Is the Tide turning on New Talent?
by, 05-03-2011 at 06:17 PM (5011 Views)
The year 2009 was a bad year to be a young, talented rising star in the WWE. The main events for each pay per view were dominated by established talent, and it left little breathing room for anyone new to break through from the rank and file. The title matches seemed to be a constant cycle of John Cena vs. Randy Orton, the only changes being whomever held the belt, and the stipulation involved. WWE heavily relied on its veterans of the game, and took their eyes off building up new talent. Gradually, the business was making less money than it had done the year before.
The fact that it usually takes years to build up stars to the main event means that WWE’s decision to rely on the established stars that it already had two years ago, now seemingly a foolish one (due to the lack of genuine main eventers), but not one without logic. Building up a new character is hard. It takes time for a new character to properly connect with the audience, whether face or heel. It takes time for new characters to display the same personality traits over and over again for the character to be successful, as this is when the fans notice their individual quirks and behaviours, and begin to invest in that character if they like what they see, or in turn, hate what they see.
World Wrestling Entertainment in 2009 looked to the short term fix to help boost PPV buys. They looked at the already established characters that were already over with the audience to help sell their business. They relied on over-exploiting newsworthy stories to try and create hype in the aftermath of a PPV, to help add buyrates to the next PPV. And occasionally, it worked. Some PPVs did better than the year before, but mostly the decline of pay per view buys year on year continued. When casting my mind back to write this article, I struggled to remember 2009. Ok, granted it was 2 years ago, but it morphs into one. Cena won, HHH won, Orton won. The titles changed hands a lot in 2009. Giving away too many rare and newsworthy events devalues them in the mind of the viewer. Giving away too many “big name” matchups on free TV, or one on each PPV devalues the rarity of when they actually occur, as they become commonplace. They established some new talent in 2009, but nowhere near enough. If it wasn’t for misplaced confidence in Jeff Hardy (arguably the 2nd biggest babyface in the company in 2009 behind Cena), I might be telling a slightly different story, as his build to a main event money maker in 2009 was one of the nearly-there success stories.
By the time 2010 rolled around WWE reacted to this criticism. But, instead of taking a carefully planned out approach, they pushed too many new stars at once without establishing who they were, what they were about and therefore, created a lot of faceless characters with whom the audience could not relate. In part, this is the fault of NXT, as this has churned out a lot of bland characters, who have nothing remarkable about them. It is mainly due to WWE responding to the criticism that they don’t build up enough young stars, by trying to build too many at once. They threw a lot of young, hungry stars a bone, and blamed them when they didn’t get over instantly. It takes time to build a character. It takes time to construct a story with wrestlers. You can’t force people to like or hate someone.
Sure, if a wrestler comes out smiling and clapping, he’s probably going to get some cheers, but it doesn’t mean anyone cares about him winning. Sure, a wrestler can come out and insult the town in which they are in, but it doesn’t mean that anyone cares about seeing him lose. WWE catapulted Sheamus, Wade Barrett, Jack Swagger, Drew Mcintyre etc into the main events, and then as quickly as they were there, they were being de-pushed again. It felt like they moved on to spotlighting a different new star each month, chopping and changing someone’s character to fit with the storyline, and not establishing any consistency. Giving Jack Swagger a gimmick of being boring and arrogant, when a few weeks ago he was a goofy loser. Giving all members of Nexus separate characters and then erasing any sense of individuality by forcing them all to be a Goon Squad for CM Punk (as Matty Douglas highlights with his excellent Mike McGillicutty article).
I understand that sometimes gimmicks don’t work, and a lot of the time, different external factors play a big part in the success of a character (injuries to other talent, innovation of the talent, crowd preferences, etc.), but characters should be consistent so the audience knows what to expect and can cheer them on or boo them. Established character consistency was not common in 2010, due to all the various flavours of the month getting pushed/de-pushed, and it kills momentum. People lose interest when good character traits are established and forgotten, as the storyline will shift to someone new. In August 2010, Wade Barrett got a massive amount of Heel Heat and was arguably one of the Top heels in the company. He was the tormentor of Cena. He was the arrogant upstart who felt that a change should come in WWE, and he was the man to do it.
Now, he’s been pushed down to being nothing again. What is his character? He hangs around with three other men and bickers all the time about who gets the glory. I don’t want to step on Mattys future columns, so I’ll leave that there, but you get my point. At the end of 2010, WWE was left with a lot of new talent who had come in to replace the old, but hardly any of them were over so the audience didn’t care.
2009 was about not enough new stars.
2010 was about too many new stars.
A reason to be cheerful? The tide seems to be turning.
Yes, the business isn’t perfect. Yes, all the problems haven’t been fixed, but when it comes to crafting out individual personalities and creating characters and making the audience care, I think WWE is slowly starting to click, and maybe even, dare I say it, learn from its mistakes.
In 2011 so far, they have started to build a few new characters, out of the plethora of new talent that was they have lying around. They have punted a lot of the new 2010 talent out of the company and back to FCW. They have stopped switching the top heavyweight titles around for cheap thrills, so it actually means something when someone wins. And most importantly, they have started giving people consistent characters.
Alberto Del Rio has been so successful because not only does he have stellar ring work, and a rumoured flair for the backstage politics, but also because his character is great. He generates good heel heat and has a very consistent character, so the audience knows what to expect from him. They want to see him humbled because he talks about his Destiny all the time. Cody Rhodes has been successful because his character is consistent, and the metamorphisation into Broken Cody is somewhat believable, due to how ridiculous he behaved as Dashing Cody.
The focus on vignettes for new characters is a very successful way to introduce someone new, as it gives the audience an idea of what to expect before the character has done anything, so it will create anticipation and interest. The constant introduction of new characters in 2010 has left a lot of faceless people lying around. There are a lot of blank slates out there for WWE to give personality to, from the NXT graduates (Curtis, Clay etc), to the seemingly abandoned characters (McIntyre, Bryan, DiBiase).
It’s a slow process. I’m not sure whether the appointment of HHH as the Head of Talent has had something to do with it, but I am starting to notice a difference. The draft has left a lot of opportunities for the creative team to build up the new stars. Ideally, you should have six top stars on each brand who can carry a main event at a PPV and make people want to watch week in, week out. Three heels and three faces. Raw has Cena and Rey on one side, Punk, Miz and Del Rio on the other. Smackdown has Randy and Christian on one side, and no-one on the other.
The time is now for Cody Rhodes, Jack Swagger (face turn), Sheamus, John Morrison and Wade Barrett to be built right, and graduate to the main event permanently, as I think, that these five show the most potential to move up. This will leave gaps for other talent to step up and fill. Main event players are only created with time and effort, and rushing it will rarely work. Angle, Lesnar and Del Rio are the only 3 in which it has worked in the last 10 years.
It will take time for the audience to care about any character. Since the WWE has started to exhibit some signs of patience I hope that by the end of this year the main event scene will start to look a lot more fleshed out, and more consistent characters will occupy the roster.