The WWE is a television show. Obvious right? You would be surprised how many inherent problems in "wrestling" that could be solved if it was thought of as a television show, rather than a wrestling promotion.
One of the most common things I hear from people who find out I watch wrestling (and they find it "lame") is- "Wrestling is so fake!"
True! Of course, everyone reading this now knows that it is "fake." The WWE now readily admits that, even in their name. My typical response "So is every other show on TV today-" does not necessarily convince them, but it will confuse them enough to drop the subject. I mean, think about it- how is wrestling any different than Star Trek, Greg the Bunny, Fraiser, or any other show on TV? And you can't tell me that any of those reality shows are really "Real." They are imaginary people acting out an imaginary story. Any "fight" on any TV show is fake, just part of the story with the outcome predetermined. If anything, wrestling has a close kinship with the everyday soap opera- a group of somewhat sub-par actors working on a weekly basis to tell an ongoing, unending story. Both have shifting alliances, turbulent relationships, break-ups, reconciliations, divorces, affairs- villains and heroes. However, soap operas target (generally) more of a female audience with its tales of romance and social intrigue, wrestling is targeted towards a more male audience, with more violent storylines revolving around warriors battling for various causes and sex.
It is wrestling's "roots" that cause the stigma attached to wrestling, and the problems inherent in the way matches are booked today. Professional wrestling was once portrayed as very real, as you all know. People came to a wrestling event to see their favorite hero take on the villain of the night, not to see a play, or some other kind of drama unfold behind the scenes. Matches that told a good story were a must- not only did they have to LOOK real, but the flow of the match had to make logical sense, as well as the ending to keep the crowd's interest. Television changed all that. Wrestling started to give way to longer, more intricate storylines (who could possibly follow a feud between two wrestlers without having it broadcast on television weekly? Who would care about the details?), promos, backstage skits, and all other forms of nonsense. Wrestlers became stars, and many became very rich. And that, of course, leads to power struggles over money. Of course a top tier wrestler does not want to lose his spot to a younger wrestler. It means less money, and eventually less fame.
One thing I always wondered about the modern age of wrestling was the reasoning behind certain priorities. For one, both the IWC and the wrestling "management's" focus on pushes and de-pushes, and wrestler's focus on wins and losses.
For one, why should a wrestler care at all about wins and losses? You did not see the cast of Seinfeld complaining about being thrown in jail at the end of their run. You never saw George Wendt complaining that "Ted Danson's character got all of the women," and demanding a certain amount of on-screen "play" for himself. The link between a wrestler and his character has remained way to strong for too long. Wrestlers often forget that they are playing a character, and whether they win or lose a match really has no bearing on their career in the long run. And management does nothing to discourage this. In fact, I can't imagine being a member of management, having a wrestler coming and complaining about having to lose, and not laughing my ass off. Just like an actor, a wrestler's only concern should be to perfect their craft, and do their job to the best of their ability. Instead of just healing his body while out on injury, Chris Benoit should have been working on his speaking skills. Instead of worrying about whether or not John Cena slapping McMahon killing the eventual heat of a non-existent feud, he should have been working on getting rid of his still-present ring rust and expanding his limited move-set. Wrestlers seem to link what goes on camera and off- and take the quest for an imaginary title off-screen, and attempt to position themselves the best.
I mentioned an "imaginary title." That is key. The title, along with the wrestlers' characters, is fake. As much as I respect and appreciate Kurt Angle's skill as a wrestler, my desire to see him as the Undisputed Champion is ONLY from a mark's standpoint. I am an Angle fan, and I want to see my favorite character win the title. But, that is not the direction the story is going right now. As long as the writers can maintain interesting stories revolving competition for that title and the wrestlers can put on a convincing match, I do not care who the champion is from a "smart" standpoint. I really did not mind the time that the Undertaker spent with the belt recently, because he did a good job as a worker. He maintained excellent feuds, put on convincing matches, and lost when it was required of him. The title should not necessarily go to the overall best performer, rather the character that fits the story at the time. It is up to the writers to make his reign convincing (we all know who dropped the ball on the Jericho reign), and the wrestler's job to carry out the designs of the writing staff.
Perhaps one thing that is missing from the mix is a strong Director position. Most TV shows have a Director who is somewhat independent from both the writers and the cast. Not only is he or she in charge of the entire production, but they serve as a barrier between these two parties. A wrestler should have little or no contact with the writers on a professional basis, and the writers should not have as much authority as they do in the WWE. A WWE Director could serve behind the scenes as a filter for bad ideas the writing department comes up with, and to be a lead for the wrestlers, handle their complaints, and be their source of motivation and direction.
Recently in the news, you hear about Matt Hardy's burial for speaking up against the WWE creative department. This would never happen if an independent director were in place. To start with, the creative department feels threatened by Matt Hardy speaking out, and insulted. So since they have the power to, they have no problem burying an otherwise ideal worker. Matt Hardy spoke out-of-turn in their eyes, and deserved to be punished, when all he was trying to do was to improve the quality of the show he was working on. A realistic director would listen to the complaint, and as long as it was presented in a professional manner, Matt Hardy would have no retaliation to fear. If he has a valid point, the Director would take this complaint to the writing staff. He could then outline a possible solution, and give them a direction to go forward with.
If the writing sucks too badly, the Director would be responsible for shaping them up or replacing them. If the wrestling is bad, the Director would make sure that the right wrestlers are in the position required to write an entertaining show. The Director would control the flow of the show to make sure there is a good mix of wrestling, promos, and vignettes. If the show is terrible, the Director takes the heat from WWE Corporate Management, and his job would be on the line.
And yes, I think both shows should have different Directors. If you are going to have different wrestlers on each show, and attempt to have different writing staffs, why not separate the authority between the shows as well. Then you could have some true competition from within to produce a better show.
When it comes down to it, the WWE still produces each of their shows as if they were booking a non-televised event 20 years ago. Sure there is more technology, more special effects, more glitz, and a much larger audience, but on the production quality side, the WWE has yet to catch up. Hiring "Writers with Soap Opera Experience" is not enough to adapt their style to modern television production. Creating an adequate and effective production infrastructure will go a long way in improving the quality of Raw and Smackdown as programs, and eventually improve the ratings. Keep the wrestlers, writers and Director separate and distinct! The only thing that would be hurt by adopting a strategy like this is that it would eliminate a little of the Stephanie/HHH power trip, and help to contain the backstage politicking. And hopefully, keep people with actual power (*Stephanie! CoUgH! Vince!*) off camera!
I really do like the direction the WWE has been taking so far, but it really is far too soon to judge whether they will be successful or not. They really have changed very little except for the aesthetic. They have the same key people backstage performing the same jobs, and in the same positions of power they were a year ago, right in the middle of a long, terrible booking run. It would be far too easy for them to fall back on old habits. Let's hope the WWE can take the drastic steps necessary to save them from the fate that befell WCW. I would hate to see NWA:TNA as the number one wrestling show right now...