Professional wrestling show cards are built for a variety of reasons. Among the things one has to consider (including flow of energy and draw potential), feuds have to be near the top of the list. Wrestling promotions (especially nationally- and internationally-aired ones like WWE, TNA, and ROH) thrive on feuds. Feuds for titles, feuds for honor, even feuds between people just just plain don' like each other. Feuds build excitement. Feuds bring in money. Feuds give people a reason to watch.
But when it comes to making feuds, there's one question that has to be answered. One simple point that can make or break a feud. Its answer can either take a feud to unprecedented levels, or can cripple feuds. And the absence of an answer for this question can make people wonder why they're even bothering watching. This question consists of precisely one word: why?
"Why" is a loaded question, because it has infinite possibilities attached to it, but often only a few good answers. "Why" attached to a wrestling feud is even more critical, because it gives storylines a jumping-off point. "It's always best to start at the beginning" as Glinda the Good Witch said, and that beginning comes from why. Why is Wrestler A targeting Wrestler B? Why is Wrestler C avoiding Wrestler D? What is Wrestler X doing getting him/her/zerself involved with Wrestlers Y and Z? The reason creative teams exist, besides to figure out what gimmicks to give to the talent, is primarily to set up feuds and answer the question of why for each of them. Good ones come up with answers that make sense; bad team either disregard that question or give tenuous explanations at best.
If you're wonder why I am speaking on this subject as if I actually know what I'm talking about, it's because, well, I do. I've been on booking teams in the e-wrestling world, and granted, while that wouldn't even hold as much cachet as being a writer for TNA, it still means that yes, I am speaking on a subject I have some experience in. E-wrestling feuds are not that much different from real-life pro wrestling feuds, and they follow much the same rules.
For instance, we had a feud going on between my character (Merrill "Shadowbird" Waters) and a character named Shane Perrells. Perrells' gimmick was that of a militant fundamentalist Christian who looked down upon everyone else as heathens and used his posse to gang-attack other wrestlers unless they converted to his brand of Christianity. Now obviously, this guy was never going to be a babyface, but then again, my character was constantly a philosophical anti-hero (with a well-defined and intelligent sense of humor). So, how would a feud between these two work? Well, I decided that as a matter of backstory, Merrill was raised Lutheran and had a very good working knowledge of the Bible himself, so he would take exception with Perrells' fundamentalism and essentially call him out on his bullshit. That combined with Merrill's already-established dark calm and lack of tolerance for idiots made him a perfect antithesis to Perrells, and the feud just clicked from there.
It works the same way in pro-wrestling. I'll give you spaghetti-western examples (The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly) approaches at the question of why by looking at the major feuds of Wrestlemania 28. First: the good.
As far as good approaches to the why question, look no further than Chris Jericho challenging CM Punk for the WWE Championship. Once Y2J dropped the Jeritrollin', this feud got rollin'. (Sorry about that.) The explanation given was simple and sweet: Jericho got jealous of how popular CM Punk became all of the sudden...popularity he used to have. He got slighted by Punk calling himself the best in the world...a title Jericho used to claim. Everything Punk possesses now (including the WWE Championship), Jericho used to have, and he wants it back, dammit. And he's not afraid to break Punk on every level in the process. The jealousy angle is a classic road to take, but it's also a versatile one, and it's generally a consistently good answer to build a feud around. As a result, Punk/Jericho is my most-compelling feud of Wrestlemania 28, and one I'm looking forward to seeing the end result of.
Now the bad: Sheamus challenging Daniel Bryan for the World Heavyweight Championship. Now I am well aware that this feud is likely the result of WWE Creative not wanting to insert the Great White ("Sharks are Irish, right?") in the aforementioned goodness that is Punk/Jericho, and also is likely the product of WWE's phobia of putting two babyfaces against each other (less damaging than putting heels against each other, but that's for another day). However, within the confines of the feud itself, and barring the out-of-universe reasons that are not germane to this discussion, the reason given is that Sheamus fights bullies, and D-Bry is one. Okay, got anything more solid to go with that? This feud has gotten very little build time and has been pushed aside in favor of the other 3 co-mains. As a result, we have an answer, but it's a very basic and not very good one. As a result, the only real appeal this feud has is that it could be an out-of-universe apology for the travesty that was last year's dark Battle Royal.
Now, the ugly. This feud technically has an answer, yes. Actually, it has THREE answers. And yet, its level of appeal largely varies depending on big of a mark you are for any of the elements involved. Yes, the ugly example is Triple H/Undertaker, Hell in a Cell, Career versus Streak, with "the Heartbreak Kid" Shawn Michaels as the special guest referee. (Everything about this match is long. Long stipulation, long entrances, longwinded promos...but I digress.) Trips and Taker represent the last of a generation (that totally doesn't include Kane, Rey Mysterio, Christian, William Regal, or Chris Jericho), so this match is supposed to bring closure to that. Okay, sure. On top of that, this match is about the Undertaker's legendary Wrestlemania streak, now verging on a score of victories won with no losses. Uh, yeah, great--wait, what's this? Now Trip's pride is in the mix, too? The real motivation is so that Trips can out-do his long-time friend/rival/enemy/compatriot/whatever he is this week? And Shawn's now directly involved because OOH TEH AWKWARD? Yeeeeeeeah, you may have gone a bit overboard with this one, WWE. Individually, those would make great reasons for having this match, but when you smush them all together, it, well...four words: Law. Of. Diminishing. Returns. That and the excessive build time that could have used to, say, flesh out Sheamus/D-Bry more makes this feud go from can't-miss to "not tonight, honey, I have a headache".
As you can see, even feuds that look good on paper can be hampered by the reasons given for them, and no reason is just as bad as giving a reason that makes no Animus-damned sense (or even giving more complex reasons than are needed). Feuds can live or die based on how you answer "why".
Now I'd better stop before I end up rewriting this in Doctor Seuss-style. Too many rhymes, too many rhymes.
Update/aside on the Sheamus/Bryan feud:
I admit that have essentially been reading the tie-ins here and expecting to see the kind of build on this storyline that would normally be reserved for the main book. As such, I can only go by what I can see, and what I have seen is a Wrestlemania co-main playing second-fiddle to everything else. I suppose I could “read back issues” (watch the SD eps on WWE’s YT), but it’s a little late in the game for that now.
Would I understand the WHC feud more if I watched Smackdown? Yes, admittedly. Does that change the fact that its representation on Raw, which is now designated as a Supershow, has been rather lackluster? No, not really. Perhaps I might have a better grasp of what they’re trying to do with Sheamus and Bryan if I watched Smackdown. For all I know (or don’t), it could be the best-built feud of this bunch.
But I don’t watch Smackdown. WWE is a little bit like an off-and-on hot but erratic ex-girlfriend to me. Even though I might want to get back with her seriously (watch both main shows every week), all the times she’s burned me in the past make me rather reluctant to do that again. So I see her every now and again (Raw), looking for signs that she’s really changed this time. Sometimes it appears that way, so I decide to rekindle things with her full-on (watching Smackdown as well), but then she does something incredibly stupid and breaks my heart again. In some ways, I still love her, but at this point, there’s no way I’m ever going to be able to really commit to her again.
So given that, I can only go by what I have seen, and as such, what I have seen suggests, however erroneously, that Sheamus and Bryan are involved in a feud that has been given even less time and energy than a certain mid-card feud. Would my opinion change if I had watched Smackdown as well? Yes, most likely. But I didn’t, and it’s a little late to watching back episodes just for that purpose. The most I can do is tone down my furor over the apparent lack of continuity on Raw.
It just…still feels like somehow, something is missing there, and I don’t know if watching Smackdown would quite be enough to fix that feeling.