TAG TEAMS: R.I.P.
On historical Draft Monday, we not only watched a supposedly groundbreaking "Brand Extension," whatever that is, but also witnessed what may have been the final nail in the Old School coffin: the splitting up of the APA and the Dudley Boyz. This curious act left The Outsider shaking his head in dismay, as now the tag team "division" is down to two: the ChuckaBilly champs and the ho-hum Hardyz.
It's hard to come to grips with the reality that traditional tag-team wrestling has become such a dead-end concept to the people who script WWF television that they wouldn't think twice about cutting an already anorexic tag division by 50%. But it's not the first old-school template to be slapped with an "antiquated" tag by sports entertainment creative types. The heel manager archetype is now nonexistent. Titles have been rendered meaningless. Wrestlers cutting promos on their enemies is now a lost art; promo information, like so much else, must now be conveyed to the fans in the form of a backstage dramatic/comedic skit. Building feuds over weeks and months to an acceptable blowoff? Forget it.
These things are too inconvenient, and require too much planning, for bookers with short attention spans. More importantly, those old-school templates conjure up an era of wrestling that doesn't sit at all well with Vince's crossover dreams.
Unfortunately, the working grid for the modern 2-hour wrestling program has been set in stone for the last ten years. The result is that, here in 2002, what was once cutting edge has become staid hack work: 20-minute vignettes to open and on the 2nd hour that set up one featured match (maybe two, but never more than that), with stale backstage skits and 3-minute throwaway matches to fill in the gaps. Sprinkle in a suitcaseful of in-house promos and you've got the standard WWF product for the next five years or so.
The aim of the formula is to court the casual fan, because in Vince's mind the hard-core fan will tune in no matter what. To capture the attention of the modern casual fan, writers have to block substantial TV face time for their most recognizable characters, and for this reason tag teams with a true TEAM IDENTITY only get in the way. Instead, the writers seen to see tag matches as a simple mix-and-match way of getting TV time for twice as many singles wrestlers in half the time.
Singles wrestlers are all that matter. And when a tag team comes along that gets over, the first thing the writers think of is, "Let's split them up." It's a marketing philosophy ("If two guys generate X amount of interest, splitting them up will give us 2X amount of interest.") that rarely works. Yet that seems to be the extent of their creative talent: the ability to multiply by two.
That professional wrestling has been de-volved to the point where it bears only a passing resemblance to the sport we grew up with is not news. Most of us have been straining things through the seive of nolstalgia for some time now. But with the passing of WCW and ECW, with no other options but The Ego That Is McMahon, are wrestling fans prepared for the watered-down sham of a promotion that the WWF, with no competition, is becoming? On the message boards, anyone complaining about the WWF product is usually advised "If you don't like it, don't watch." I'm here to tell you that if you're not happy, if you're not satisfied, then you should complain, and complain, and then complain some more. Either that or be prepared to reap the whirlwind of stultifying boredom coming our way over the next few years.
For all intents and purposes, tag teams are now dead, just another old-school concept blown by wayside, sacrificed at the altar of sports entertainment in a death so quiet it has caused not whimper of protest from the core WWF fan base. Vince takes that fan base for granted; it's always been there, so it's logical to assume it always will be. I'm hoping that's a mistake.