WWE: Return to glory
by, 07-26-2011 at 01:44 PM (3481 Views)
This is my first blog entry, and depending on its reception I'll determine whether I'll begin making this a habit. But before I go any further, let me give you a brief synopsis of my wrestling background. I grew up (early-mid teens) on the WCW/nWo and WWF Attitude era. My interest began to dissipate as the product began to decline, and I eventually stopped watching all together as the WCW/ECW/WWF invasion angle started to play out. I only got back into WWE over the last two years because I've been forced to watch it every Monday evening.
That's me. But onto more important matters. The WWE hasn't been very good for a while now. Not necessarily because it is "PG," but because the storylines and character gimmicks have, up until recently, been lackluster. Some blame this drop entirely on the decision to cater to younger audiences, others blame the WWE's decision to go public and having to now consider the ramifications of its storylines on its shareholders. Perhaps each shares a role, but the fact remains regardless of the real reason the sad truth is there just hasn't been anything of interest for fans, both current and former, to really latch onto.
The WWE, whether it realizes it or not, is approaching a critical juncture: It's becoming relevant again, thanks in large part to a working shoot interview done by CM Punk. Now what the WWE does with Punk's character and this entire angle is still to be seen. But the decisions that proceed these next few weeks will determine where exactly the company goes.
RETURNING THE WWE TO GLORY
Focus on the now
For the first time in a long while there is a legitimate buzz around the wrestling scene. That's not to say there weren't waves when the Rock made his "return" to the WWE (which resulted in one awesome debut, followed by a flat Wrestlemania hosting gig before once again fading into oblivion), but seeing as Rock's return really is only on paper and done strictly to promote his current endeavors, it's safe to say CM Punk is the WWE's first legitimate relevant star in the last ten years.
How dare I say that? It's simple. Non-wrestling fans are talking about him. Sports and news stations are reporting on him. People who haven't shown the slightest interest in "sports entertainment" are suddenly taking notice, and that's something we haven't seen in a good long while. From ESPN to Jim Rome to friends who gave up on wrestling years ago, Punk's monologue reignited something, and that something has people interested again. The question now is whether or not the industry is competent enough to capitalize on it.
But it's going to take a lot more than just following through with Punk to bring the WWE back into the limelight, and I think I might just have a few pointers that would help lead them in the right direction.
Merge or reimagine the "brands"
Like I've mentioned above, I've been watching wrestling again for the last two years. In that time, I have yet to watch a single Smackdown! episode (save the sole Smackdown! taping I attended about a year ago). There's a gleaming problem in there somewhere, and I'd like to think it needs to bubble to the surface sooner rather than later.
Regardless of who the WWE "drafts" to the Smackdown! brand, the show just isn't exciting. The fact that the company branched its product off into two separate "brands" in order to foster some sort of post-WCW competition was a terrible idea. Not only has this concept fallen flat on its face, but now what used to be a good stand-alone program has become this awful albatross where stars go to die.
OK, perhaps that last line is a bit drastic. But anyone who tries to argue that being "drafted" to Smackdown! is anything other than a demotion is kidding himself or herself. Yes, they moved Randy Orton over there to try and replace the loss of Edge, as well as raise the show's legitimacy (and perhaps the move has done some good in that respect), but the show remains second rate at best.
In a way, you could argue it has almost become Raw's AAA affiliate. At least, that's how I have come to see it as, and I doubt I'm alone in this opinion. But I think that is arguably its biggest problem. The show has been severed so long from the Raw brand, and has been so starved of any real excitement in its storylines, that it has become dead weight.
The easiest solution, of course, would be to merge the two brands back into one entity. You'd then have the flexibility of being able to have stars appear on either show, allowing numerous new or otherwise under-appreciated angles to get some much-needed exposure. That is how you find out what your audience digs, and eventually helps you build multiple new stars without having to go through the entire trial-and-error business model the company current employs. By opening up the roster and forcing the audience to pay attention to both shows, you would be speeding up the star designating process.
Another incredibly viable possibility would be to actually define the difference between the brands. Rather than allowing wrestlers to just jump back and forth between one show to the other via some phony draft, why not take this whole "PG" vs. "PG-13" nonsense and run with it?
Before you get all up in arms, hear me out. Take Punk and his new, sharper tone and evolve Raw into an edgier Raw Is War-esq show. Then, in contrast, rotate family-oriented stars such as John Cena and Rey Mysterio over to Smackdown! and play up the kid-friendly content. You just gave a new home to each of the warring branches of the WWE Universe. And the best part? Not only do you cover all your bases by providing a significant definition between which show is geared more towards which crowd, but as your Smackdown! audience ages, they'll have a WWE-related venue to turn to that can keep up with them as they reach their adolescents.
That's called having your cake and eating it too.
Remold dead gimmicks
So many great gimmicks have died or been lost in the abyss now over the last few years that it borders on the term obscene. I'd ask how, but know full well I wouldn't like the answers I would receive. But if the WWE wants to regain the magic it had in the 90s, its going to have to redesign some of the gimmicks they've ruined over these recent "lost years."
What do I mean by this? For example, let's take a look at Kane. Remember when he used to be the Big Red Machine? I wonder whatever happened to that. These days we get treated to a bald and shirtless Issac Yankem who has a bit of an anger disorder and minor obsession with fire. Throw in a chokeslam or two and ... well, that's all he's got left.
I picked Kane as my example because, frankly, he's almost out of gas. It's no secret Kane is on his way out in the next year or two. So why not elevate him from low-to-mid card status and let him go out with a bang - both figuratively and literally.
First thing is first, get him off TV by having him feud with someone, preferably Undertaker, and have said feud culminate with Kane getting "severely burned." Give him a few months off to rest up and train and, in the mean time, ask him to grow his hair back (assuming it is even still possible). When he returns, he returns as the Kane he should always have been. Masked, deranged and silent. Bring the "monster" feeling back and you bring the character back to life.
To sweeten the deal, you've got an already golden lead-in angle with Undertaker, who is also preparing to retire. Something tells me a Undertaker VS. a remasked Kane at Wrestlemania for the streak would do a number on buy rates. At the very least, it would be better than anyone else on the roster they could trot out to face him.
That's really just the starting point, though. There are so many gimmicks that are a little fine tuning away from becoming relevant again. And I don't just mean "make them like they were in the 90s," either. The year is 2011 and it should be treated as such. But that doesn't mean evolution has to be beyond the point of recognition. And that, unfortunately, is something the WWE has managed to neglect. Because when I look at Kane today, I don't see what I think they'd like me to. No matter how hard they try to sell it. Some characters aren't meant to evolve. If they do, they risk losing their initial charm. Such is the case with Kane.
Don't believe me? Let me ask you this. When's the last time you spotted someone sporting a Kane t-shirt in the audience? My sentiments exactly.
That's all I have time for today. Unfortunately, I had to cut about 1/3 of my original post because it was too long. So, if anyone out there wants to hear more, speak up. I've got plenty more to say. Until next time, remember the following:
I am right.
I am MG Bertock.