What went wrong with wrestling

Posted by under *mixed, Television |

I began writing this as a review to the WWE Royal Rumble pay-per-event that aired last Sunday.  It was one of the few times that I’ve actually watched a wrestling show in normal speed in what seems like years.  While trying to explain the portions of the show that I did like, I kept finding I had to explain why something that used to be my favorite thing in the whole world has become something that I have difficulty caring about anymore.

It’s been hard to like much about WWE (or any other wrestling program) recently.  While the Monday Night Wars of the mid to late 90s brought us some great television, the resultant focus on television ratings and copying what works on other cable TV has caused wrestling to become a poorly acted comedy show rather than what many have called “a male soap opera” where the story is mostly told in the ring.

When I was growing up, superstars were made on Saturday morning by beating down jobbers (wrestlers that took beatings and consistently lost to make other guys look good) on a weekly basis.  They’d show off their talents against lesser wrestlers and were made to look superhuman by taking them apart.  Feuds would develop over months through short promos or two superstars locking eyes when one made his entrance and another exited the arena.   Eventually, the climax would come in the form of the combatants clashing at a pay-per-view event.

In the mid 90s, both WWE and WCW raised the number of pay-per-view events from around 5 to at least 12 for each organization.  The revenue generated by pay-per-view buyrates would help supplement the exploding TV production costs of each company’s flagship broadcasts.  Unfortunately, both promotions were forced to write their storylines in 4 week (or shorter) intervals.  This caused feuds to be way shorter than in years past and thus decreased their impact on viewership.  I was unable to get invested emotionally in any story because it was over before you could ever care about any of the participants or what they had done to each other.

The Monday Night Wars also brought an increased focus on television ratings.  Pay-per-view events were no longer venues for the climaxes of feuds that had been building for months. They simply were there to showcase a small piece of the storyline that would force you to watch the next show on cable TV.  Nothing was ever resolved and you never walked away from the TV thinking that your money was well spent.

Today, WWE hires former TV show writers to write their shows.  It seems like everything is thrown together at the last minute with zero forethought or knowledge of past events. Wrestlers are required to memorize lines and spew them at the camera exactly as written whereas in the past, they were given a few items to focus on and riff off of the top of their heads.  No longer do we get emotional promos from the likes of Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, Mick Foley and Stone Cold Steve Austin.  We get drivel from the mouthpieces of writers that have never watched or understand wrestling.  We get freeze-frame moments that are supposed to represent drama and emotion, but look horribly cheesy and forcibly prearranged. And the sad fact about this is that these lousy backstage conversations and in-ring promos take precedence over the wrestling action anymore.  Matches are short, unexciting and are often interrupted by commercial breaks.  I feel like I’m watching an episode of the 60’s Batman show where the announcer asks, “Will Batman and Robin survive?  Find out next week.  Same bat time, Same bat channel.”

Now that I think about it, maybe the reason why I enjoyed the Royal Rumble match was the fact that there were no commercials and no 20-minute, scripted in-ring promos.  There wasn’t a focus on telling jokes or being funny.  It was what I liked about wrestling from when I was growing up:  wrestling.

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is an IT guru and total mark for technology, sports, Howard Stern, MMA and wrestling. When not hanging around some form of electrical current, he can be found doing anything possible to unsuccesfully improve his golf game.

  • ptb said,

    I agree with you on the state of wrestling. I’m still paying some attention, but certainly not the way I once did. I think the way the airtime is used really fails to create big name superstars or capitalize on the good things that are going on.

    It’s also interesting that some of the points you make could easily be applied to changes in the way comics are written and produced. Kevin and I often talk about stories that have no ending, events expanding out just to fill pages, and lack of attention to anything that came before.

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