You all bought it. You all bought it, hook, line, and sinker! Even my family! Even my immediate family bought it! Every damn one of you were made fools of! But you know, I really didn't want to have to do it. CRZ made me. Chris Zimmerman made me fool you. He made me.
You see, you people are upset because you didn't see it coming. You never saw it coming. Who could have masterminded this? Who could have come up with such an elaborate plan? Let me spell it out for you: C-R-Z.
Well here's the deal. My old friend CRZ came to me and he said, "Hey, want to WORK THE BOYS?" and I was like, "Uh, YEAH I DO." So we came up with this nefarious swerve, and then all we had to do was bide our time until we could unleash the beast. But then over the span of like three days, all of these Internet Superstars left their Websites, so everyone started speculating, and I was like "Oh, double trouble crap on a stick, Chris - we're going to swerve ourselves right out of business."
And then we did. We swerved ourselves right out of business.
So ... uh ... what do you want to talk about?
CRZ said he wanted this to be as long as possible.
You know, over at The Smarks```, they said I couldn't write the big one ...
Okay, I got it.
I bet people are always saying to you, they're saying, "Blah blah blah business is down" and you're like, "Well, duh," but do you actually realize we're only six months removed from the biggest wrestling show of all time and the best year, in terms of quality and business, in WWF history?
Three years ago, 7.5 million people were watching wrestling on Monday night, 4 million watching Raw and 3.5 million watching Nitro.
Two years ago, 7 million people were watching wrestling on Monday night, 4.3 million watching Raw and 2.7 million watching Nitro.
One year ago, 6.2 million people were watching wrestling on Monday night, 4.4 million watching Raw and 1.8 million watching Nitro.
Seven months ago, 5.4 million people were watching wrestling on Monday night, 3.7 million watching Raw and 1.7 million watching Nitro.
Six months and three weeks ago, 4.6 million people were watching wrestling on Monday night, and all of them were watching Raw.
One week ago, 3.3 million people were watching wrestling on Monday night, and all of them were watching Raw.
Thirteen months ago, 3.4 million people were watching Raw on Monday night, and Raw was airing out of its timeslot because of tennis.
The question of "Where did 1.7 million WCW fans go from 1998 to 2000?" has been answered so many times that anyone with internet access ought to be able to write The Buzz on What Killed WCW. Here's the abridged version: Kevin Nash's run as booker (hello, Goldberg job; hello, one finger push; hello, Flair heel turn; hello, shitty TV; and so on and so on) turned off the casual fans, and then Vince Russo's tenures (hello, you know, everything) ran off about half of the three million "traditional" wrestling fans that stuck with WCW no matter what because they didn't like Vince McMahon's brand of wrestling. What killed WCW is no secret. The more frightening question is, "Where did 3 million wrestling fans go in one year?"
The decline in WWF audience started in September 2000 shortly after Raw moved to TNN (although the move itself was not responsible - the last episode of Raw on USA did a 5.81 and the first episode on TNN did a 5.54, so no one more than 220,000 people forgot that Raw switched networks that first week and never found the show again). After a year and a half of consistent ratings between 6.0 and 7.0, Raw dropped almost a full point from the end of August to the end of December. It wasn't the end of the world, and it wasn't necessarily unexpected either, since it was inevitable that wrestling would eventually cool off as a fad. However, the fall also featured the first chink in the WWF's creative armor in some time, the conclusion of the Triple H-Stephanie-Kurt Angle love triangle. Fans could relate to the storyline and look forward to its inevitable ending: Stephanie leaving Hunter for Angle and HHH seeking revenge as the jilted babyface. Instead, in the climactic moment, Stephanie turns on ... Angle, and picks Helmsley? For all we know, this was only the early stages of the planned angle, but a month later the company turned Triple H super-evil in order to salvage the "Who ran over Austin?" angle. You can trace the beginning of the end of my emotional interest in WWF storylines right to this spot. It's the very first example of either concession to ego or lack of long-term planning interfering with the company's top angles and best interests, two things that should sound really familiar as the WWF vs. WCW feud dies a slow, miserable death.
WrestleMania X-Seven can be looked at in a number of ways as the culmination of the wrestling boom. It was (aaaaarguably) the greatest PPV ever, produced more revenue than any event in professional wrestling history, marked the end of the Monday night wars, and bookended the Steve Austin babyface run with WrestleMania XIII four years earlier. Two months later, two million people were no longer watching wrestling. The majority of them were the disenfranchised Nitro audience, many of whom tuned into Raw the night after WrestleMania to find out what would become of WCW, but were turned off by a bad product and left after three weeks when WCW wasn't mentioned. The WWF's own audience also dipped by another ratings point worth of fans alienated by the absence of the Rock, the Austin heel turn, and an awful television product revolving around the two-man power trip angle. Austin's turn raised serious issues about character consistency and not listening to your audience. The WWF turned him in order to shake up their top card, and Austin plays an amazing heel in and out of the ring, but the turn was never explained and Austin still had tons of babyface appeal. Congratulations on getting Austin booed in Texas, but how many tickets did they sell the next time they were there? The WWF created its core audience on the strength of the Austin vs. McMahon feud and spent the four months before WrestleMania feuding Austin and Triple H, then all of a sudden Stone Cold is aligned with his two biggest enemies without explanation? Why should fans waste their time getting interested in the company's angles if they can be rewritten on a whim with all prior history thrown out? If Austin doesn't care about or remember who he hates, why should we? From April 2, the night after WrestleMania, to May 21, Raw's ratings fell from 5.7 to 4.2, losing not only all of the former Nitro audience, but more than a tenth of their own in a seven-week period.
Amazingly enough, it took only six weeks for the television ratings to do a complete about-face, shooting from 4.2 back to 5.7 thanks to the interest created by the WCW invasion, then the ECW invasion, then the Old Stone Cold, and then the Rock's return. Within a month, the audience had decided that the direction wasn't to their liking, and they were back to low 4s. You can recite the problems with the WCW invasion unconsciously at this point: The WCW wrestlers were never put over WWF wrestlers and most ended up dead and buried, Shane and Stephanie gayed things up and turned what should've been the biggest money feud in wrestling history into another McMahon soap opera, no Flair, no Goldberg, the "Foul-Smelling Aroma In Tacoma" between Booker T. and Buff Bagwell, etc. etc. etc. Concession to ego and lack of long-term planning didn't just interfere with the company's top angle and best interests. It completely killed it. But the course of wrestling history was changed by TV executives a number of times over the last year. Viacom's exclusivity deal with WWFE prevented Vince McMahon from buying WCW with its Turner timeslots. Jamie Kellner's decision to cancel all WCW programming made the sale to WWFE possible. Then Viacom wouldn't give WCW a timeslot, which forced the WWF to make plans for WCW Raw. When WCW received the terrible backlash on WWF TV after a poorly thought out introduction, the plans for WCW Raw and a separate promotion were scrapped, and here we are today, with an inflated roster and a directionless product. The moment WCW went out of business, people were fearing for the future of the industry, but I was willing to sell my soul in order to receive that elusive WWF vs. WCW dream angle. Unfortunately, instead of a rebuilt WCW adding important new players and fresh matchups, the acquisition strangled the parent group.
Right now, the WWF is paying the price for being so ridiculously good. Their three top stars are so amazing that you need a phenom like Kurt Angle just to find someone who can hang with them, and that's without the "politics"/"glass ceiling"/"staying with a winning hand" that inevitably come into play. The WWF's once hot midcard is no longer over because Jericho, Benoit, Edge, Christian, the Hardys, etc. stayed in the same place for so long. They've made mistakes with their top guys - the Austin that no one wants to boo, the Rock who came back and barely acknowledged Austin putting him out for six months, the Kurt Angle whose transformation from dangerous dork to superhero didn't work as smoothly as they might have hoped. And they gave a lot away during the boom, so maybe there's nothing left - no marquee matchup (excluding Bill Goldberg), no surefire angle (now that interpromotional is dead), and no big bumps, stunts, or spots. During the Monday Night Wars, I always heard that everyone benefitted from competition - the companies, the wrestlers, and the fans. I always took that for granted, and never saw any reason why the WWF would stop delivering anything less than a top-notch product if they were the only show in town. Nowadays, the effort is still there among the wrestlers, and there's no shortage of quality matches, but the product is flat, the style is stale, the characters are inconsistent, and the storylines don't make as much sense. The successes of Monday Nitro, the nWo, "Attitude," Austin vs. McMahon, and the Rock show that there's an audience - old, new, or both - to be snared whenever the product successfully reinvents itself. But until then, there's not a whole lot to do besides wait around for the next big thing.
So where did 3 million wrestling fans go? Well, they left. Then some of them came back. Then they left again. And now they're waiting around for the next big thing.
Next week: I tell jokes. Or at least talk about stuff that happens in the freaking ring. Yes! The reporting of the Tuesday News!