The new year is always the most popular time for new beginnings. It might be clichéd, but sometimes it works. Last year, TNA tried to reboot with Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff running the show. Over a year later, they haven’t done anything to make TNA Wrestling better. The biggest error in most people’s estimations is that they didn’t do enough to distinguish themselves from the market leader, the WWE. Furthermore, they were aping the WWE’s style from many years ago in a formula that hadn’t worked in a decade or more. It’s one thing to try and imitate a booming business model, but the Crash TV model hasn’t worked for years.
[adinserter block=”2″]That’s not to say the WWE is currently innovating the hell out of the wrestling industry. In fact, the party line in Stamford is that the WWE isn’t a wrestling company, it’s a “sports entertainment” or just plain “entertainment” company. Their competition isn’t TNA and it’s certainly not the collective of indie wrestling federations or foreign lucha libre or puroresu promotions, at least according to them it isn’t. Their competition lies in scripted dramas and sitcoms. Therefore, they book their shows like they’re dramas more than the faux-sport with heavy doses of drama injected in like it was in the past.
Any title belt below the World or WWE Championship is treated more as a prop rather than an angle-seller. Even top title feuds have to have something else attached to it, like Edge’s chase of Kane’s World Heavyweight Championship also having the extra (and extraneous if you ask me) storyline of Edge kidnapping Paul Bearer, or John Cena’s freedom being the main crux of a WWE Championship feud that didn’t even involve him. In fact, I’d say the only feud in the last two years that actually had a story behind it that wasn’t melodramatic and centered around actual wrestling was Undertaker against Shawn Michaels. Everything else either had some other angle bogging it down or it was a “feud” inasmuch that it was two guys wrestling each week because, hey, they need something for the midcard to do while the rest of the show is focused either on the soppy main angles or the comic relief that sometimes borders on insulting to the intelligence.
Yes, the WWE follows the formula that every other TV show follows. They have main storylines, background characters who may or may not factor in importantly in a given week and some forced comedy. That would be fine if it were a scripted, seasonal television show, but it’s not. It would be fine if their writers were the caliber of the guys who write shows like The Wire or LOST or to use a current example, Mad Men, but they’re not. Wrestling, or even if we’re playing by the WWE’s terminology “sports entertainment” is a genre unto itself. Like sports, it has the competitive side that appeals to the primal instincts of the human nature, the side that sat people in the Coliseum to watch gladiators face off against each other. Like entertainment, it’s staged, so quality can be controlled through factors other than the caliber of “actor”. Why the writers, bookers, agents and bigwigs at Titan Towers don’t see this is beyond me.
To illustrate through example, if two characters on LOST were to be featured, they’d HAVE to have a storyline behind them. There’s no way they could run an episode where Charlie and Desmond had a fistfight for no reason other than hey, these characters need something to do, and would have had it work. However, the beauty of pro wrestling dictates that you can do exactly that with, say, Mark Henry and Drew McIntyre. There really needs to be no rhyme or reason for a feud to start, just a match with an event that happens within it, or maybe it’s just the desire to get ahead in the rankings. Championships, rather than being shiny baubles for guys like Santino Marella to carry around, can be focal points of simple yet compelling angles without any major input from writers who landed in WWE only after their fourth hour-long drama in a row was canceled before November sweeps.
Conversely, when you have a big game, match or fight in sports, there’s always the risk of an abject disparity between the two contestants that leads to a boring blowout. How many times has a boxing match or MMA fight been shorter in duration than the preceding National Anthem? More times than some paying customers would care to admit, I bet. Meanwhile, in wrestling, barring a catastrophic injury during a match, pay-per-view events can theoretically be filled with a half-dozen imminently satisfying, competitive and compelling matches that can be controlled through careful booking to preserve storyline elements while letting the competitive nature bust loose.
[adinserter block=”1″]Seriously, pro wrestling has the best of both worlds. So why is it that the WWE only wishes to consider the side that would make them try to conform to (and fail horribly at doing so) the standards of wholly scripted television? Why won’t they embrace what could make them special, unique and eminently buzzworthy? I’m not saying they should adopt a model that would make EVOLVE or ROH look like a soap opera in comparison, but do we need to have matches each week where there’s something at stake other than a win or a loss? Do we need to continue the dilution of gimmick matches to the point where they’ve lost all their specialness and aren’t draws anymore? Enough is enough, and it’s time for a change.
The WWE needs to stop resisting and start embracing the sports side of its self-appointed genre-label before it can really hope to compete with other entities that don’t offer the same product it does. Let’s face it, if I wanted wholly scripted drama, I’d watch a show like LOST (and I did). But when I watch wrestling, I want to see a combination of that drama with sports like no other medium can deliver. I guarantee you that I’m not the only one, and I can doubly guarantee you that the people who agree with me aren’t just the crowd that contrarians, trolls and defenders of the status quo label as jaded Internet geeks. If the WWE really wants to get its mojo back, it has to embrace its uniqueness. If not, then the company risks fading into obscurity sooner rather than later.
Tom Holzerman is a lifelong wrestling fan and connoisseur of all things Chikara Pro, among other feds. When he’s not writing for the Camel Clutch Blog, you can find him on his own blog, The Wrestling Blog.