. Nothing. I don't even think most people would watch four hours a week of porn. And Vinny K wants to believe, in his heart of hearts, that he has created something, a breed of "superstar", that is beyond what exists in other realms. "Wrestlemania all-day-long", the special they had on PPV all day leading into Wrestlemania 2000 featured many, many interviews with big Vince. And he said, and I quote, in reference to celebrity involvement in the Wrestlemania franchise: "It's ironic now, because today, truly, the WWF superstars are the celebrities, far and above, what Hollywood can produce." Huh? What the fuck is he talking about? Let's take the Christ of wrestling right now, the Rock, and compare to even a moderately popular Hollywood creation, like say, Russell Crowe. Still, regardless of the fact that Crowe, like Rocko, has been involved in some highly public occurrences, for every person that knows Rock, I guarantee you two know who Crowe is. WWF performers are not anywhere near Hollywood actors. I can name a dozen actors who can make an audience feel what they're feeling, and take them on that ride with them, and about three wrestlers that can do that right now. (By the way, RVD's not one of them.)
McMahon has an inferiority complex. He was an abused child, according to his Playboy interview, so that comes with the package, I suppose. But this said complex causes McMahon to make foolish business decisions. He can herald his 'superstars' as the best in the world, but in so doing, if the man doesn't realize people snicker harder at that than at the prospect of wrestling being legit, he's short-sighted and foolhardy.
I watch Smackdown because I really want to. I, however, am a freak. I live and breathe wrestling. I used to watch three hours of Nitro, two hours of Thunder, one hour of WCW Saturday Night, two hours of Raw, two hours of Smackdown, an hour of heat, and an hour of ECW on TNN every week. I watched twelve hours of wrestling a week, and watched tapes of classic matches and a pair of PPV's a month. I did this, and liked it. But again, I'm a freak. Most people can only take so much. And anyone, anyone in any form of entertainment, be is sport or other, will tell you that the trick to getting the people behind you and getting a popular show out there is to 'leave them wanting more'. Take that from Jerry Lewis himself. At no point have I seen comedy legend Jerry Lewis say the trick is to 'give them more than they want'. That's what the WWF did.
Vince McMahon and his WWF machine are now paying for that decision. They are paying for the arrogance. They are paying for thinking they are infallible, and if you doubt they did, look at the last two quarters of WWF programming. They actually thought they could repeat themselves from two years ago and get away with it, and that their stupid fans wouldn't give a rat's ass. Well apparently they did, and the repetitive angles are what melted away the over-30 base of hardcores that ratings show the WWF is doing without right now. You can't slap your fans in the face like that. Friends doesn't do that. Frasier doesn't do that. Survivor does it, but we'll see how that goes. The WWF officially stopped trying. And that hurts the fans. When they put down their money and the company they do it for just goes through the motions, it pisses them off. That is why the WWF is hurting, and it never would have started without the inciting incident of putting Smackdown, the let's make more money at the expense of our performers and our creativity, on TV.
Anyway, I'm done here. I think I'll go watch something edgier and cooler, with more attitude than the WWF. Yes indeed. Dawson's Creek is on soon.Billy Bob Kane
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